'Catch-22' Week 1, Chapters 1-11: Discuss!


So by now the diligent among us should have finished Chapter 11, having met Yossarian, Lieutenant Scheisskopf, Major Major, Hungry Joe, Captain Black, and the other members of the 256th stationed on Pianosa. We're through the first section and have gotten a glimpse of most of the characters, which fully fleshed-out sections for a few of them. So, a few thoughts/questions to get us started:

1.) A favorite line (or two)? Catch-22's packed with quotable lines, especially in the form of paradoxes or the kind of bureaucratic double-binds that give the book its title. Many are mordantly funny, with the added benefit of ringing true. One of my favorites: "Justice is a knee in the gut from the floor on the chin at night sneaky with a knife brought up down on the magazine of a battleship sandbagged underhanded in the dark without a word of warning." It reads like Beat poetry.

2.) Fate versus circumstance: It makes sense, given Yossarian's obsession with mortality, that this theme would develop. One passage in particular juxtaposes fate (an active force of history) with circumstance: "History did not demand Yossarian's premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance. But that was war."

3.) Bureaucracy: If there's a force that's an agent of both fate and circumstance in the book, it's bureaucracy. The bureaucratic environment presented here is both all-controlling and completely absurd: it's the clockwork of fate without any apparent design or motive, other than to bind individuals within it. Obviously the book owes a debt to Kafka, and works like Brazil and Dr. Strangelove owe a lot to it.

4.) Duty and cowardice: Yossarian says he's afraid, even calls himself a coward. Wintergreen describes his hole-digging (punishment for going AWOL) as a matter of duty. How does the book take up the interplay of duty and cowardice?

5.) Mudd: poor, poor disincorporated Mudd. Disappeared bodily from the sky over Italy, then disappeared disappeared again from the bureaucratic rolls of those who have existed. Even his name, simply a pun in life, gets erased -- he becomes primarily "the dead man in Yossarian's tent." And how about some of these other names -- Scheisskopf, Major Major, Washington Irving (and Irving Washington), and John Milton?