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Catch 22 Study Guide
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Catch 22 By Joseph Heller
Yossarian is stationed on the island Pianosa, near the Italiaon coast, during the second half of WWII. Yossarian and his friends endure nightmarish bureaucracy and intolerable violence, thoughtlessly thrown into brutal combat as well as absurd missions such as 'bombing runs' where the goal is to get good pictures of explosions (and try to hit your target, too.) The number of missions they are required to fly before they can go home is continuously increased. Nevertheless, everyone seems to think Yossarian is crazy when he insist that millions of people want him dead.
Yossarian's perspective forms the basis of Catch-22: he takes the war personally, not caring for politics. He is simply pissed off that his life is in constant danger. To avoid combat, he fakes illness and spends long stretches of time in the hospital. He is also continually troubled by memories of Snowden, a soldier that died in his arms.
Catch-22 is a law that means different things throughout the story. First, it's defined as the inability to get out of military service by claiming insanity -- because only a sane person would claim insanity to avoid flying dangerous bombing missions. Later, it's defined as a law that essentially reads "this law is illegal to read". In short, Catch-22 simply means any law that is paradoxical, circular, and serves only those who made the law.
As Yossarian struggles alive, various side plots emerge. His friend Nately falls in love with a whore who doesn't care about him, and when he does finally begin to realize she has feelings for the man, he promptly dies on a bombing run. She blames Yossarian for no apparent reason, and attempts to stab him to death whenever they meet.
Also, Milo Minderbender, the mess hall officer, develops a huge black-market syndicate and makes impossible amounts of money by forming companies that buy and sell shares in one another. By the end of the book, he has formed a plan to use military planes to move food to starving areas across Europe, and is regarded as a hero by everyone who doesn't know him.
Finally, Yossarian refuses to fly any more missions, and is arrested. His commanding officers give him a choice: face court-martial, or be honorably discharged, but approve of his C.O.s' new policy in front of high command -- a policy that would most certainly result in the deaths of many of his fellow troops. Yossarian finally regains control of his life when breaks free of the entanglement of the Catch-22s of military life by escaping and deserting to neutral Sweden.