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Catch-22 Changes How The World Sees War

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Imagine yourself stuck in a situation you didn’t want to be in and you could never escape from and you’ll be in the exact same position Yossarian, the main character of Catch-22, experienced. Catch-22 filled the world with controversy; some love the novel and an equal amount of people hate the novel. John W Aldridge said, Catch-22 is one of the most debated novels as far as quality of being an actual novel.

Catch-22 didn’t have success right off of the cuff because other war novels at the time were serious in tone and Catch-22 fit into the satire genre. The Vietnam War helped bring popularity to the book as many men felt trapped in a war they wanted no part of just like the main character of Catch-22. Heller used strategies like comedy, tone, and structure to show the insanity of war and it gained much popularity as an antiwar novel because of these strategies.

Many misunderstood the humor of the novel and when Heller wrote it, no other novel like it existed. Every other novel carried a serious tone and only spoke about death and heartbreak; Catch-22 stirred things up in the war novel world. Lynn Neary with NPR books said, “Until then, books about war tended to be serious works, often tragic in tone. Heller’s war was a black comedy, filled with orders from above that made no sense and characters who just wanted to stay alive.” The misunderstood humor in the novel is another reason why no one really took a liking to the novel at first. It took something like the Vietnam war, which many looked upon with distaste, to jolt the popularity of the novel. The soldiers who fought in Vietnam didn’t want to be fighting and the Americans back home didn’t believe that the war was our fight. The shift at the end of the novel finally showed the dark tone of war and that war is bloody and messy.

The structure could be summed up in two words: none exists. Yossarian jumps from the hospital to a war zone within two paragraphs and the reader can quickly be confused. Some readers can’t piece together the novel’s puzzle and some love the problem solving necessary in understanding the book. Some didn’t believe that Catch-22 could be considered a novel at all; John Aldridge said, ”Joseph Heller is like a brilliant painter who decides to throw all the ideas in his sketchbooks onto one canvas, relying on their charm and shock to compensate for the lack of design.”

I believe the lack of structure was intentional because Heller wanted to show the insanity of war on individuals. Yossarian couldn’t stay on one track for too long without having another random, unrelated flashback because he was mentally insane. The stories of Yossarian’s life were beautifully painted and the way Heller structured the novel makes perfect sense when you understand the point of the novel.

Merriam Webster defines a Catch-22 as “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule,” and with one novel Heller came up with an entirely new concept that people still use today. A soldier could be dismissed from war if they were mentally insane, all they had to do was ask Doctor Daneeka, but if you asked to be dismissed, you weren’t actually insane. Everyone was stuck there and the concept has carried over into everyday life. Heller helped the world take a different look at war with this antiwar novel and people were finally able to understand the horror and insanity of war in a way they couldn’t before. Sure, Heller didn’t have immediate success, but his novel will carry significance and popularity as long as we are open to understanding how horrible war is.

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Lewis Cass High School, Walton, Indiana,
Catch-22 Changes How The World Sees War