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What are the literary strategies used to raise the political issues in Catch-22?

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mpumpkin | Valedictorian

Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:05 PM via web

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What are the literary strategies used to raise the political issues in Catch-22?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 11, 2013 at 7:10 AM (Answer #1)

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One of the key literary strategies adopted by Heller in this book is the abandonment of a single, linear narrative in favour of a non-chronological, non-linear narrative that deliberately distorts the reader's peception of time through its use of flashbacks and narrative "jumps" from one time to another. Much as Slaughterhouse-Five by Vonnegut adopts this strategy, it is clear that Heller does this in order to juxtapose scenes that are separated by time yet have a strong thematic link to each other. The author does this to highlight the continual increase by Cathcart of the number of missions the men are expected to fly, and the description of how Snowden dies, which is a key event that, towards the end of the novel, triggers an important epiphany for Yossarian, corresponding with his own decision to flee the war and its complete madnes rather than try and battle on. Note how this epiphany is described in Chapter 41:

Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollably. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.

As he gazes upon Snowden's entrails, Yossarian sees a prediction of his own unavoidable death. Without the soul, "man [is] matter" and nothing else. Therefore, given our inherent fragility as humans, Yossarian comes to understand that "Ripeness was all," or that life has to be lived while it can be lived. The juxtaposition of Snowden's death in the past with Yossarian's revelations in the present highlights the madness of war and also the only sane response: to leave it and live life well away from such destruction. Thus, in this novel, one literary strategy that is used to highlight the political themes is the non-linear narrative and the use of flashbacks.

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