Luke W’s Letter Essay #9

I have just finished reading a hilariously crazy classic called “Catch-22,” by one Joseph Heller. Heller, besides his distinguished writing career in which he wrote a variety of books including “Closing Time,” fought as a bombardier in World War II. He flew an incredible 60 combat missions, inspiring him to write “Catch-22.” Joseph Heller’s novel was, and still is, considered to be one of the most important postwar protest books. Furthermore, the title itself, “Catch-22”,was not the first title of the book, in fact it was the fourth title. The publisher “Simon and Schuster” thought the first three titles, (“Catch 11,” “Catch-14,” and “Catch 17”), were either too close to movie titles or weren’t funny enough. To continue, “Catch-22” was the 55th book I’ve read this year. This completely blew away my goal of a mere 40 books. I think through all of these, a good portion of which were classics, I have grown immensely as both a writer and a reader. I chose to read this book after a recommendation from my mother. She had read this book previously and had thoroughly enjoyed the satirical nature of the book. Upon reading the back cover of “Catch-22,” I was a bit confused as to what the author had meant when he had written the overall summary. This truly intrigued me to just read whatever the author had in store for me. Coincidentally, I happened to be working on a World War II project, so I was interested in seeing if a war veteran viewed war as necessary or completely unnecessary.

In this book, a relatively young man named Yossarian is a bombardier for the U.S. Army in World War II. His attitude towards war has completely deteriorated from being patriotic to being afraid to fly. Yossarian’s camp is on a small, small island located just off the coast of Italy. From there, a bombardier must fly to crucial points that must be destroyed all over Italy where they are constantly targeted with anti-aircraft fire or ‘flak.’ Yossarian has become deathly afraid to fly after a young radio-gunner, Snowden, “freezes” to death in the back of Yossarian’s airplane. “Catch-22,” is the story of Yossarian’s life on the island of Pianosa and his bomb raids. Yossarian is faced with a power-hungry colonel who consistently raises the number of missions needed to be sent home. A major who doesn’t want to talk or see anybody. A pilot who flies just feet over the top of the tent. And a doctor who doesn’t want to practice medicine. Yossarian’s life is quite chaotic.

I was completely surprised when the colonel raised the missions the soldiers needed to be sent home. It was not as though there weren’t replacements for there were thousands, just waiting in Northern Africa to be sent into action. As it turns out, the colonel was trying to show the generals that his men were the toughest and the bravest in the entire military. For this glory, he daily risked the lives of many men-a terrible sacrifice to make for power. If I were in the colonel’s shoes, I would try to be promoted in a more sane way, for I believe his raising of the missions was both disgusting and unnecessary. Overall, this man is too greedy and ambitious to be in power.

I liked how the author used humor to convey his anti-war message. For example, the author had Yossarian always escape to the hospital with an injury that wasn’t jaundice, but wasn’t not jaundice, an unsolvable predicament to these doctors (this isn’t the scene that happens below). Of course Yossarian didn’t, in fact, have a pain in his liver – he was faking it. On the surface this seems like a funny twist in Yossarian’s camp life, but, to me, it goes much deeper. It tells that soldiers are only willing to do so much. Once they achieve 50, 60, 70 missions they are unwilling to risk their lives daily. It tells the reader that a soldier’s life is not a glorious one, but a painful, fearful one. A soldier has to be prepared to die every time they go out on a mission – some just can’t handle it. The above is clearly an example of how the author used satire to demonstrate his point.

This book reminds of the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe. While these novels may seem like polar opposites, they are truly very similar. Both books were written to tell the world that something, (war or slavery), should be done away with or abolished. While the former was written in a more sombre tone, the latter was written in a satirical tone. The two books contain a character who rebels against the system they are stuck in. Both characters are stuck in a ‘broken’ or unfair system. The books are told from the perspectives of a variety of different characters. It shocks me that two novels that would ordinarily be categorized in very differently could be so much the same. Intriguingly enough, both books are highly regarded as significant contributors to the controversial topics they fight against. To me, I believe that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” had a larger impact on society as it was the second-most bought book in the nineteenth century. Overall, these books are extremely alike.

Finally, I was interested in this passage when Yossarian is in the hospital.

“Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn’t become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. Bit this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.

Each morning they came around, three brisk serious men with efficient mouths and inefficient eyes, accompanied by brisk and serious Nurse Duckett, one of the ward nurses who didn’t like Yossarian. They read the chart at the foot of the bed and asked impatiently about the pain. They seemed irritated when he told them it was exactly the same.

‘Still no movement?’ the full colonel demanded.

The doctors exchanged a look when he shook his head.

‘Give him another pill.’

Nurse Duckett made a note to give Yossarian another pill, and the four of them moved to the next bed. (pg. 1)

I loved how the author created this weird injury for Yossarian that clearly stumped the doctors. I think that was really creative and hilarious. This work of satire was meaningful and irrelevant all at the same time. The book was great. I rate this book an eight out of ten. I hope you read this book as well.


Luke Wergeles

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2 thoughts on “Luke W’s Letter Essay #9

  1. Luke,
    It is appropriate that your final letter-essay is perhaps your best, and provides such a detailed review and thoughtful reflection of one of the classics of American literature. What a year you’ve had . . .
    Mr. Jockers

  2. Luke-
    I really enjoyed the detail you added to this letter essay, especially concerning Yossarian’s life and the comedic angle of the the book, a bomber pilot who is afraid to fly. I also found interest in the colonel, and why he raised the missions need to go home.
    – David R

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