Characters Discussed

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Captain John Yossarian

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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 Minderbinder

Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer. He turns his black market operation into a powerful syndicate and is not above aiding the enemy for profit.

Captain Black

Captain Black, the squadron intelligence officer, who constantly requires pilots to swear loyalty oaths.

Doc Daneeka

Doc Daneeka, the flight surgeon. He informs Yossarian about the tenets of Catch-22.

Captain R. O. Shipman

Captain R. O. Shipman, the chaplain, who is accused of tampering with the enlisted men’s mail.

General Dreedle

General Dreedle, the wing commander, who is engaged in a power struggle with General Peckem.

General Peckem

General Peckem, the commander of Special Services. He is more concerned with appearances than with military strategy.

Clevinger

Clevinger,

Orr

Orr,

Kid Sampson

Kid Sampson,

McWatt

McWatt,

Aardvark

Aardvark,

Hungry Joe

Hungry Joe, and

Nately

Nately, members of the 256th Squadron.

Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564

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 cat, McWatt accidentally severs Kid Sampson with the propeller of his plane and then commits suicide out of guilt, and Aarfy flings a servant girl from a window to her death on the pavement below. The merging of military and nonmilitary, rational and irrational worlds threatens to destroy the individual at any moment.

One of the key threats to the individual in Catch-22 is the military bureaucracy. Power breeds corruption, and Heller presents a procession of insensitive officers who victimize their men for self-aggrandizement. Milo Mindbender, mess officer turned syndicate chief, represents capitalism gone awry when he arranges for German planes to bomb his own base in order to turn a profit. The invidious Colonel Cathcart constantly raises the number of required combat missions, and schemes to get his picture into the Saturday Evening Post. Heller depicts the petty one-upmanship games between Generals Dreedle and Peckem, Lieutenant Scheisskopfs robot-like devotion to perfect parade formations, Captain Black's red-tape-creating Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade, ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen's godlike manipulation of communication, and the relentless interrogations of Clevinger and Chaplain Tappman, two of the most innocent characters in the novel. Heller is wary of systems—the military establishment, hospitals, psychiatry, farm support legislation, or corporate monopolies— and concerned about the illogical "logic" they spawn.

Orr, a character who appears deceptively mindless, offers mentorship to Yossarian in his struggle against systems and authorities. Orr works to perfect his survival skills and tries, at first without success, to teach Yossarian to do likewise. But when, at the end of the novel, Yossarian learns that Orr has escaped to Sweden, he is inspired. Reconciling self-concern with a sense of responsibility, Yossarian rejects an offer to return home bearing pro-military propaganda and instead heads toward Rome to rescue Nately's prostitute's kid sister. In the end, then, Catch-22 is not a novel without hope. Its most significant theme is that, despite living in an absurd universe, the individual can affirm honor, integrity, and compassion. Yossarian, the existentialist hero, ultimately finds salvation by seeking freedom and accepting responsibility.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3870

Captain Aarfy Aardvaark
Yossarian's navigator, Aardvaark pretends he can't hear Yossarian's commands and laughs when Yossarian or anyone else is in trouble, because deep down he's a sadist. Captain Aardvaark is well-mannered and respectful of the ladies on the surface, but he turns out to have a sinister side, coldly pushing a young girl out the window after raping her. What's one Italian girl's life worth, he asks Yossanan calmly. Against the horror of war, his question is a disturbing one, because we know that the answer is: not much.

The Chaplain
See Captain Albert Taylor Tappman

Appleby
He is as all-American as apple pie, and "everything Appleby did, he did well." Although "everyone who knew him liked him," the men tease him with the absurd charge that he has flies in his eyes, and Yossarian despises him.

Captain Black
The squadron intelligence officer, Captain Black aspires to be squadron commander, even though he is not on combat duty. Outraged by Major Major's naming as commander, he starts the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade and refuses to allow Major Major to sign the voluntary oath. His power trip is ended by Majorde Coverley, who demands to be fed after he is asked to sign an oath.

Colonel Cargill
General Peckem's forceful yet inept troubleshooter. It's Cargill's job to get the troops excited about the lame U.S.O. shows that Peckem organizes, for example. Ruddy-complexioned, he is an aggressive man who made quite a good living in civilian life as a marketing executive, hired by firms that needed to lose money for tax purposes. He is a "self-made man who owed his lack of success to nobody."

