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Medlang's avatar

How does catch-22 differ from other war stories?

Asked by Medlang (716 points ) February 16th, 2010

The title says it all. How does catch-22 differ from your average war story?

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15 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

It’s about the absurdity of military rules. Most war stories are about heroism or tragedy or both.

Cruiser's avatar

It’s not really a war story at all….it’s setting is obviously a war but the gist of the story highlights the difficulties one may face when attempting to navigate the waters of big bureaucratic organizations like the government and here obviously the military. You can apply the same dialog and precepts of the story sans the war elements to about any governmental agency including congress.

absalom's avatar

It’s actually pretty good.

Snarp's avatar

I think @wundayatta and @Cruiser are both mostly right, but I think it’s wrong to assume that it’s not a war story. It is about more than just any bureaucracy, it is about the effects that war has on humanity, and just how absurd war is, not just rules. It is similar in some ways to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and also to my Uncle’s WWII diary. It points out that to the people serving war was their daily lives, not an action movie, and that those daily lives could seem pointless and tragic and comic all at once.

Cruiser's avatar

@Snarp If you consider the time and place Heller wrote the story there was a huge anti-establishment movement taking place in this country. It was a protest against our oppressive nature of our government at that time even more so an anti-war novel. Some quotes sum this all up

“Catch-22 represented not just a satire of life in the military but also a serious protest against the uselessness of both rationality and sentimentality in the face of unbridled power in any form.
[snip]
Its irreverence toward established authority helped make it one of the key literary inspirations of the culture of rebellion that erupted during the presidencies of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. In his every phrase and motive, including his manic wordplay and compulsive sexuality, Yossarian embodied the decade’s spirit of anarchic dissent.”

Snarp's avatar

@Cruiser But that doesn’t make it “not really a war story at all”. I accept “not just…but also” but I don’t really accept “even more so” or “not really at all”. But that’s the beauty of literature, and what marks this as a great book – that we can each see something a bit different in it.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Aside from one or two scenes, it’s not really a war story per se. The story is more about the absurdities of military life, especially the reaction of an outsider to that way of life.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I loved the ending. Yossarian still lives!

(I have always loved every part of this book. The movie wasn’t bad, either. Fun fact: During the filming of the movie the producers assembled as many B-24s as they could find and afford to add to a sense of realism in the flight scenes. They assembled such a fleet that they would have had the world’s sixth-largest air force at the time of filming, according to Time magazine.)

Cruiser's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I absolutely love that book and the film was brilliant. One of mine if not my favorite book!

mammal's avatar

i don’t think it does differ, except for one definitive feature, the Catch 22 scenario became relevant outside of the military context, It became applicable to everyday experience,

srmorgan's avatar

@Cruiser The book was orignally published in 1961, which pre-dates LBJ’s presidency by two years and also pre-dates the expansion of our commitment of additional troops in Vietnam in 1965.
My high school Senior English class read Catch-22 as part of the reading list. It did become very popular after the escalation in Vietnam as it was viewed as an anti-establishment book. Our teacher pointed out the book was written during the Eisenhower years which were a time of conformity, big business power (re Milo Minderbinder’s syndicate where everyone had a share), memories of the WW II, Korea, the Cold war, etc. and his point was that the book was a reaction to the 50’s. It made sense at the time to a bunch of high school seniors.

I re-read it again several years ago and to me, the book holds up well. It’s still funny and absurd.

I might have another look at it now that I am in my 60’s

SRM

Cruiser's avatar

@srmorgan Thanks for sharing. I grew up in the turmoil of the 60’s and the Vietnam war and can see how Heller would be interpreting the frustrations he felt during the 50’s his era. That book should be timeless as the principals of the human struggles against oppressive anything will endure for eternity.

srmorgan's avatar

@Cruiser
Heller taught at my college in my freshman year and I was able get into a public symposium at the Student Union where he was the guest of honor. Lots of questions about Catch-22. I asked him about the new book that had been excerpted somewhere and he said he was bogged down in finishing it.
The book was Something Happened and it is unreadable, or at least it was to me when it was published. I think I still have a copy somewhere, probably in the attic.

SRM

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@srmorgan, you’re right. Something Happened is dreck, as far as I’m concerned. But Good as Gold wasn’t too bad (not fantastic, either). If you can find them, grab God Knows and Picture This though.

God Knows is a dialog between God and a querulous and aging King David (to my ear, he nailed the stereotypical ‘Jewishness’—and occasional passive-aggressive behavior—of both of these entities—I suppose Heller came by this honestly, right?).

Picture This is a marvelous romp though art history. The cover of the book is a representation of Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer… and depiction’s of Rembrandt’s life, Aristotle’s life, the fiction of Homer’s life, and the life of the painting, too. I never imagined that I could enjoy a book “about art” as much as I enjoyed this.

srmorgan's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I think I own Good As Gold also but I don’t remember much about it. Bruce Gold, right?

What is “stereotypical” Jewishness? That is a dangerous question. Heller grew up in Brooklyn, was probably a first generation working-class kid who went to war and then got a leg up on life using the GI bill, a path not unlike that of my father and my mother’s brother. You must be referring to the attitudes and values of that generation and the one that preceded it. I don’t know.

But I will add these books to my book list at the local library. I read all the time, sometimes I will be in the midst of three books at the same time.

SRM

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