Catch-22 is a satirical novel by American author Joseph Heller. He
began writing it in 1953; the novel was first published in 1961. Often
cited as one of the most significant novels of the twentieth
century, it uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person
omniscient narration, describing events from the points of view of
different characters. The separate storylines are out of sequence so
the timeline develops along with the plot.
The novel is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. It mainly
follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces
B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occur while the
fictional 256th Squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the
Mediterranean Sea, west of Italy. The novel looks into the experiences
Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp, who attempt to maintain
their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they
may return home.
6 Literary allusions
7 Historical context
8 Explanation of the novel's title
9 Publication and movie rights
13 Selected releases
14 See also
16 External links
The development of the novel can be split into segments. The first
(chapters 1–11) broadly follows the story fragmented between
characters, but in a single chronological time in 1944. The second
(chapters 12–20) flashes back to focus primarily on the "Great Big
Siege of Bologna" before once again jumping to the chronological
'present' of 1944 in the third part (chapter 21–25). The fourth
(chapters 26–28) flashes back to the origins and growth of Milo's
syndicate, with the fifth part (chapter 28–32) returning again to
the narrative present but keeping to the same tone of the previous
four. The sixth and final part (chapter 32 on) remains in the story's
present, but takes a much darker turn and spends the remaining
chapters focusing on the serious and brutal nature of war and life in
general. Previously the reader had been cushioned from experiencing
the full horror of events, but in the final section, the events are
laid bare. The horror begins with the attack on the undefended Italian
mountain village, with the following chapters involving despair (Doc
Daneeka and the Chaplain), disappearance in combat (Orr and
Clevinger), disappearance caused by the army (Dunbar) or death of most
of Yossarian's friends (Nately, McWatt, Mudd, Kid Sampson, Dobbs,
Chief White Halfoat and Hungry Joe), culminating in the unspeakable
horrors of Chapter 39, in particular the rape and murder of Michaela,
who represents pure innocence. In Chapter 41 the full details of
the gruesome death of Snowden are finally revealed. Despite this, the
novel ends on an upbeat note with
Yossarian learning of Orr's
miraculous escape to Sweden and Yossarian's pledge to follow him
Many events in the book are repeatedly described from differing points
of view, so the reader learns more about each event from each
iteration, with the new information often completing a joke, the setup
of which was told several chapters previously. The narrative's events
are out of sequence, but events are referred to as if the reader is
already familiar with them so that the reader must ultimately piece
together a timeline of events. Specific words, phrases, and questions
are also repeated frequently, generally to comic effect.
Much of Heller's prose in
Catch-22 is circular and repetitive,
exemplifying in its form the structure of a Catch-22. Circular
reasoning is widely used by some characters to justify their actions
and opinions. Heller revels in paradox, for example: "The Texan turned
out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one
could stand him", and "The case against
Clevinger was open and shut.
The only thing missing was something to charge him with." This
atmosphere of apparently logical irrationality pervades the book.
While a few characters are most prominent, notably
Yossarian and the
Chaplain, the majority of named characters are described in detail
with fleshed out or multidimensional personas to the extent that there
are few if any "minor characters."
Although its non-chronological structure may at first seem random,
Catch 22 is highly structured. It is founded on a structure of free
association, ideas run into one another through seemingly random
connections. For example, Chapter 1 entitled "The Texan" ends with
"everybody but the CID man, who had caught a cold from the fighter
captain and come down with pneumonia." Chapter 2, entitled
"Clevinger", begins with "In a way, the CID man was pretty lucky
because outside the hospital the war was still going on." The CID
man connects the two chapters like a free association bridge and
eventually Chapter 2 flows from the CID man to
Clevinger through more
free association links.
Yossarian comes to fear his commanding officers more than he fears the
Germans attempting to shoot him down and he feels that "they" are "out
to get him." Chief among the reasons
Yossarian fears his commanders
more than the enemy is that as he flies more missions, Colonel
Cathcart increases the number of required combat missions before a
soldier may return home; he reaches the magic number only to have it
retroactively raised. He comes to despair of ever getting home and is
greatly relieved when he is sent to the hospital for a condition that
is almost jaundice. In Yossarian's words:
The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which
side he's on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don't you forget
that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might
While the military's enemies are Germans, none appear in the story as
an enemy combatant. This ironic situation is epitomized in the single
appearance of German personnel in the novel, who act as pilots
employed by the squadron's Mess Officer, Milo Minderbinder, to bomb
the American encampment on Pianosa. This predicament indicates a
tension between traditional motives for violence and the modern
economic machine, which seems to generate violence simply as another
means to profit, quite independent of geographical or ideological
constraints. Heller emphasizes the danger of profit seeking by
portraying Milo without "evil intent." Milo's actions are portrayed as
the result of greed, not malice.
