Chapter 40 Summary

Catch-22

Of course there is a catch to Yossarian’s being able to leave—a Catch-22. Colonel Cathcart is fuming at all the trouble Yossarian has caused, but Colonel Korn is pleasant, reminding Yossarian that he has been treated well here: fed daily, paid on time, promoted to captain, and given a medal. Korn is convinced Yossarian will accept the “despicable deal” he is about to offer.

Korn admires Yossarian a little because he is an “intelligent person of great moral character who has taken a very courageous stand”; Korn admits he is also an intelligent person but has “no moral character at all.” All Cathcart keeps asking is whether Yossarian is aware that they are in the midst of a war; of course Yossarian is quite aware of that obvious fact.

The two colonels argue incessantly during this discussion, often ignoring Yossarian altogether. The plan they have devised will send Yossarian home in two weeks without “causing too much dissatisfaction” with the others, and Korn is certain Yossarian will accept it because his only alternative is a court-martial for desertion of duty.

Cathcart is only concerned about how any of this is going to affect him and how he can please both General Peckem and General Scheisskopf, who hate one another. Korn wants to be a full colonel and Cathcart wants to be a general because, like everyone, they aspire to have more. That is why they must send Yossarian home; he will leave in two weeks if he simply agrees to like them. He just has to say “nice things” about them here and back in the States.

It seems so simple, but Yossarian realizes Korn was telling the truth when he said this would not be an easy decision for Yossarian. The colonels intend to make things as easy as they can for Yossarian by promoting him to major and awarding him another medal. Articles will be written about him, praising him for his valor at Ferrara and his loyalty to man and country. Yossarian will leave here a hero and tell everyone his protest over not flying any more missions was only a “minor disagreement between pals, that’s all.”

The other men will be appeased by this and fly more missions without complaining. Yossarian is unsure, knowing this is a “crummy trick” to play on his fellow soldiers. In a moment, however, he jubilantly accepts the deal; he says if the others are unhappy, they can do something themselves, as he did. The three men shake hands, calling one another by their given names and nicknames, and Yossarian is exhilarated as he leaves Cathcart’s office.

A private wearing green fatigues salutes Yossarian; as he returns the salute, the private—Nately’s girlfriend—stabs Yossarian under his raised arm. He shrieks in terror as he falls to the floor, terrified, as she prepares to strike him again. The colonels scare her away and save Yossarian’s life as he lay unconscious on the floor.