The events on the tiny Mediterranean island of Pianola, where Heller’s characters are stationed, are often grotesque exaggerations of events in the larger society. There is a Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, when the entrepreneur Milo Minderbinder, supply officer of the group, tries to insist that all the officers and enlisted men sign loyalty oaths before they can eat in the group’s mess halls. Other actions are simply inexplicable, as with the reluctant officer who refuses to see anyone during office hours. Still others are grim, such as the “soldier in white” who is placed in the hospital ward with other officers, completely encased in plaster; he never moves or speaks, and after a couple of days he is declared dead.
Heller’s central character, Yossarian, is fond of confusing other characters with apparently crazy but logical views of events, and he frequently undertakes bizarre actions—for example, sitting in a tree naked during the funeral of one of the flyers. It becomes clear, however, that for Yossarian and his buddies—other flyers, such as Orr and Dunbar—jokes and unusual behavior are the only ways to retain something like sanity. Their commanders are even crazier than they are, their missions become increasingly hazardous, and their fellow fliers die, one by one or in groups.
Yossarian is the most religious character in Catch-22, willing to try any way of circumventing authority and retaining his individuality. He argues that he is a unique victim because the people he drops bombs on are trying to kill him. When the logical Clevinger responds by pointing out that the Germans are trying to kill everyone, Yossarian says simply that this does not matter to him if he is killed. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that all the men, in fact, are dying: Doe Daneeka, Kraft, Coombs, Kid Sampson, McWatt, Chief White...
(The entire section is 764 words.)