I’ve been reading through Catch-22, and it’s by far one of the funniest novels I have ever read. With a wide cast of quirky and bizarre characters and witty (and most of the time nonsensical) dialogue, this satirical war novel by Joseph Heller perfectly illustrates the absurdity of, not only military life, but of bureaucracy all together.
For those of you who are unaware, the title of the novel Catch-22 comes from the military rule within the text of the same name, which states that any bomber pilot who willingly puts themself in danger is not of sound mind and therefore must be grounded, yet if they ask to be grounded, which is required in order to be deemed not of sound mind, then he has demonstrated that he is of sound mind and therefore must continue flying.
Confusing, right? That’s the point. Catch-22 is a paradoxical military rule of Heller’s creation that perfectly encapsulates how trapped the American soldiers we follow throughout the story truly are. There is a set number of missions that the pilots must fly before they’re allowed to return home, yet the number is always increased by Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the cap on required missions in order to impress his superiors and be promoted to general.
The circular, illogical reasoning of Catch-22 is Heller’s way of criticizing a single aphorism: might makes right. Those in charge, the ones that make the rules, and those who are not in charge must follow them, so no matter how nonsensical those rules may be, those who had no say in making the rules are forced to act within their parameters.
For example, a corporation is looking for an employee to fill an entry-level position, yet they specify that they only want those with experience to apply. How can one obtain experience if experience is required for an entry-level position? The demand is absurd, yet because the corporation holds the power, the only way for us to get the job is to comply, even though it’s an impossible predicament.
Yet Heller isn’t making the claim that those in power are intentionally malicious, rather Catch-22 is simply the nature of human close-mindedness. When the few are granted the ability to make the rules for the many, Catch-22 situations are inevitable. The game of life is inherently rigged, which is why the only instances of progress that has ever been made was when the rules are no longer followed.