Chapter 23 Summary
Nately’s Old Man
Nately finds his whore after “many fruitless weeks of mournful searching” and lures her and her two girlfriends back to his apartment by promising them thirty dollars each. Nately will pay but wants Aarfy and Yossarian to take the other two friends. Aarfy obnoxiously proclaims he never has to “pay for it,” but he suggests they keep the girls until after curfew and then threaten to have them arrested unless the girls return the money.
Aarfy is always trying to “help” Nately because Nately’s father is rich and influential, and Aarfy hopes to benefit from him after the war. The girl Nately is so in love with swears sullenly at him until Hungry Joe and Dunbar join the group. Everyone but Aarfy leaves, and the girls, feeling much friendlier now, take the four men to their apartment after demanding their money.
Soon eleven nearly naked women surround the men, and Hungry Joe desperately wants to get his camera; however, he is afraid that this “lovely, lurid, rich and colorful pagan paradise” will be gone when he returns. An old man cackles lasciviously and proclaims that America will lose the war. When Nately reminds him that Italy is a much poorer country than America and has been occupied by both Germans and Americans, the old man reminds Nately that Italian soldiers are no longer dying. Nately is shocked that the old man thinks America, like Rome and Greece, will die.
Nately wishes he could just take his whore to bed, but this “vulturous, diabolical old man” infuriates him. The one-hundred-and-seven-year-old man is nothing like Nately’s father, yet he reminds Nately of him. The amoral man champions whoever is winning the war; in fact, he is the one who hit Major de Coverly in the eye with a rose when the Americans conquered the city because the major seemed too arrogant for the old man’s liking. Nineteen-year-old Nately passionately makes the case for loyalty and honor, but the old man just shakes his head at such raw idealism. If Nately wants to live to be an old man, he should grow as jaded and amoral as this old man.
Nately sleeps alone on the couch. He is a “sensitive, rich, good-looking boy” who has managed to live “without trauma, tension, hate, or neurosis.” He was raised to despise “climbers” and “pushers” and taught that old money is better than new money.
He does sleep with his whore in the morning; they are interrupted by her twelve-year-old sister who wants Nately to be with her, too. After the three of them have a civil breakfast at a café, the whore is bored and she and some of her friends leave with some soldiers. Nately returns the sister to the house where he finds his sated friends. He wishes the old man would make himself decent so Nately would not have to feel the confusing shame of being reminded of his father every time he sees him.