Critical Context

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Catch-22 has proven to be a popular as well as a critical success. During the Vietnam War, its biting satire of the military found resonance with many readers, and the book has become a staple of college-level literature courses. Although authors such as Nathanael West, Samuel Beckett, and William S. Burroughs preceded Heller in the use of black humor, Heller’s novel attracted centerstage attention in both popular and academic circles. Likewise, many novels before Catch-22 had protagonists with ambivalent or unsavory motives, including “antiheroes,” but, in Yossarian, Heller created a character with lasting relevance. What ensures Catch-22’s continued prominence in American literature is its exploration of the brutal and absurd potential of humanity in the twentieth century. Heller’s later novels, including Something Happened (1974), Good as Gold (1979), and Closing Time (1995), a sequel to Catch-22, have not approached the considerable success of his first book, but Heller still stands as one of the most important novelists of his time because of his influential experiments with plot and his concern with the moral implications of a technocratic society.

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