Defining "Catch-22"

Essay by NickLeggitCollege, UndergraduateA, November 2014

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Defining "Catch-22"

Throughout the novel, the concept of "Catch-22" is represented as an inescapable rule that is contradictory in nature. There are several instances of the catch in the novel, but each one basically amounts to this: those in control will remain in control, and those under them are powerless against their will. Catch-22 is the rule at the center of the bureaucracy of the war. Catch-22 is contradictory and unfair at its core, yet it is invoked throughout the novel to justify bureaucratic actions. Despite its utter meaninglessness, Catch-22 is applied to put real men in real peril simply because that is the will of those in charge (SparkNotes Editors).

In chapter five, we see the first iteration of Catch-22 in the novel:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.

Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he would have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle (Heller 46).

In this instance, Catch-22 manifests itself as a military rule, which prevents anyone from

avoiding combat missions with a kind of self-contradictory circular logic (Avakov 312). This catch goes against what a rational mind might conceive. Yossarian is...