Colonel Chuck Cathcart
Cathcart is the squadron's colonel. In order to increase his chances of promotion, Cathcart keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly before getting rotated. Because he is obsessed with being promoted to general, his priorities are absurd. For example, he asks the chaplain to lead the men in prayer before missions because it might attract the attention of the Saturday Evening Post, and a nice article on Cathcart and his squadron might boost his promotion chances. He is less concerned with his pilots' safety than that they create tight bombing patterns that will make "nice photographs" to impress his superiors. Also, he promotes Yossarian to cover for Yossarian's insubordination, lest anyone blame Cathcart for Yossarian's bombing run gone awry. He is a symbol of military corruption and blind ambition.

Cathcart's self-absorption also causes him to go into business with Milo Minderbinder, who will trade the men's valuable supplies just to make a quick buck. Cathcart also builds a skeet-shooting range for the officers - not because it will help them be better soldiers, but just because he loves shooting skeet. Thus, he represents not just military corruption, but the self-absorbed American businessman. Down deep, he is insecure, and relies on Colonel Korn to help him succeed. He hates Yossarian for standing up to him.

Clevinger
One of the members of the squadron, he is not "clever" as "Clevinger" suggests, but rather slow-witted. He argues with Yossarian about Yossanan's paranoid and dark attitude and calls him crazy, which carries no weight with Doc Daneeka when Yossarian wants to be released from duty. The war is a black-and-white issue for Clevinger, who conducts educational sessions for the men and disappears on the Parma mission.

The Controller
See Doc Daneeka

Major Danby
The group operations officer whose name suggests that he is namby-pamby, meaning he's weak-willed and unable to make decisions. He's sort of like a babbling university professor, concerned with ideas and unable to act. Danby argues with Yossarian about idealism and the ethics of deserting, and then helps Yossarian to go AWOL once and for all. General Dreedle threatens to shoot him.

Doc Daneeka
Doc Daneeka, the squadron doctor, looks out for himself first and foremost. He tells Yossarian he will scratch Yossarian's back if Yossarian will scratch his, but Doc's self-interest prevents him from doing what Yossarian really wants, which is to sign papers saying Yossarian is too crazy to fly (in contrast to Doctor Stubbs, who does this for some pilots). Doc delegates many of his duties to two men named Gus and Wes. This leaves Doc free to fret over his life. He is a hypochondriac, constantly having his assistants take his temperature. He is also worried about being transferred to the Pacific, with its unusual diseases. Back home, Doc's private practice had been struggling until the war came along and all his competitors were drafted. He thrived until he was drafted himself, and he complains about having lost the business he built up. Doc earns extra money, or flight pay, by having the pilots sign documents saying that he is on flights that he isn't on This leads the Army to assume he is dead when one of his "flights" crashes, despite his obvious living presence on base. Heller ironically describes Doc as a warm and compassionate man who is fearful and never stops feeling sorry for himself.

Major de Coverley
The mysterious de Coverley's first name is never given, and no one seems to know exactly what his job or rank is. An inspiring figure, he has some sort of godlike power; for instance, he is able to march into the mess hall and end Captain Black's Great Loyalty Oath Crusade with a simple command: "Gimme eat!" An older man, de Coverley has one eye, loves to play horseshoes, and has a skill for obtaining luxury apartments in recently recaptured cities. About halfway through the novel, he mysteriously goes off to Florence and is not heard from again.

Dobbs
A pilot. He flies with Huple on the Avignon mission in the number two seat and grabs the controls midair. When Colonel Cathcart raises the number of missions, Dobbs tries to assassinate him but is stopped by Yossarian.

General Dreedle
The wing commander, General Dreedle, is a solid military man who is moody but only requires that the men "do their work; beyond that, they were free to do whatever they pleased." He employs his annoying son-in-law, Colonel Moodus, to assist him. His nurse-mistress accompanies him everywhere, and he demands that people show her respect. He is constantly up against General Peckem, who is vying for Dreedle's job, but ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen helps Dreedle as much as he can until Peckem finally wins and replaces Dreedle. He is not upset when Yossarian goes naked, and he dislikes Colonels Korn and Cathcart. He seems more benevolent than the other authority figures in the novel, but his hands-off attitude allows Cathcart to keep increasing the number of missions the men must fly.

Nurse Sue Ann Duckett
A nurse in the Pianosa hospital who takes care of Yossarian and later has an affair with him. Her name suggests that she ducks out of his embraces when she's not in the mood. A serious and practical young woman who also enjoys sensual pleasures, she ends up marrying a doctor who will make a lot of money.

