Summary and Analysis
Colonel Cathcart is a "slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six" who lumbers along when he walks and wants, most of all, to be a general. He is a package of contradictions: dashing but dejected, poised but chagrined, daring but insecure, physically handsome but oddly unattractive. The narrator tells us that Cathcart is "impervious to absolutes"; that is, he has no fundamental values of his own. He can measure himself only in relationship to others. Thus, he is delighted that he is a full colonel when other, older officers hold lesser rank; but he is destroyed when he hears of a general who is younger than he is. Cathcart lives in an "unstable, arithmetical world of black eyes and feathers in his cap," oscillating between anguish and exhilaration. When he feels he has failed, that's a black eye; success brings a feather to his cap. His character contrasts sharply with that of Chaplain Tappman. Although Cathcart is a bully, Tappman realizes he is meek, even cowardly. Cathcart is egocentric and personally ambitious; Tappman hopes to improve at helping others. At this point in the novel, the chaplain is intimidated by Cathcart; Cathcart's assistant, Lietenant Colonel Korn; and even the chaplain's own assistant, Corporal Whitcomb.
The central theme of these chapters is hypocrisy. Cathcart is a political and military hypocrite. Although he pretends to act in the best interest of his country and his service, he is really interested only in self-promotion. That is the motive behind his repeated elevation of the number of missions (sixty by the end of Chapter 19) that a pilot in his outfit must fly to end his tour of duty and go home. There is no shortage of pilots. Replacements are readily available if requested. Reasonable rotation probably would help the cause. But Cathcart thinks that his men's extra missions make him look like a stronger leader; the apparent devotion to duty is, he believes, a feather in his cap.
Cathcart is also a religious and social hypocrite. In the Saturday Evening Post, a popular and influential weekly magazine of the day, Cathcart reads an article about an American bomber group in England that prays before each mission. He asks Chaplain Tappman to try the same tactic in order to get Cathcart some positive publicity. The Colonel is not at all concerned about God, spirituality, or religion. In fact, Cathcart prefers to have the chaplain keep those topics out of the service: "I'd like you to keep it light and snappy, something that will send the boys out feeling pretty good. Do you know what I mean? I don't want any of this Kingdom of God or Valley of Death stuff." Cathcart eventually decides that something humorous would be best — or something practical, especially if the chaplain could "pray for a tighter bomb pattern." The elitist Cathcart's plan falters, however, when the chaplain points out that they really ought to include the enlisted men in the prayer services because they will be going along on the missions. Cathcart is dismayed:
"They've got a God and a chaplain of their own, haven't they?"
"What are you talking about? You mean they pray to the same god we do?"
"And He listens?"
"I think so, sir."
"Well, I'll be damned."
Lieutenant Colonel Korn is an amoral, cynical hypocrite who pretends to be Cathcart's loyal, indispensable ally but secretly feels contempt for Cathcart and manipulates his commander. Korn is the more clever and more sinister of the two; he sees Cathcart as an officious fool who can, nonetheless, help Korn achieve his own ends, which include greed and comfort as well as self-promotion. Korn is more secure than Cathcart in his feelings of superiority and enjoys taunting the chaplain — by calling him "father," for example, with a look of "bland innocence," even though Korn knows that the chaplain is an Anabaptist and the appellation is inappropriate. Korn has ordered the chaplain to live in a tent in the woods, well removed from the troops. Tappman is even more afraid of Colonel Korn than he is of Cathcart.
Corporal Whitcomb is the chaplain's hypocritical assistant — more a nemesis than aide — and the only person who lives near him in the woods. Whitcomb makes no pretense of belief in God or loyalty toward the chaplain. His deception is that he pretends to seek spiritual fulfillment for the men and their families but is really only interested in promoting religion as if it were a sales product. He is openly rude, a disgruntled subordinate who is certain that he could do the chaplain's job better than Tappman. Whitcomb repeatedly criticizes the chaplain, listing Tappman's flaws contemptuously. Among his promotions, the Corporal sends form letters to the families of casualties.
The chaplain himself is one of the most decent characters in the novel. He is sincere, kind, and introspective. He wonders about larger questions (even if there is a God), is never hypocritical, and is a much more admirable person than the bullies who intimidate him. Although he is ineffective, he does try to get Cathcart to stop raising the number of missions. Unlike the other characters featured in these chapters, the chaplain is capable of change. He grows from a timid, ineffectual, somewhat foolish soul to a bold and assertive force by the end of the novel. Throughout, he is a good man. No wonder Yossarian loves him.
sarcophagus any-stone coffin, especially one on display, as in a monumental tomb.
oscillate to swing or move regularly back and forth.
Anabaptist any member of a radical sixteenth-century sect of the Reformation originating in Switzerland.
déjà vu (French) "already seen"; a feeling that one has been in a place or had a particular experience before.
jamais vu and presque vu (French) "never seen" and "almost seen"; variations of déjà vu.
assuage to lessen (pain or distress); to allay; to pacify.
ignominy loss of one's reputation; shame and dishonor.