Chapter 36 Summary

The Cellar

The disaster is too awful for Chaplain Tappman to contemplate. At first he prays that his closest friends have survived, but he knows that is not a proper prayer. He lives in constant fear that he is going to die without ever seeing his wife and children again. He rides to the landing field with Sergeant Whitcomb and tries not to listen as Whitcomb celebrates being able to write twelve letters of condolence all at once. When they arrive, the chaplain is in awe it the “great, appalling stillness.” He is overjoyed to see Yossarian but can immediately see by his face that Nately is dead. As the chaplain sobs his grief, someone takes him firmly by the arm and takes him away for questioning.

He asks why he is being questioned, but his interrogators only say they are confident they will soon find out what “very serious crimes” he has committed. Tappman is taken to a basement room where interrogation devices are prominently displayed to intimidate him, including a ceaselessly dripping faucet. A major asks the chaplain to write his signature and then accuses him of not writing his name in his own handwriting.

The major shows him a letter addressed to Mary, Tappman’s wife, which has been heavily censored. Tappman recognizes Yossarian’s handwriting but says he does not. The chaplain finally gets angry at the persistent circular arguments his interrogators make and demands to go back to his grieving squadron. The major shoves Tappman back into his chair and continues the ridiculous interrogation.

Colonel Cathcart claims Tappman stole a plum tomato from him; the chaplain maintains that Cathcart gave it to him, which is true. The major insists Tappman must be guilty or he would not be under interrogation. Next Tappman is accused of not believing in God because he once said atheism is not a crime. Tappman is formally charged with “being Washington Irving” and capriciously censoring letters. He is summarily found guilty and told not to leave the island; he is under constant surveillance.

Tappman is filled with “moral outrage” and confronts Colonel Korn about some of the men who die in the crash already having flown all seventy of their required missions. Korn is only worried about how he can write his report without making himself look bad. Tappman plans to talk next to General Dreedle but is shocked to learn that Dreedle is out and General Peckem is the new wing commander.

Dr. Stubbs is being sent away because he has been spreading the lie that no one has to fly more than seventy missions.