Characters Discussed

Captain John Yossarian

Captain John Yossarian, a United States Air Force bombardier who tries to escape World War II by embracing the absurd. He is foiled by the madness and stupidity around him and by the ultimate irony of the rule known as Catch-22: Anyone can be grounded for being insane, but requesting to be grounded means that an individual is sane.

Colonel Cathcart

Colonel Cathcart, the group commander, who sends his pilots on increasingly dangerous missions in order to become famous and earn a promotion.

Major Major Major

Major Major Major, the commander of the 256th Squadron, who was promoted by a machine.

Lieutenant Milo...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Themes and Characters

The protagonist of Catch-22, Captain John Yossarian, is motivated by two closely related impulses: to subvert the repressive military establishment and to survive. His desperate attempts to escape death and to preserve a meaningful code of morality reflect the ongoing human struggle against overwhelming and frequently life-threatening forces or institutions. Paranoid that an unidentified "they" are trying to kill him, Yossarian feigns insanity, seeks refuge in the hospital, poisons his squadron with soap powder, and moves a bomb line on a map. When he does fly combat missions, "Yo-Yo" traces irregular patterns in the sky, evading flak right and left. Although labeled crazy by many of the other characters, Yossarian is sane in believing his life endangered—whether by officers such as Cathcart who care less about their men's safety than about possible promotions, by Milo Mindbender and his twisted entrepreneurial schemes, or by Nately's knife-wielding prostitute.

Graphic reminders of man's mortality pervade the novel. Heller hauntingly depicts scenes of war: B-25s dodging flak, the claustrophobic womb/tomb environment of the bombardier's compartment, and Yossarian's horrifying discovery that "[t]he spirit gone, man is garbage," as he watches his wounded gunner Snowden's entrails spill out on the floor. The obscene loss of life is not limited, however, to the battlefield. Chief Halfoat dies of pneumonia, Hungry Joe is suffocated in his sleep by a...

(The entire section is 564 words.)