Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Captain John Yossarian
Captain John Yossarian, a United States Air Force bombardier who tries to escape World War II by embracing the absurd. He is foiled by the madness and stupidity around him and by the ultimate irony of the rule known as Catch-22: Anyone can be grounded for being insane, but requesting to be grounded means that an individual is sane.
Colonel Cathcart, the group commander, who sends his pilots on increasingly dangerous missions in order to become famous and earn a promotion.
Major Major Major
Major Major Major, the commander of the 256th Squadron, who was promoted by a machine.
Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder
Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer. He turns his black market operation into a powerful syndicate and is not above aiding the enemy for profit.
Captain Black, the squadron intelligence officer, who constantly requires pilots to swear loyalty oaths.
Doc Daneeka, the flight surgeon. He informs Yossarian about the tenets of Catch-22.
Captain R. O. Shipman
Captain R. O. Shipman, the chaplain, who is accused of tampering with the enlisted men’s mail.
General Dreedle, the wing commander, who is engaged in a power struggle with General Peckem....
(The entire section is 244 words.)
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Themes and Characters
The protagonist of Catch-22, Captain John Yossarian, is motivated by two closely related impulses: to subvert the repressive military establishment and to survive. His desperate attempts to escape death and to preserve a meaningful code of morality reflect the ongoing human struggle against overwhelming and frequently life-threatening forces or institutions. Paranoid that an unidentified "they" are trying to kill him, Yossarian feigns insanity, seeks refuge in the hospital, poisons his squadron with soap powder, and moves a bomb line on a map. When he does fly combat missions, "Yo-Yo" traces irregular patterns in the sky, evading flak right and left. Although labeled crazy by many of the other characters, Yossarian is sane in believing his life endangered—whether by officers such as Cathcart who care less about their men's safety than about possible promotions, by Milo Mindbender and his twisted entrepreneurial schemes, or by Nately's knife-wielding prostitute.
Graphic reminders of man's mortality pervade the novel. Heller hauntingly depicts scenes of war: B-25s dodging flak, the claustrophobic womb/tomb environment of the bombardier's compartment, and Yossarian's horrifying discovery that "[t]he spirit gone, man is garbage," as he watches his wounded gunner Snowden's entrails spill out on the floor. The obscene loss of life is not limited, however, to the battlefield. Chief Halfoat dies of pneumonia, Hungry Joe is suffocated in his sleep by a...
(The entire section is 564 words.)
Captain Aarfy Aardvaark
Yossarian's navigator, Aardvaark pretends he can't hear Yossarian's commands and laughs when Yossarian or anyone else is in trouble, because deep down he's a sadist. Captain Aardvaark is well-mannered and respectful of the ladies on the surface, but he turns out to have a sinister side, coldly pushing a young girl out the window after raping her. What's one Italian girl's life worth, he asks Yossanan calmly. Against the horror of war, his question is a disturbing one, because we know that the answer is: not much.
See Captain Albert Taylor Tappman
He is as all-American as apple pie, and "everything Appleby did, he did well." Although "everyone who knew him liked him," the men tease him with the absurd charge that he has flies in his eyes, and Yossarian despises him.
The squadron intelligence officer, Captain Black aspires to be squadron commander, even though he is not on combat duty. Outraged by Major Major's naming as commander, he starts the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade and refuses to allow Major Major to sign the voluntary oath. His power trip is ended by Majorde Coverley, who demands to be fed after he is asked to sign an oath.
General Peckem's forceful yet inept troubleshooter. It's Cargill's job to get the troops excited about...
(The entire section is 3870 words.)