In Joseph Heller's war novel Catch-22, the main character Yossarian's feelings toward war are greatly shaped by the fate of another character who never appears in the flesh during the novel. In bits and pieces Heller reveals who the character Snowden is and how he affects Yossarian; Heller does this discreetly. Heller uses the character to strengthen one of the novel's overall themes: war dehumanizes men; during war those actually shedding blood are no longer individuals because they must fight for their nation and cause they may not even believe in. When the horrific details of Snowden's death are finally revealed the theme is more evident.
Yossarian is not a typical American war hero. In fact, he is not even American- he is Assyrian! Heller does not write of Yossarian's astounding bravery, patriotism or heroic acts. Instead, ironically, he writes about a coward, a man who does not know his role in WWII.
Snowden's death alerts readers as to why Yossarian does not want to fight. Chapters before Snowden's death is revealed, his funeral is described. Here, Heller makes an important allusion to the biblical story of the Adam and Eve. Yossarian, shocked by Snowden's death, refuses to wear his clothes and watches the funeral naked from a tree. By viewing Snowden die in a such an explicit way, Yossarian has lost his innocence much like Adam and Eve through sin. Yossarian is no longer innocent because he has realized the truth about war: war takes any man's spirit. His clothing, ironically, a military uniform becomes a symbol of his innocence, and shed, he has this no longer. Another irony is that after Snowden's death, all Yossarian cares about is keeping himself alive long enough to be sent home- he could care less about the war going on.
The second-to-last chapter fully describes the mission when Snowden dies a horrible death- his liver, intestines, lungs and other entrails falling out of his body. As he whimpers silently about how cold he feels, and Yossarian sees him dying, a secret that is thematically important is revealed: "the spirit gone, man is garbage...man is matter." In the metaphoric sense, if man is garbage, he cane be thrown away, crumpled or replaced. Men in war can be treated like interchangeable parts, and they were in essentially machine parts. The phrase "man is matter" also summarizes Heller's attitude toward war, not just Yossarian's. Heller's description of Snowden's death, and Yossarian's feeling toward it show his mocking, satirical attitude toward a serious situation. Heller uses his characters to poke fun at the plight of soldiers, rather than displaying war in its serious nature.
Snowden's character functions to affect Yossarian's feeling about his purpose in the war. Ultimately, his death is the only personal experience that John Yossarian has in the war. After his death the reader can understand what war really does to men and is left to question if the only loophole to catch-22 is death.