The novel, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, is a war story
about a small group of flyers in the Mediterranean in 1944.. When the
book originally appeared, the counter-culture movement of the 1960s
was just beginning and the war setting of this novel was already one generation
removed. American ideals and thoughts, regarding war and the consequences
were being challenged and taken into new directions by people. Catch-22
appeared at the right time to give voice to this generation. In the end,
critics consider Catch-22 a literary masterpiece that significantly contributed
to the direction later authors of American and 20th century literature
took in the use of black humor and satire.
Set in the World War II Italian theater of operations, it
covers the exploits of a bomber squadron, based on the fictional island
of Pianosa. The primary protagonist linking the "snap-shots of
the story together is the character of Yossarian, who has flown his quota
missions to get out of World War II but can't because the number of missions
needed for discharge keeps getting raised. He has had enough, but his motivations
go much further. The other characters and situations of the story all end
up influencing his final decision and the reader ends up understanding the
authors message, Yossarian, and the other players in the drama.
The phrase, "Catch 22," has become part of our lexicon.
But it was Joseph Heller who coined it, when he entitled his absurdist satire
of war Catch-22, and lent meaning to a paradox where alternatives
cancel each other out, making escape a virtually impossible dilemma. The
book, written some 40 years ago, is a classic because its message has never
gone out of style, and probably never will, as long as there's a little
human foible around called war. Heller put his finger on the insane, dehumanizing
pulse of mankind's lust for battle and came away with a diagnosis that continues
to ring true: war is one of the human race's most barbaric, nonsensical
rites, yet making it vanish is a problem for which we've yet to find a solution.