How would you describe Joseph Heller's style in Catch-22?

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Catch-22 is all about war: how confusing, nonsensical, repetitive, and illogical it is. Thus, the prose style in the novel matches the novel's content (we often call this "form mirroring content"). Heller's style in this novel is wordy, confusing, repetitive, and hard to follow with its jumps in time and shifts in perspective.

We see repetition in the opening lines of the novel: "It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him." The first sentence tells us everything that we should know about the instantaneous nature of this love. Yet the second sentence tells us again, this time providing a little more information (the names of the people involved in this love). These first lines echo much of Yossarian's experience of war: the way it repeats but with slight changes and the way we learn more from each repetition.

This repetition appears in the chronology of the novel, as well. Scenes and events are related multiple times, with each new perspective providing more details and context. We often don't understand scenes the first time we read them; Heller withholds information, slowly revealing pieces of the overall puzzle as the novel unfolds. This style echoes the atmosphere of wartime: the individual events that comprise the war are hard to make sense of in the moment.

Heller also highlights the nonsensical nature of war through the flawed, circular, or contradictory logic the characters and narrator use in the book. In the early pages of the novel, Heller writes, "The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him." These two sentences paired together make no sense: why, if the Texan is a "likable" person, does no one like him? There are many other examples of these paradoxical sentences: "Not even Clevinger understood how Milo could do that, and Clevinger knew everything" and the exchange in which Milo insists "I never lie!" followed by "I only lie when it's necessary" are other moments.

The style of Heller's prose in this book is essential to understanding the narrative and its thematic elements, for one echoes the other. We are meant to feel confused, as if we are lacking information, and we are meant to be able to easily poke holes in the logic of the characters. In this way, Heller can heighten his satire of the war.

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Catch-22 has an exaggerated style. It is largely a satire/dark comedy, so the writing style fits these genres. Characters have silly names, like Major Major Major, or alliterative ones, like Milo Minderbinder. The humor ranges from silly, quasi-slapstick, like when Milo feeds Yossarian chocolate-covered cotton, to horrific yet comedic elements like the way the soldier in white inspires great, exaggerated fear in the sick ward.

One passage on the first page of the novel sets up the tone quite well:

Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn't quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn't become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.

The predominant tone of this passage is borderline farcical. Yossarian has checked himself into the sick ward in order to get out of flying pointless, dangerous missions. The zigzag manner of the prose here—going back and forth with what the doctors can or cannot do with Yossarian's condition—reflects "catch-22" itself, unresolvable and absurd.

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Satire is the key word of Joseph Heller's novel, Catch-22. His cast of characters are almost uniformly treated in extreme exaggeration, and the key elements of satire--irony, social criticism, and parody--can be found in abundance. High-ranking officers are consistently incompetent, and the chain of command is clogged with examples of idiocy, political appointments and nepotism. For example, Captain Major Major Major is promoted solely because his superiors see no reason for a man with such a name should not be "Major" Major Major Major. Milo Minderbinder becomes the most powerful man in the entire theatre of war due to his ability to turn a profit at all costs. Yossarian's sanity is constantly questioned because he actually cares about the dangers that threaten him. Doc Daneeka, who is quite alive, is officially recognized as killed in action because his name was included in the flight logs of the plane that went down. Yossarian is arrested for being AWOL instead of Aarfy, who has murdered a prostitute by pushing her out a window. Heller's style of lunacy extends to the war itself, where Milo's profit margin becomes more important than human life; his contract to strafe his own men is sanctioned without apparent question. The satirical content is the perfect background for what is one of the strongest anti-war novels ever written.

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