Summary and Analysis Chapter 36



Chaplain Tappman is nearly destroyed by the news of Nately's death. His initial reaction is to pray that Nately and other men whom he knows are not really among the casualties. But he realizes that such a prayer is a request that other fine young men are dead. The chaplain is crying and walking over to share his grief with Yossarian when a stout colonel and a hawk-faced major stop him and insist that he "Come along. . . . You'd better come along with us, Father. . . . We're from the government. We want to ask you a few questions." More men join them, and they take the chaplain by staff car to a cellar beneath Group Headquarters where he is interrogated.


Heller raises questions of justice as well as the conflict of good versus evil in this chapter. Chaplain Tappman is a good, responsible, caring man. Only in a world of distorted values would he be accused of anything improper. He lives in such a world.

The news of Nately's death nearly kills the chaplain. He is a very compassionate as well as a moral man, which contrasts with his assistant, now-Sergeant Whitcomb. Whitcomb is thrilled to hear of the deaths of the twelve airmen over La Spezia. He "chirruped exultantly" because twelve men killed means "twelve more form letters of condolence that could be mailed in one bunch to the next of kin over Colonel Cathcart's signature." Whitcomb hopes for an article in The Saturday Evening Post, praising his pet project, in time for Easter. He has no real concern for the men or their families.

The interrogation is harsh and arbitrary. Charges apparently are related to Yossarian's use of the chaplain's name when Yossarian was signing censored letters at the hospital. The chaplain, however, has difficulty getting his accusers to tell him what he has supposedly done wrong. They order him to sign his own name so that they can compare it to one of the hospital letters. When the signatures don't match, they accuse Tappman of faking his own signature: "You're lying again. . . . A person who'll lie about his own handwriting will lie about anything." They further accuse the chaplain of stealing a plum tomato that Colonel Cathcart gave to him, suddenly presenting Cathcart as a witness for the prosecution. All Cathcart actually says is, "Why should I give him a plum tomato?"

The chaplain's denials are in vain. When he repeats that he did not steal the tomato, he is accused of calling an officer a liar. When he proclaims that he is not guilty, he is asked, "Then why would we be questioning you if you weren't guilty?" And there is the crux. Like Clevinger, the chaplain must be guilty because he is accused. Nothing he says in his own defense can be of any help. Critics often refer to Clevinger's trial and the chaplain's interrogation as "Kafkaesque," a reference to the writing of Franz Kafka (1883–1924) in works such as The Trial. There, students can find similar distortions of justice and absurd confusions of good and evil.

The inquisitors eventually find the chaplain guilty but release him for the time being. But they warn, "Just remember that we've got you under surveillance twenty-four hours a day." Here, we witness a change in Chaplain Tappman. Considering the threat, and all that he has been through, it takes considerable courage for the naturally timid chaplain to approach Colonel Korn, whom he meets soon after leaving the cellar, and to protest the deaths, that morning over La Spezia, of men who had completed their seventy missions. Korn, as usual, is glib and condescending: "Would it be any less terrible if they had all been new men?" Tappman seeks permission, as one must in the military chain of command, to take his protest to General Dreedle. Colonel Korn, repeatedly calling the chaplain "padre," encourages Tappman. There is just one catch. Dreedle is no longer wing commander. He has been replaced by General Peckem.


M.P. military police.

Q.E.D. abbreviation for the Latin quod erat demonstrandum, meaning "which was to be demonstrated or proven," a phrase used in mathematics.

irascible easily angered; quick-tempered.

languid without vigor or vitality.

chagrin a feeling of embarrassment or annoyance because one has failed or been disappointed; mortification.