Lieutenant Dunbar
A fighter-pilot captain, Dunbar is Yossarian's companion in the hospital more than once, and even trades beds with the soldier named A. Fortiori to be near his pal Yossarian. He tries to make time "go more slowly," a twist on the idea that people want time to fly, so that he doesn't have to return to combat. He is a man of ethics, so he and McWatt get upset when they're instructed to bomb a defenseless village just to block a road. After this protest, Dunbar disappears. Yossarian wonders if it has something to do with the mysterious soldier in white who appears in a hospital bed. Is there a conspiracy to shut up Dunbar he asks himself.

Captain Flume
Flume is a public relations officer who is terrorized by his roommate Chief Half oat's threats to slit his throat. At one point, he is so traumatized that he moves to the woods, where he lives alone, eating strawberries.

A. Fortiori
A mysterious soldier who is involved in several mix-ups over identity. A. Fortiori's name is a Latin term used in logic for a conclusion that is more reliable than the previous conclusion or reasoning it is based on.

Chief White Halfoat
Halfoat is a semi-illiterate assistant intelligence officer who drinks a lot, beats up Colonel Moodus (which is just fine with Moodus's father-in-law, General Dreedle), and makes his roommate Flume crazy Halfoat, whose Indian-sounding name is reminiscent of "half-crocked" or "half-nuts," is indeed a little wacky, with reason. He is a half-blooded Creek Indian. Halfoat says that the government used to chase his family around Oklahoma. Inevitably, wherever they settled, oil was found, so they kept moving on, to the point where the government wouldn't even let them settle in before they started digging. He resents having had his family exploited in this way He is set in his ways, from hating foreigners to insisting that he will die of pneumonia, which he does.

Captain Havermeyer
Havermeyer is the best bombardier in the squadron, according to Colonel Cathcart, who defends Havermeyer's upsetting habit of shooting field mice at night with a gun stolen from the dead man in Yossarian's tent. Cathcart likes Havermeyer because he flies straight toward a target, taking no evasive actions that might make his bombing less accurate and his men more safe. As a result, the men can't stand flying with him.

Hungry Joe
Another member of the squadron, Hungry Joe is a woman chaser, pretending he is a photographer (which he really was in civilian life) as a come-on. He has nightmares on nights when he doesn't have a bombing run scheduled the next day, suggesting that while bombing runs are terrifying for the men, there is some perverse comfort in the ritual of bombing. In fact, his nightmares disappear when Cathcart increases the number of missions he must fly. Despite his anxieties over the war, Hungry Joe ends up being killed by his roommate Huple's cat, which smothers him.

Huple
Huple is the underage roommate of Hungry Joe who is only fifteen years old; his cat kills Hungry Joe. Huple, a pilot, flies the Avignon mission on which Snowden is killed.

The Kid Sister
She is the twelve-year-old sister of Nately's whore. She tries to be seductive, like her big sister, but Yossarian and Nately look out for her because they see her as a child growing up too quickly.

Lieutenant Colonel Blackie Korn
Lt. Colonel Korn is Colonel Cathcart's assistant. He runs the farm he and Cathcart co-own, which Milo provided to them. His name is reminiscent both of corn, the crop, and "corny," meaning overly sentimental and cloying. Colonel Cathcart is annoyed by Blackie Korn, but he relies on him for help, since Korn is smarter and more devious. For example, Korn is the one who suggests that they give Yossarian a medal for his ill-fated bombing run over Ferrara in order to spare the military any embarrassment.

Kraft
Kraft is a young pilot who is killed on the Ferrara mission, which makes Yossarian feel terribly guilty, for he was the one who ordered a second pass on the target. Kraft only wanted to be liked. His name suggests craft, or skill, which is a joke because he is too inexperienced to have gained any skill as a pilot before he dies.

Luciana
Yossarian's Italian girlfriend whom he sees at the officers' club. Her name is derived from the Italian word for "light." She seems, at times, to know Yossarian better than he knows himself and what he will do. She laughs off his proposal of marriage

Major Major Major Major
Major Major Major Major is the long and bony squadron commander who resembles actor Henry Fonda and is deliberately never in his office. The military insists on making him a major because they can't keep straight that Major Major Major is the man's given name, not his rank (it was a joke on his father's part). Major Major is not much of a leader, and now that he's an officer he misses being just one of the men. A timid man, he's afraid to ask Major de Coverley which of the two outranks the other. To relieve his boredom, he begins his own secret rebellion, signing orders as "Washington Irving" (the American novelist) and later as "John Milton" (the British author of "Paradise Lost").

