Chapter 9 Summary

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Major Major Major Major

Thirty-one-year-old Major Major Major Major was born with several disadvantages, including his name. He looked like Henry Fonda and was always apologizing for not being Henry Fonda. Major’s father was a “sober, God-fearing man” who made his living not growing alfalfa as the “Government paid him well for each bushel he did not grow.” Soon he was not growing more alfalfa than anyone in the county.

In kindergarten, Major finally discovered that his father named him Major Major Major instead of his wife’s choice, Caleb Major; until then, everyone called the boy Caleb. The revelation actually killed the boy’s mother, and Major Major Major suffered an acute identity crisis. His honesty, politeness, and obedience created enemies everywhere he went.

Four days after joining the Army as a private, he was promoted to Major as a joke: Major Major Major Major. This promotion depressed Major until he became one of Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s air force cadets, even though he technically outranked his commanding officer. Life there was no different, however; “whoever he was with always wanted to be with someone else.”

Now the only thing that makes Major happy is playing basketball, but that all ends the day Colonel Cathcart abruptly announces that he is the new squadron commander. Major Major will never enjoy basketball again. No one talks to him, but everyone stares at him.

Major is a lamentable failure at being a Major. The day after C.I.D. agents question him about someone in the hospital who is forging Washington Irving’s name to censored letters, Major adopts the idea as a small act of rebellion and begins signing all official documents the same way.

Major is bored and dissatisfied. Whatever he is supposed to do gets done without him, although he is glad for official documents to sign so he has something to do. The first C.I.D. man who appears is suspicious of the second C.I.D. man; both are buffoonish in their quest for the Washington Irving signer. Major changes and signs every document John Milton, but only with his left hand and while wearing a fake mustache and dark glasses (a disguise he tried to use, unsuccessfully, to play basketball again).

Major tells his sergeant to let no one in to disturb him until he has left his office. Major climbs in and out of a window to avoid detection and eats his meals alone. He is proud of his accomplishment: in a world swarming with two hundred soldiers, he has become a recluse. The only one who penetrates his self-imposed isolation is Yossarian, who literally tackles him one day to get permission to go home.

Colonel Cathcart never sends anyone home; he simply keeps the men who have completed enough missions to here without obligations until he runs short of men and is forced to increase the required number of missions because he does not have enough available men for combat crews. Major Major listens and understands Yossarian’s argument but says he can do nothing. 

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