Summary and Analysis
Nurse Sue Ann Duckett is a tall, spare, able, prompt, strict, intelligent, and responsible young woman who keeps her composure under almost any circumstance. Yossarian, therefore, cannot resist making a crude pass at her. His friend Dunbar joins in. They succeed in upsetting Nurse Duckett as well as the Colonel in command of the ward. Yossarian is placed in analysis with Major Sanderson, a psychiatrist, who thinks he is treating Anthony F. Fortiori because that is the name on the chart on Yossarian's bed. Dobbs still wants to kill Colonel Cathcart but changes his mind when he completes sixty missions and thinks he will get to go home. At that point, however, Yossarian is feeling murderous, having been cheated out of his free ticket home for being crazy. Orr continues to ditch his plane in the sea almost every time he flies a mission. When the squadron is ordered to attack Bologna for a third time, Orr fails to make it back. He is last seen paddling away from his single-engine plane as a storm hits.
If Yossarian's assault on Nurse Duckett, whom he barely knows at this point, is meant to be amusing, it presents a problem of interpretation unlike any other in the novel. Duckett is angular, ascetic, and proper. If Yossarian gave her a little tweak or even a pinch on the bottom, his behavior might be understood as that of a naughty little boy, an immature man who maybe needs to grow up a little. But what he does is, for many readers, disconcerting. As Nurse Duckett bends over to smooth the sheets, Yossarian slips his hand "stealthily into the narrow space between her knees and, all at once, brought it up swiftly under her dress as far as it would go." The nurse shrieks, squirms, vaults, and seesaws back and forth on what Heller calls "her divine fulcrum" for "almost a full fifteen seconds" before breaking free. With "an ashen, trembling face," she then backs into Dunbar who grabs her bosom from behind. Duckett breaks free but is again grabbed "by the snatch" by Yossarian, reducing the nurse to tears. Although Yossarian is a social rebel, this scene is a little hard to take. It sounds more like something that Aarfy would do. The assault gets Yossarian into analysis with Major Sanderson, resulting in some very funny exchanges; but it certainly has to alter our evaluation of the previously lovable protagonist. It is also disconcerting that Nurse Duckett proceeds to have an affair with Yossarian.
The dialogue between Yossarian and the psychiatrist plays on some of the stereotypes of Freudian analysis. Sanderson always is looking for some hidden meaning in what the patient says. The doctor offers Yossarian a cigarette. Yossarian declines. Immediately, Sanderson accuses Yossarian of having "a strong aversion to accepting a cigarette from me." The patient points out that he just finished one; it's still smoldering in the ashtray. "That's a very ingenious explanation," says Sanderson. "But I suppose we'll soon discover the true reason." Sanderson insists that the patient's name is Fortiori and that "Yossarian" and "Dunbar" are imaginary figures whom the patient blames for everything. Finally, the doctor believes he has his patient cornered. Sanderson asks if it has ever occurred to the patient that he is promiscuous because he is "merely trying to assuage [his] subconscious fears of sexual impotence.
"Yes, sir, it has," answers Yossarian.
"Then why do you do it?
"To assuage my fears of sexual impotence."
Sanderson concludes that the patient is depressed by misery, ignorance, persecution, greed, and corruption, among other things, and has an aversion to dying. He thus must be "crazy" and sent home. Unfortunately, Sanderson sends Fortiori home instead.
Orr's behavior remains a mystery. Yossarian believes that his little buddy is just a bad pilot, or at least very unlucky, because he ditches his planes on almost every run. Orr pleads with Yossarian to fly with him, but Yossarian is not about to risk that. While Yossarian is in the hospital, Orr lands in the ocean again. When the crew breaks out the life jackets, they won't inflate. Milo Minderbinder has stolen the carbon-dioxide cylinders from the inflating chambers in order to make ice-cream sodas for the officers. He has replaced them with mimeographed notes reading: "What's good for M & M Enterprises is good for the country." After Yossarian leaves the hospital, Orr ditches in the water again. He rows off alone in one of the life rafts, a "busy, preoccupied smile" on his face as he pores over a map, with compass and emergency provisions nearby. Yossarian waits for Orr's return, but Orr is never found.
ambivalence simultaneous conflicting feelings toward a person or thing.
Luftwaffe here, Air Force of Nazi Germany.
bemused plunged in thought; preoccupied.
Mae West inflatable life jacket for use by aviators downed at sea; named after a shapely movie actress of the 1930s and 1940s.
sedulous working hard and steadily; diligent.
medulla oblongata (Latin) the widening continuation of the spinal cord, forming the lower part of the brain and controlling respiration as well as other bodily functions.