Further information: List of
This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (November 2016)
Heller wanted to be a writer from an early age. His experiences as a
World War II
World War II inspired Catch-22; Heller later said
that he "never had a bad officer." In a 1977 essay on Catch-22, Heller
stated that the "antiwar and antigovernment feelings in the book" were
a product of the Korean War and the 1950s rather than World War II
itself. Heller's criticisms are not intended for
World War II
World War II but for
the Cold War and McCarthyism.
The influence of the 1950s on
Catch-22 is evident through Heller's
extensive use of anachronism. Though the novel is ostensibly set in
World War II, Heller intentionally included anachronisms like loyalty
oaths and computers (IBM machines) to situate the novel in the context
of the 1950s. Many of the characters are based on or connected to
individuals from the 1950s:
Milo Minderbinder's maxim "What's good for M&M Enterprises is good
for the country" alludes to the former president of General Motors
Charles Erwin Wilson's statement before the Senate "What's good for
General Motors is good for the country."
The question of "Who promoted Major Major?" alludes to Joseph
McCarthy's questioning of the promotion of Major Peress, an army
dentist who refused to sign loyalty oaths.
Arnošt Lustig recounts in his book 3x18 that Joseph
Heller told him that he would never have written
Catch-22 had he not
The Good Soldier Švejk
The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek.
In 1998, some critics raised the possibility that Heller's book had
questionable similarities to Louis Falstein's 1950 novel, Face of a
Hero. Falstein never raised the issue between Catch-22's publication
and his death in 1995 and Heller claimed never to have been aware of
the obscure novel. Heller said that the novel had been influenced by
Céline, Waugh and Nabokov. Many of the similarities have been stated
to be attributable to the authors' experiences, both having served as
U.S. Army Air Forces aircrew in Italy in World War II. However, their
themes and styles are different.
Strictly speaking, a "Catch-22" is "a problematic situation for which
the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem
or by a rule." For example, losing something is typically a
conventional problem; to solve it, one looks for the lost item until
one finds it. But if the thing lost is one's glasses, one cannot see
to look for them — a Catch-22. The term "Catch-22" is also used more
broadly to mean a tricky problem or a no-win or absurd situation.
In the book,
Catch-22 is a military rule typifying bureaucratic
operation and reasoning. The rule is not stated in a general form, but
the principal example in the book fits the definition above: If one is
crazy, one does not have to fly missions; and one must be crazy to
fly. But one has to apply to be excused, and applying demonstrates
that one is not crazy. As a result, one must continue flying, either
not applying to be excused, or applying and being refused. The
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 were 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
let out a respectful whistle. (p. 56, ch. 5)
Other forms of
Catch-22 are invoked throughout the novel to justify
various bureaucratic actions. At one point, victims of harassment by
military police quote the MPs' explanation of one of Catch-22's
Catch-22 states that agents enforcing
Catch-22 need not
Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused
violator is accused of violating." Another character explains:
Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them
Yossarian comes to realize that
Catch-22 does not actually exist, but
because the powers that be claim it does, and the world believes it
does, it nevertheless has potent effects. Indeed, because it does not
exist, there is no way it can be repealed, undone, overthrown, or
denounced. The combination of force with specious and spurious
legalistic justification is one of the book's primary motifs.
The motif of bureaucratic absurdity is further explored in 1994's
Closing Time, Heller's sequel to Catch-22. This darker, slower-paced,
apocalyptic novel explores the pre- and post-war lives of some of the
major characters in Catch-22, with particular emphasis on the
Yossarian and tail gunner Sammy Singer.