McWatt
A crazy pilot who shares a tent with Clevinger and then Nately, McWatt relieves his stress by buzzing people—flying as low as possible over them—just for fun. His stunts end in his accidentally killing Kid Sampson, who is on the raft; after this McWatt intentionally crashes his plane, killing himself. While he's crazy—"the craziest combat man of them all probably, because he was perfectly sane and still did not mind the war"—he isn't a bad person. After all, he, along with Dunbar, protests when ordered to bomb a defenseless village just to block a road.

Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder
The ultimate capitalist, he is a mess officer turned businessman, trading all sorts of supplies on the black market and assuring everyone not to worry, they'll all be rich by the end of the war. He takes essential supplies from the planes but says that because everyone has a "share" in his business, it's for their own good. At one point, he makes a deal with the Germans in which he will have the Americans bomb their own base. He is Heller's symbol of capitalism at its most corrupt as well as its most powerful. As Milo's German bombing affair shows, wars come and go, but business goes on as usual.

Colonel Moodus
Moodus is General Dreedle's son-in-law and assistant. He is so annoying that Dreedle actually hires Chief Halfoat to punch him.

Mudd
Mudd is the dead man in Yossarian's tent. Actually, he's not really there. He's a pilot who died on a mission before he even checked in at Pianosa. Mudd's name is forever linked with the clutter that Yossarian's roommates find and throw out. The military insists Mudd is still alive because of their bureaucratic ineptness.

Lieutenant Nately
A squadron member, Nately is a gentle, sheltered nineteen-year-old kid from a wealthy family. He romanticizes his relationship with a whore he wants to save from prostitution and argues about the purpose of war and life with the old man in the whorehouse. He is killed, along with Dobbs, on the La Spezia run.

Nately's whore
An Italian prostitute, Nately's whore is too exhausted from her hard life to care about Nately, even though he's completely infatuated with her. She just uses him for his money, which supports her and her kid sister. However, one night after a good eighteen hours' sleep she wakes up and realizes she does love him after all. When Nately is killed, she blames Yossarian, who had broken Nately's nose but isn't really responsible for his death. Yossarian is, to her, a symbol of the war and all the pain it has caused her, so she tries to stab him to death. Her surrealistic pursuit of Yossarian, and the fact that she stabs him just when he makes his deal with Cathcart and Korn, suggest that she is a symbol for Yossarian's conscience.

The Old Man in Rome
The old man runs the whorehouse and lectures Nately on the meaning of war and life. His philosophy is the opposite of the young pilot's: he believes it is better to live on your knees than die on your feet. He also attacks and blinds Major de Coverley, to everyone's astonishment.

Orr
Yossarian's roommate, Orr is a handyman who builds many projects with Yossarian. His tinkering with mechanical objects sometimes irritates Yossarian. Orr is a skilled pilot as well, but he keeps getting shot down in his plane and ending up in the ocean. He is nonchalant about this, even though no one wants to ride in his plane because they feel he has tremendously bad luck. Orr eventually crashes near Italy and while his crew rows toward shore, he rows his own raft to Sweden, where he sits out the war. Yossarian realizes this was Orr's plan all along, because Orr had made mysterious comments about his crashes being "good practice." Orr's name is reminiscent of "oar," a tool he uses to row to freedom, and the word "or," which reminds the reader of options and choices.

General P. P. Peckem
In charge of Special Operations/Services, General Peckem is an ambitious military man given to issuing silly orders, such as insisting that the men in Italy pitch their tents with their openings facing the Washington Monument in the United States. His assistant, Colonel Cargill, helps him in his effort to take over command from General Dreedle His name suggests "pecking order," or hierarchy, as well as a certain part of the male anatomy.

Captain Piltchard
See Captain Wren

Kid Sampson
A pilot who is killed by McWatt in a violent accident while he is standing on the raft in the ocean.

Lieutenant Scheisskopf
A pompous but ambitious officer who is promoted to general when General Peckem takes over command from General Dreedle and who eventually becomes Peckem's superior Scheisskopf, whose name is German for "shithead," loves parades and organizes one to honor Yossarian. He also has a very sexy, promiscuous wife that the men drool over.

Snowden
The young gunner on Yossarian's B-52 who dies a gruesome death as Yossarian tries in vain to save his life. His horrible death haunts Yossarian throughout the book. A sad symbol of the sheer waste of war, Snowden is so anonymous that at his funeral no one can give a eulogy because none of the commanding officers remember much about him.

