Special Commissioned Essay on Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Kathi A. Vosevich
See also Joseph Heller Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 5, 8, 11.
“There was only one catch … and that was Catch-22,” Doc Daneeka informs Yossarian. As Yossarian, the lead bombardier of Joseph Heller's landmark first novel, soon learns, this one catch is enough to keep him at war indefinitely. After pleading with the doctor that he is too crazy to fly bombing missions, Yossarian is introduced to Catch-22, a rule which stipulates that anyone rational enough to want to be grounded could not possibly be insane and therefore must return to his perilous duties. The novel Catch-22 is built around the multifarious attempts of Captain John Yossarian to survive the Second World War, to escape the omnipresent logic of a regulation which somehow stays one step ahead of him.
At the time of its publication in 1961, Heller's antiwar novel met with modest sales and lukewarm reviews. But by mid-decade, the book began to sell in the American underground, becoming a favored text of the counterculture. Heller's novel burst onto an American culture that “still cherished nice notions about WW II,” Eliot Fremont-Smith recalled in the Village Voice. “Demolishing these, it released an irreverence that had, until then, dared not speak its name.” With millions of copies in print, Catch-22 is generally regarded as one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. It “is probably the finest novel published since World War II,” Richard Locke declared in the New York Times Book Review. “Catch-22 is the great representative document of our era, linking high and low culture.” The title itself has become part of the language, and its “hero” (more aptly an anti-hero), Yossarian, according to Jack Schnedler of the Newark Star-Ledger “has become the fictional talisman to an entire generation.”