Summary and Analysis
In Rome, Yossarian desperately seeks companionship, with mixed results. Nately's whore, who has been working for twenty-two hours straight, is in an awkward situation with several senior officers; Yossarian and other friends assist Nately in helping her out. After a good night's sleep, the prostitute displays a remarkable change of attitude toward Nately. Back at the base a few weeks later, Yossarian breaks Nately's nose when the Thanksgiving festivities get out of control; Nately checks into the hospital. Regretting his impulsive action, Yossarian also becomes a hospital patient, along with Dunbar and Chaplain Tappman, so that they can be close to Nately. Dunbar notices that the soldier in white seems to have returned to the ward. Nurse Duckett reports that it is another soldier, a burn victim. She has decided to marry a doctor but meets secretly with Yossarian to give him some disturbing news.
The theme of friendship, tempered with romance, dominates these chapters. With Heller, we can expect neither to be presented in conventional ways.
Yossarian is often an admirable character, but he is certainly no "hero" and would not want to be one. However, his attitude toward women is especially bothersome. He is a womanizer with an oddly romantic bent, falling in love with almost everyone he beds but treating women primarily as sexual objects. When he arrives in Rome, for example, he misses "Nurse Duckett so much that he [goes] searching hungrily through the streets for Luciana, whose laugh and invisible scar" he has never forgotten. Not finding her, he hopes to run across the "boozy, blowzy, bleary-eyed floozy" whom he saw at the officers' club on a previous visit (Chapter 16). He is "deeply in love" with all three women. Having searched for the latter two in vain, he has meaningless sex with a streetwalker and, the next day, a similar coupling with a short, chubby girl whom he finds in the enlisted men's apartment. He then goes shopping for a present for Nurse Duckett. In that context, Nately's passion for "his" prostitute seems mature and sincere.
Nately's whore is in trouble; he needs his friends to help him rescue her. After engaging in an orgy with two other hookers and some middle-aged, boorish senior officers, she has been abandoned to the sadistic whims of the older men. The senior officers are drunk and weary, but they want Nately's whore to give them one last, odd satisfaction. She is too tired to fight but doesn't understand what they want:
"Say uncle," they said to her.
"Uncle," she said.
"No, no. Say uncle."
"Uncle," she said.
"She still doesn't understand."
"You still don't understand, do you? We can't really make you say uncle unless you don't want to say uncle. Don't you see? Don't say uncle when I tell you to say uncle. Okay? Say uncle.
"Uncle," she said.
"No, don't say uncle. Say uncle."
She didn't say uncle.
"That's very good."
"It's a start. Now say uncle."
"Uncle," she said.
"It's no good."
Dunbar, Dobbs, Hungry Joe, and Yossarian enter with Nately and begin throwing the senior officers' uniforms out the window and threatening further mayhem. The senior officers relent, and Nately takes his whore to her apartment where she sleeps for eighteen hours. When she wakes up, she is "deeply in love with him. In the last analysis, that was all it took to win her heart — a good night's sleep." Nately's response to the whore's sudden devotion is sadly predictable for a young man of his background. Having crawled after her for much of the war, he now becomes dominating in a gentlemanly manner. He fell in love with an independent working girl, but now he wants to change her into a subservient maiden. Love has "transmogrified him into a romantic idiot." Nately's whore and her little sister agree that Nately is crazy, but the prostitute does miss him when he is gone and is, later, furious with Yossarian for breaking Nately's nose.
Yossarian's friendship with Nately is only temporarily put on hold by the broken nose. Thanks to Milo, there is plenty of food and cheap booze for the Thanksgiving celebration that lasts all afternoon and into the night. Camaraderie abounds. The men are having a great time: passing out or throwing up, fighting, guzzling, staggering across the base and into the nearby hills. Yossarian decides to go to bed early for safety's sake. He is awakened by machine-gun fire. At first he thinks that Milo is attacking the base again. Then he hears drunken laughter and "Happy New Year" from an emplacement in the hills. Bullets whiz just over the tents. Yossarian charges the machine-gun nest, his .45-caliber pistol in hand. When Nately catches up and stops him, Yossarian hits his friend in the face as hard as he can, breaking Nately's nose. The culprits who have been doing the shooting escape.
Friendship prevails the next day as Dunbar accompanies a repentant Yossarian to the hospital where both men check in as patients in order to be near Nately. Chaplain Tappman claims he has "Wisconsin shingles," an invented disease, in order to join them. It is the first lie of his life, and he is very proud. Nurse Duckett has decided to marry a doctor — any doctor — because they make so much money. Nevertheless, when she asks to meet Yossarian in the broom closet, he assumes that the rendezvous is for sexual purposes. It is not. Nurse Duckett heard some unidentifiable people talking and wants to warn Yossarian that "they" are "going to disappear" Dunbar. Neither Duckett nor Yossarian knows who "they" are or what it means to "disappear" someone. In some very important ways, the airmen have already disappeared. Figuratively, they have lost their individuality to the military institution. Many do literally disappear through what seems like arbitrary death. Yossarian rushes off to warn Dunbar, but his friend mysteriously is nowhere to be found.
motley here, composed of many different or clashing elements — Nately and his friends form a "motley rescue party."
arduous difficult to do; laborious.
languorous lacking vigor or vitality.
perchè (Italian) "why" or "because."
Tu sei un pazzo imbecille! (Italian) "You are a crazy idiot!"
obstreperous noisy; boisterous; unruly.
Saturnalia here, a period or occasion of unrestrained, often orgiastic, revelry.