Chapter 1 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 809

The Texan

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Yossarian is a puzzle to his doctors. The pain in his liver is not quite jaundice—almost, but not quite. If it turns into jaundice, they can treat it; if it does not become jaundice and goes away, they can dismiss him. Each day three doctors and Nurse Duckett (a brisk and serious woman who does not like Yossarian) come to check on him. When he tells them the pain is exactly the same, and they are irritated.

The pain in his liver is actually gone, but Yossarian does not tell them and they do not seem to suspect anything except perhaps that he is moving his bowels in secret. None of the nurses like Yossarian, but he has everything he needs in the hospital. The food is good, with extra rations of fresh meat, and no one but the staff ever disturbs him and most of the day he is free. Unlike Dunbar, who has to keep “falling on his face” to get back into the hospital, Yossarian always runs a temperature of 101 and has a clear conscience about staying indefinitely in these comfortable surroundings.

Once he decided to spend the rest of the war in the hospital, Yossarian wrote letters to everyone telling them he was in the hospital. Then he wrote them all, telling them he volunteered for a dangerous top secret mission and would write them when he returned. He has not written anyone since. As an officer, he is forced to censor the letters of enlisted men. It is an odious task, so he makes a game of it. Each day he wages war against something new—articles, adverbs, adjectives. One day he crosses out everything except a, an, and the.

When that grows too monotonous, he crosses out names and addresses on the envelopes. Each censored letter is supposed to be signed by the officer who censors it. Yossarian signs his name to the letters he does not read (which is most of them) and signs fictitious names to those he does. The military is infuriated at the unreadable envelopes and sends someone to the hospital, looking for the people who belong to the fictitious names.

This is a good ward, the best he and Dunbar have ever had. There is a fighter-pilot captain who survived a plane crash in the Adriatic Sea in the middle of winter but has the grippe, now that it is summer. There is a captain lying on his stomach with malaria and a Texan who believes “people of means” should have more votes than people like drifters, whores, and atheists. The Texan is generous and likeable; within three days, everyone hates him—everyone but the soldier in white. This man is in a complete body cast and the Texan talks to him incessantly and does not seem to mind that he never gets a response. One day Nurse Cramer discovers the white soldier is dead. Dunbar and Yossarian immediately accuse the Texan of murdering the poor man, which of course the Texan denies.

The day before Yossarian meets the chaplain, a stove explodes in the mess hall, and it is quite a disaster. The firemen work on the flames until they are called away by the arrival of bombers returning from a mission. Once the planes all land safely, the firemen return to find that the fire has died on its own. The chaplain arrives the next day, while Yossarian is busy censoring everything but romance words from today’s letters. The first time he sees the chaplain, he falls “madly in love with him.”

The timid chaplain sits uncomfortably next to the bed and asks how Captain Yossarian is and if he has everything he needs. Yossarian tells him he is good; in fact, he is not even sick. The chaplain, and Anabaptist, is here to visit everyone from the 256th Squadron (“two to the fighting eighth power”), especially Yossarian and Dunbar. Yossarian warns him to be careful because everyone else is crazy and this is the only sane ward in the entire hospital. The chaplain says “that’s good” to nearly everything Yossarian says, whether it is actually good or not.

A middle-aged colonel is in the small, private section of the ward; he is visited every day by a “gentle, sweet-faced woman.” She is pretty and quiet, and the doctors have done everything to the colonel to determine what is wrong with him and have only succeeded in making a mess of his internal organs.

Within ten days, the affable Texan drives everyone in the ward back to duty. Suddenly all the “sick” men have recovered and their ailments have disappeared—everyone but the C.I.D. man who caught a cold from the fighter captain and now has pneumonia. They would rather fight than be confined with the Texan every day.  

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Chapter 2 Summary