The Soldier in White
Covered from head to toe in bandages, he is supposedly Lieutenant Schmulker, but no one can tell for sure. His appearance in the hospital coincides with the disappearance of Dunbar, which makes Yossarian suspicious that he's really some sort of spy, especially since his body seems to be a slightly different size the second time he shows up.

Doctor Stubbs
Doctor Stubbs is a flight surgeon who resents having to treat wounded men only to have them fly again and expose themselves to danger Unlike Doc Daneeka, Stubbs will help pilots get excused from duty, and he is punished by being sent to the Pacific.

Captain Albert Taylor Tappman
Everyone calls Captain Tappman "Father," but as he tells them, he's not Catholic but an Anabaptist. He's not the sort to push the point, however, being very sweet-natured and shy. He's uncomfortable around officers and hates to have to eat in the officers' mess tents, especially since he has a hard time keeping track of which tent he's supposed to eat in each day. He lives alone in his own tent, and misses his wife and child back home. He often wonders about philosophical questions, "yet they never seemed nearly as crucial to him as the question of kindness and good manners."

Because he is quiet and unassuming, sometimes people take advantage of him, but he stands up for things that are important. He asks Colonel Cathcart to stop sending the men on so many missions, and he insists that Corporal Whitcomb not send form condolence letters to the families of men killed in combat. He puts himself on the line for others, as when he claims to be the forger instead of pointing his finger at the real culprit—Yossarian.

Corporal Whitcomb
The assistant to Chaplain Tappman, he's an opportunist, looking to advance his career, and an atheist. He doesn't get along well with his boss. For example, he wants to send form letters to the families of dead soldiers, which horrifies the sensitive Chaplain. He initiates the C.I.D. investigation of the Chaplain, fingering his boss as the forger.

Ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen
A former private first class (P.F.C), he is the mail clerk at the 27th Air Force Headquarters who tosses Peckem's silly orders into the waste basket and processes Dreedle's orders, which he thinks are written in better prose. He's constantly being promoted and then demoted, and goes AWOL (absent without leave) regularly. By taking it upon himself to forge and discard documents, he gains a lot of power over the squadron. His name suggests that he never goes away, like an evergreen that stays green in winter.

Captain Wren
Along with Captain Piltchard, one of the squadron's operations officers whose job it is to organize combat missions. Piltchard and Wren have petty ambitions, as their names suggest ("pilchard" means sardine, and a wren is a small bird)

Yo Yo Yossarian
See Captain John Yossarian

Captain John Yossarian
The central character of Catch-22 is Yossarian, a bombardier who is a captain with the 256th squadron. He is well-liked by his fellow bombardiers, and the Chaplain admires him, and even covers for him when he forges a document. Yossarian has friendships and people value his opinion (Dobbs and Milo ask him for advice, for example), but he considers himself a loner. Physically, he is big and strong and twenty-eight years old, but we learn no more than that. Yossarian also has an off-beat sense of humor, which he uses to cope with his frustration over being unable to get out of flying any more missions. He's an intelligent, complex character, honest and not given to deluding himself. He is familiar with world literature and identifies with the loners in great works of the past. Yossarian is the kind of man who is uncomfortable interacting with a woman sexually unless he is in love with her, and he cares about kids, as we can see by how he treats the kid sister of Nately's whore. He even goes AWOL (absent without leave) to find her when she's missing.

Despite his intelligence and influence, Yossarian feels powerless because his superiors keep increasing the number of missions he needs to fly before he can go home. Though he feels helpless and angry about the situation, he asks very pointed questions of the people in charge about why things are the way they are. Yossarian's questions are Heller's; they show the illogic and futility of war. His attitude toward the war and the military angers Colonel Cathcart, who resents that Yossarian, for all his powerlessness, does not cave in to the values the military promotes, such as blind obedience and unquestioning patriotism. Yossarian has a moral center that he cannot put aside for the convenience of the military, which is why he makes the squadron bomb the ocean instead of an Italian town that has no military or strategic value. He hates war and cannot ignore its horrors, and he cannot stop reliving the horror of Snowden's death. When given a final "Catch-22"—either accept a honorable discharge by lying about his refusal to fly or face a court martial—Yossarian finally discovers a way out. By following Orr to Sweden, Yossarian can finally live with his conscience. As he tells Major Danby, "I'm not running away from my responsibilities, I'm running to them."

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