The Catch-22 of life

About the Author

It’s late at night and you are driving on a long seemingly never-ending road. You stop when you notice a bill board at a distance and you squint your eyes as you approach the border of a town where the signboard faintly says “It’s against the law to be able to read”. You think that the person who wrote this is totally crazy because how would I know it’s against the law if I wasn’t able to read in the first place? Welcome to catch-22. You’ve hit the town coined by Joseph Heller himself.

Born back in 1923, Heller is the American author of the comical satire historical book known as catch-22, regarded as one of the most highly accurate books based on American Servicemen during that time. He joined the US Army Air corps and flew 60 combat missions during the World War 2. His book, catch 22 is listed among the top 100 books of the century. He initially chose the number 18 but his publisher recommended 22 because it felt like a ‘funny number’. Heller died of heart attack in 1999.

Book Plot & Review (spoiler alert)

Sparked in the back drop of the second half of the World War 2, a military soldier named Yossarian wants to escape flying combat missions for the vain safety of his own life but the only way to be excused from it he learned was to be declared insane.

However, in Heller’s own words:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” Yossarian observed.

The book is split into various segments and is told through the eyes of Yossarian whose desire to live makes him seem like a complete coward faking illnesses to spend most of his time at hospitals trying endlessly to not get cured as opposed to marching out there to fight the war. He does his best to try to understand the glory and splendor it is to die at war but why bother when death is the end of it all anyway? As the story progresses, the secondary characters are unfolded around him and stories for the other major characters are developed in no particular chronological order; and although Yossarian is determined to stay alive through the war at all costs, he still cares deeply for the members of his squadron and their deaths leave him traumatized and deeply affected.

The book is well written and brilliantly structured but distracting at a few places. I didn’t find it absolutely hilarious but some parts did make me laugh. I think the book could most relate to someone who actually lived through the war and you can sense while reading that Heller has taken a lot of examples from his real life experience during combat. By the end of the book, Yossarian manages to lose all the members of his squad and he eventually wiggles free from this catch-22 situation and runs off to Sweden. The tone of the book turns from grey to black especially during the last few chapters of the book where the description is more detailed by the author and you start to feel a little empathy for the characters that you had only just started to take lightly a few chapters ago. An author once said a work of true fiction is when the book is able to provide comfort to the disturbed and disturb the comforted. But by the end of the book, I felt neither comforted nor disturbed. I only have respect for the author’s ability to comprehend an undefined situation and actually manage to define it.

Analysis

1- Catch- 22 situation does apply in our real lives; in 2007 I was giving an interview for a position in the accounting department of a Canadian Company. The Finance Manager asked me, “Why should I hire you? You have absolutely no experience”. I said, “Well no one wants to hire me precisely because I have no prior experience but how am I supposed to get experience if you don’t hire me in the first place?” Needless to say, I got the job. It was my first job ever fresh out of university and he was honestly the best boss I ever had. I never realized then I was caught in a catch 22 situation but I do now.

2- The main protagonist of the book, Yossarian is not your typical hero. You would think he is because he is the main character of the book and he is fighting the Germans through the World War 2 but his main concern is not to win the war for the Americans but to actually just manage to survive through it. He isn’t the conventional war hero because during that time lives were worthless and lost uselessly; so perhaps the best way to be a hero in those days was to manage to survive through it, something we are all trying to do with life today, aren’t we?

3- As the book unfolds, Yossarian realizes that Catch – 22 doesn’t exist, it’s merely a term made up by the American Bureaucracy to be allowed to do all the crazy shit such as kidnapping, rapes and murders of people because they have the power too. But in reality, they don’t.  Yossarian starts to fear the American Bureaucracy that he was fighting for more than the Germans he was fighting against. It signifies the rut we are all stuck in when it comes to the free market capitalistic philosophy of life. The parallel chord was struck between the secondary character Milo, brilliant but an insane man who manages to make a few bucks and profits through the war (something you first begin to admire then start to hate him for it) to the modern-day investment bankers or so-called corporate heroes whose pleas for public bailouts go unheard over the noise made by their private jets.

At the end of it, we are all very much in the same situation like Yossarain in the novel.  We go through life wondering what the meaning of life is but the only way to figure out the meaning of life is to keep going through it. Doesn’t that make it the ultimate catch – 22 of our lives?

PS – To All Americans, Happy Independence Day!

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2 thoughts on “The Catch-22 of life

  1. catch – 22

    (heads I win; tails you lose)

    “We go through life wondering what the meaning of life is but the only way to figure out the meaning of life is to keep going through it. Doesn’t that make it the ultimate catch – 22 of our lives?”

    The catch – 22 situation is basically a no-win situation. In our lives the one inevitable thing we can all expect is death.
    So I guess life itself is the ultimate catch 22 because of death, inescapable and water-tight in every possible way imaginable. The only way to make sense of life is to understand death. And the only way to understand death is to stop living!

    Wonderful post once again and looking forward to new ones!

    – Troll

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