Catch-22 contains allusions to many works of literature. Howard
Jacobson, in his 2004 introduction to the Vintage Classics
publication, wrote that the novel was "positioned teasingly ...
between literature and literature's opposites – between
Céline and the Absurdists and of course
Kafka on the one hand, and on
the other vaudeville and slapstick and Bilko and Abbott and Costello
Tom and Jerry
Tom and Jerry and the Goons (if Heller had ever heard of the
Goons)." One critic argues that it is Kafka's influence that can
be seen most strongly in the novel: "Like Kafka's heroes,
riddled with anxiety and caught in an inexorable nightmare – in his
case created by
Colonel Cathcart and the inevitability of his raising
the number of missions he has to fly."
The idea for
Catch-22 was based on Joseph Heller's personal experience
in World War II. The feelings that
Yossarian and the other bomber
pilots felt were taken directly from problems he suffered while on
duty. Heller flew 60 bombing missions from May to October in 1944.
Heller was able to make it out of the war, but it took until 1953
before he could start writing about it. The war experience turned
Heller into a "tortured, funny, deeply peculiar human being".
After publication in 1961,
Catch-22 became very popular among
teenagers at the time.
Catch-22 seemed to embody the feelings that
young people had toward the Vietnam War. A common joke was that every
student who went off to college at the time took along a copy of
Catch-22. The popularity of the book created a cult following, which
led to more than eight million copies being sold in the United States.
On October 26, 1986, professor and author
John W. Aldridge wrote a
piece in the New York Times celebrating the 25th anniversary of the
publishing of "Catch-22". He commented that Heller's book presaged the
chaos in the world that was to come:
"The comic fable that ends in horror has become more and more clearly
a reflection of the altogether uncomic and horrifying realities of the
world in which we live and hope to survive."
Explanation of the novel's title
The title is a reference to a fictional bureaucratic stipulation which
embodies forms of illogical and immoral reasoning. The opening
chapter of the novel was originally published in
New World Writing
New World Writing as
Catch-18 in 1955, but Heller's agent, Candida Donadio, requested that
he change the title of the novel, so it would not be confused with
another recently published
World War II
World War II novel, Leon Uris's Mila
18. The number 18 has special meaning in Judaism (it means Alive
in Gematria; see Chai) and was relevant to early drafts of the novel
which had a somewhat greater Jewish emphasis.
The title Catch-11 was suggested, with the duplicated 1 paralleling
the repetition found in a number of character exchanges in the novel,
but because of the release of the 1960 movie Ocean's Eleven, this was
also rejected. Catch-17 was rejected so as not to be confused with
World War II
World War II film Stalag 17, as was Catch-14, apparently because
the publisher did not feel that 14 was a "funny number." Eventually,
the title came to be Catch-22, which, like 11, has a duplicated digit,
with the 2 also referring to a number of déjà vu-like events common
in the novel.
Publication and movie rights
Catch-22 was sold to Simon & Schuster, where it had been
championed by editor Robert Gottlieb, who along with Nina Bourne,
would edit and oversee the marketing of the book. Gottlieb was a
strong advocate for the title along with
Peter Schwed and Justin
Kaplan. Henry Simon, a vice-president at Simon & Schuster, found
it repetitive and offensive. The editorial board decided to
contract the book when Heller agreed to revisions—he signed for
Officially published on 10 October 1961, the hardcover sold for $5.95.
The book was not a best-seller in hardcover in the United States.
Though it sold 12,000 copies by Thanksgiving, it never entered the New
York Times Bestseller List.
Catch-22 received good notices and was
nominated for the
National Book Award in March 1962. (Heller lost out
to Walker Percy's The Moviegoer.) It went through four printings in
hardcover, but only sold well on the East Coast. The book never
established itself nationally until it was published in paperback for
Upon publication in Great Britain, the book became the #1
best-seller.:233 Don Fine of Dell Paperbacks bought the paperback
reprint rights to
Catch-22 for $32,000. Between the paperback's
release in September 1962 and April 1963, it sold 1.1 million
copies.:238–240 In August 1962, Donadio brokered the sale of
movie rights to
Columbia Pictures for $100,000 plus $25,000 to write a
treatment or a first draft of a screenplay.:234
The initial reviews of the book ranged from very positive to very
negative. There were positive reviews from The Nation, ("the best
novel to come out in years"), the
New York Herald Tribune
New York Herald Tribune ("A wild,
moving, shocking, hilarious, raging, exhilarating, giant
roller-coaster of a book") and
The New York Times
The New York Times ("A dazzling
performance that will outrage nearly as many readers as it delights").
