Chapter 17 Summary

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The Soldier in White

Yossarian is determined to remain in the hospital rather than fly a thirty-third mission; ten days later he changes his mind and comes out—only to find that the colonel has raised the number to forty-five.

Again Yossarian returns to the hospital, determined not to fly any more than his thirty-eight missions. He is free to escape to the hospital at any time because of his liver condition; he says he has one and the doctors are ashamed they cannot fix it.

Being in the hospital is easy for Yossarian; the death rate is higher outside the hospital than inside it, and the deaths outside are much uglier. Not everything inside the hospital is easy or convenient, and the closer the hospitals get to the battlefront, the more the quality of the patients deteriorates. An example of that is the soldier in white. He “could not have been any sicker without being dead.”

The soldier in white is “constructed entirely” of gauze and plaster. All four of his limbs are strung up and suspended by weights. The only patient who is not afraid to talk to him is the Texan, though he never gets an answer. The soldier has a small opening over his mouth for a thermometer, and Nurse Cramer discovers he is dead one afternoon when she checks his thermometer. Although Yossarian feels dread about the soldier in white, he believes the soldier deserved better than to have a nurse determining when his life is over.

Nurse Cramer is a compassionate, wholesome, unattractive girl, and Yossarian is furious with her for crying over the soldier’s death, demanding to know how she can even tell for whom she is crying. The men talk and decide that at least this soldier earned his injuries fairly; they each have unfair wounds or conditions which they do not deserve. They discuss these injustices, and Yossarian has too many worries “to keep track of.” Lieutenant Scheisskopf, Appleby, Havermeyer, Black, and Korn all want to kill him, and there are many others who want him dead. If none of them succeed, his various conditions might kill him.

Hungry Joe collects “lists of fatal diseases,” and Yossarian gives Doctor Daneeka ideas from the list when Daneeka needs to diagnose someone—or himself. Yossarian has so many conditions that he considers giving up and spending the rest of his life in a hospital bed. Yossarian fears Daneeka will not help him, and he does not. Daneeka reminds Yossarian of Catch-22. Besides, it is not Daneeka’s job to save lives. When Yossarian says he will fly no more than the fifty-one missions he has already won, Daneeka encourages him to fly the required fifty-five. If he does, Daneeka agrees to consider doing something to help; in return, Yossarian must continue to keep Daneeka from actually having to fly.

For Yossarian, the world is full of catastrophes waiting to happen to him; it is a miracle he is still alive after twenty-eight years.

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