Summary and Analysis
Yossarian shares a tent with an airman named Orr and a mysterious "dead man." Orr is an odd little fellow, a mechanical wizard who is always fixing up the tent. Currently, he is working on a faucet that will feed gasoline into a stove that he has built in Yossarian's absence. Orr alternately delights Yossarian and drives him nuts. Today it is the latter. As he pursues his meticulous task, Orr delights in confounding Yossarian with an anecdote about Orr's childhood.
Yossarian wants to go home. The number of missions to complete a tour of duty is supposed to be forty, but Colonel Cathcart keeps increasing the number just as Yossarian is about to reach it; the current requirement is fifty. When Yossarian can take it no more, he goes to Doc Daneeka to request to be grounded; but Doc has his own problems.
Yossarian's squadron is bursting with odd individuals, causing some critics to complain that the characters are little more than embodiments of comic attributes. The quirks are certainly entertaining, but beneath the humor is an insistent theme of individuality in a military system that demands conformity. For the most part, Yossarian's comrades are individuals, not just fighting machines, and one of the strangest is his roommate, Orr.
The exchange with Orr when Yossarian returns to his tent is another example of a classic comic routine based on responses that seem nonsensical (non sequiturs) but in fact are valid within the context of the routine. It also reveals Orr's playful nature and his pleasure in having his own little secrets. Looking at just the dialogue, we can see the comic rhythm of the piece:
Orr: "When I was a kid, I used to walk around all day with crab apples in my cheeks. One in each cheek."
Orr (tittering triumphantly): "Because they're better than horse chestnuts. When I couldn't get crab apples, I used horse chestnuts. Horse chestnuts are about the same size as crab apples and actually have a better shape, although the shape doesn't matter a bit."
Yossarian: "Why did you walk around with crab apples in your cheeks? That's what I asked."
Orr: "Because they've got a better shape than horse chestnuts. I just told you that."
Yossarian: "Why, you evil-eyed, mechanically-aptituded, disaffiliated son of a bitch, did you walk around with anything in your cheeks?"
Orr: "I didn't walk around with anything in my cheeks. I walked around with crab apples in my cheeks. . . ."
The answer, not that it matters, is that Orr wanted "apple cheeks" — not the color so much as the shape. He then extends the routine by revealing, in a similar pattern, that he also walked around with rubber balls in his hands. If anyone asked about the crab apples in his cheeks, he could just open his hands and say they weren't crab apples in his cheeks, they were rubber balls in his hands.
Doc Daneeka is a walking series of contradictions. An ostensibly pleasant man, his idea of fun is a good sulk. He is an airman but dreads flying, a doctor who is a hypochondriac, a kind man who rarely dares to be kind. The doctor is usually convinced that he is dying of something; but his assistants, Gus and Wes, never can find anything wrong except that Daneeka's temperature is only 96.8 degrees. Doc is the only one who can ground Yossarian, but he refuses to do so because he fears that Colonel Cathcart will punish him by sending the doctor to the Pacific theater of operations where he might contract some horrible tropical disease. Daneeka resents that he was taken away from a potentially lucrative private medical practice back in the States and brought to Corsica, where the only extra money he can earn would come from flying. Because Doc is afraid of flying, Yossarian persuades pilot McWatt to enter Daneeka's name on his flight logs so the doctor can receive flight pay.
Instead of grounding Yossarian, Doc recommends that his friend be like Havermeyer, a lead bombardier who never takes evasive action, flies straight to the target, endangers his men and himself, but rarely misses. According to Colonel Cathcart, "He's the best damned bombardier we've got." Havermeyer spends his free time enjoying peanut brittle and shooting tiny field mice in his tent at night with the .45-caliber pistol he took from the dead man in Yossarian's tent. Although this works for Havermeyer, Yossarian still prefers to go home.
U.S.O. The United Service Organizations provide entertainment and recreation for the armed forces. During World War II, they sponsored numerous appearances of celebrities to entertain the troops.
flak the fire from antiaircraft guns.
Où sont les Neigedens d'antan The well-known phrase, from the French poet François Villon (1431–1463) actually is, où sont les neiges d'antan ("where are the snows of yesteryear"). Yossarian alters the fourth word to match his pun on the plural "Snowdens."
Parlez en anglais . . . Je ne parle pas français "Speak English . . . I don't speak French."
unctuous oily or greasy; characterized by a smug, smooth pretense.