On the other hand, The New Yorker, ("doesn't even seem to be written;
instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper",
"what remains is a debris of sour jokes") and a second review from the
New York Times ("repetitive and monotonous. Or one can say that it is
too short because none of its many interesting characters and actions
is given enough play to become a controlling interest") disliked
it. One commentator of
Catch-22 recognized that "many early audiences
liked the book for just the same reasons that caused others to hate
it" The book had a cult following though, especially among
teenagers and college students. Heller remarks that in 1962, after
appearing on the Today show he went out drinking with the host at the
time, John Chancellor, who handed him stickers that Chancellor got
privately printed reading "YOSSARIAN LIVES". Heller also said that
Chancellor had been secretly putting them on the walls of the
corridors and executive bathrooms in the NBC building.
Although the novel won no awards upon release, it has remained in
print and is seen as one of the most significant American novels of
the 20th century. Scholar and fellow
World War II
World War II veteran Hugh
Nibley said it was the most accurate book he ever read about the
military. Since its release in 1961, the book has sold 10 million
Although he continued writing, including a sequel novel Closing Time,
Heller’s later works were inevitably overshadowed by the success of
Catch-22. When asked by critics why he’d never managed to write
another novel as good as his groundbreaking work, Heller would retort
with a smile “Who has?”
"50th Anniversary of Joseph Heller's Catch-22" – Leslie Stahl
moderating a panel made up of Christopher Buckley, Robert Gottlieb,
Mike Nichols, and Scott Shepherd, C-SPAN
Modern Library ranked
Catch-22 as the 7th (by review panel) and
12th (by public) greatest English-language novel of the 20th
The Radcliffe Publishing Course rank
Catch-22 as number 15 of the 20th
century's top 100 novels.
The Observer listed
Catch-22 as one of the 100 greatest novels of all
Catch-22 in the top 100 English-language modern novels (1923
Big Read by the
Catch-22 as number 11 on a web poll of
the UK's best-loved book.
Opening title of the film adaptation
Catch-22 was adapted into a feature film of the same name in 1970,
directed by Mike Nichols.
Aquila Theatre produced a stage adaptation of Catch-22,
based on Heller's 1971 stage adaption. It was directed by Peter
Meineck. This production toured the USA in 2007/8 with a Bexhill on
Sea production in the fall of 2008.
A pilot for a comedy series based upon
Catch-22 was made and televised
in 1973, with
Richard Dreyfuss in the starring role of Capt.
A six-episode miniseries produced by
George Clooney has been picked up
Hulu for a straight-to-series order. Clooney will portray Colonel
This list covers the first and most recent printed publications by the
original publisher Simon & Schuster as well as all other formats.
Other print publishers include Dell, Corgi, Vintage, Knopf, Black
Swan, Grasset & Fasquelle and Wahlström & Widstrand.
The original manuscript is held by Brandeis University.
1961, Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-12805-1, pub date June
1961, Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-440-51120-8, advance Paperback
with signed bookplate
1978, Franklin Library ISBN 0-8124-1717-8, signed limited edition
1996, Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-83339-5, pub date September
1999, Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-86513-0, pub date October
1980, Books On Tape ISBN 0-7366-8962-1, unabridged Audio Cassette
reader Wolfram Kandinsky
Caedmon Audio ISBN 0-694-50253-7, Audio Cassette
1990, Books On Tape ISBN 0-7366-9085-9, unabridged Audio CD
reader Jim Weiss
1994, DH Audio ISBN 0-88646-125-1, abridged edition Audio
Cassette reader Alan Arkin
2007, Caedmon ISBN 978-0-06-126246-3, unabridged Audio CD reader
Jay O. Sanders
2008, Hachette Audio ISBN 978-1-4055-0387-7, unabridged Audio CD
reader Trevor White
Order No. 227
^ "Paul Bacon cover artist". Solothurnli.com. Retrieved 11 March
^ a b "What is Catch-22? And why does the book matter?".
BBC News. 12
March 2002. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
^ a b Clinton S. Burhans, Jr. Spindrift and the Sea: Structural
Patterns and Unifying Elements in Catch 22. Twentieth Century
Literature, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 239–250, 1973. JSTOR online access
^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon & Schuster, New York. 1996), p.
