catch-22 by joseph heller

ruling: read it because it’s funny. and if you like symbolism, that’s cool, too.

I believe that somewhere on the cover of my book claims that Catch-22 is the best novel of the 20th century. I’m not prepared to make a statement as bold as that one, but yeah, it’s a good book. I had heard both compliments and criticisms of the book prior to my reading, and I do not really see any validity to the criticisms. For example, some haters attack Heller’s attempts at authoring a book that revolves around humor and allege that this humor is nonexistent. On the contrary, I regard Catch-22 as far from boring and actually recall laughing aloud many times throughout my reading, and since I can’t think of anything else to write about right now, I’ll highlight some select moments. The chaplain’s episode with the plum tomato brings amusement, particularly because the chaplain has been through so much that it’s just funny he is forced into questioning for “stealing” a singular plum tomato. Another memorable scene has to be when Milo feeds Yossarian a cotton ball while they are hiding in a tree and the fact that Milo then proceeds to serve cotton as meals to the officers at the mess hall and is later commended for it. I do believe that my mind tends to filter situations and almost adds a hilarity tint that allows me to think something is funnier than what the general public would think (ok, really, though… you can’t eat cotton). So I guess I can understand why others might not have found certain scenes I love to be as hilarious as I had perceived them to be. However, the majority of the book contains stretches of dialogue and circumstances that are just so ridiculous that the sheer absurdity should be enough funniness for everyone.

I also tend to be especially impressed when a book is comically entertaining but still manages to express a deeper meaning, as Catch-22 successfully does. The book inspired me to reflect on how the people who function as spectators of war are continuously fed information by the bias media and government. As mentioned in my research paper, we are programmed to think that warfare is best when given a certain system of conditions. Obedience and loyalty are the two needed marks of a good soldier, and anyone who falls out of line is seen as a failure. But do we really think about exactly what we are asked to believe? Do we even really think about what war is? War is a time where nations basically agree that it’s acceptable to kill one another in the name of a higher triumph, whether it be new resources, new land, or new ideologies. When all is fair in true love and war, how can we ask the men, those who volunteered and those who were coerced alike, to possibly follow a neat set of rules? War is the furthest thing from neat, and trying to apply organization and order to such a dirty and disordered concept is meaningless. People have this funny inclination where they sort of actually value their lives, and to demand soldiers – to even ask them – to put their lives on the line (for who knows what), as commanding officers do, is bizarre. And to convince the rest of us that those who are not completely willing to risk their lives are cowardly and selfish is ridiculous. I always thought of war as a phase that the human race just periodically goes through, and I just accepted its practices. But how crazy was I to believe that? I wasn’t able to realize how wrong I was to have accepted war and the bureaucracy until I found myself feeling complete sympathy for Yossarian at all times. I had to ask myself why I felt this way since Yossarian is meant to be the antithesis to the storybook soldier, but then I realized: Yossarian was never wrong to be scared, and he was right to want to live.

Catch-22 could probably pass as one of the best novels of the 20th century, and since it’s written by an American author, it could easily replace the likes of Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter (double ews all around for those books. They make me lose faith in American literature). It’s incredibly funny and hey, it even makes you think a little. What is there more to ask?

(and yes, i submitted this to my teacher with that awesome smiley face. live it up, bill gates, because i’m liking yo’ smilies)