^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon & Schuster, New York. 1996), p.
^ Heller, Joseph (1961). Catch-22. New York: Simon & Schuster.
^ a b Podgorski, Daniel (27 October 2015). "Rocks and Hard Places
Bureaucratic Appropriation of War in Joseph Heller's
Catch-22". The Gemsbok. Your Tuesday Tome. Retrieved 21 February
^ a b c d Sorkin, Adam J. (1993). Conversations with Joseph Heller.
Jackson, MO: University Press of Mississippi. p. 150.
^ DM Craig. From Avignon to Catch-22. War, Literature, and the Arts 6,
no. 2, 1994 pp27-54.
^ Heller, Joseph (1977). "Reeling in Catch-22". In Lynda Rosen Obst.
The Sixties. New York: Random House/Rolling Stone Press.
^ Zenny Sadlon. "Personal testimony by Arnošt Lustig". Zenny.com.
Retrieved 11 March 2011.
^ Gussow, Mel (29 April 1998). "Critic's Notebook; Questioning the
Provenance of the Iconic Catch-22". The New York Times. Retrieved 1
^ catch-22. 2012. In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved 8 March 2012, from
Random House ISBN 978-0-09-947046-5 Vintage Classics
^ McDonald, Paul. Reading Catch-22. Humanities E-Books
^ Bailey, Blake (26 August 2011). "The Enigma of Joseph Heller". New
York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
^ Aldridge, John W. (26 October 1986). "The Loony Horror of it all -
Catch-22 Turns 25". Sunday New York Times. Retrieved 1 March
^ a b c d e Eller, Jonathan R. (October 1992). "Catching a Market: The
Publishing History of Catch-22". Prospects.
^ a b N James. "The Early Composition History of Catch-22". In
Biographies of Books: The Compositional Histories of Notable American
Writings, J Barbour, T Quirk (edi.) pp. 262–290. Columbia:
University of Missouri Press, 1996.
^ a b c d Daugherty, Tracy (2011). Just One Catch: A Biography of
Joseph Heller. New York: St. Martin's Press.
^ "The Internet Public Library: Online Literary Criticism Collection".
Ipl.org. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
^ a b Heller, Joseph (1994). Catch-22. New York: Simon & Schuster.
p. 11. ISBN 0-671-50233-6.
Hugh Nibley and Alex Nibley, Sergeant Nibley PhD.: Memories of an
Unlikely Screaming Eagle, Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2006, p.
Joseph Heller and his fiction. The first cut is the deepest". 8
October 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
^ "50th Anniversary of Joseph Heller's Catch-22". C-SPAN. 18 October
2011. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
^ Randomhouse.com Modern Library's 100 best novels of the 20th century
^ Herbert Huber. "Radcliffe Publishing Course: the twentieth century's
top 100 novels". Lesekost.de. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
^ Robert McCrum (8 August 2006). "The Observer's greatest novels of
all time". The Observer. UK. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
^ "Time's top 100 English language modern novels". TIME. 16 October
2005. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
^ The BBC's Big Read
^ Phythyon Jr., John. R. (2 March 2008). "
Catch-22 a nearly perfect
adaptation". The Lawrence Journal-World & News.
Catch-22 (TV Movie 1973) on IMDb.
^ Andreeva, Nellie (January 12, 2018). "
Hulu Nabs 'Catch-22' Limited
George Clooney From Anonymous Content & Paramount
TV". Deadline. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
^ Heller archive Archived 8 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine.,
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Catch-22
Librarything.com with many photos of other
Photos of the first edition of Catch-22
Catch-22 as a figure of speech
Catch-22 study guide – analysis, themes, quotes, and teaching
Why a novel so acclaimed took 46 years to make it to the stage: How
the cult classic was adapted for the stage
History of combat crew rotation -
World War II
World War II and Korean War
Works by Joseph Heller
Something Happened (1974)
Good as Gold (1979)
God Knows (1984)
Picture This (1988)
Closing Time (1994)
Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man
Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man (2000)
Short story collections
Catch as Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings (2003)
We Bombed in New Haven (1967)
Clevinger's Trial (1973)
No Laughing Matter (1986)
Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here (1998)
Joseph Heller's Catch-22