Tragic Comedy In Catch-22

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You can’t stop flying unless you’re crazy; you cannot not stop flying if you’re sane; and the only people who want to fly are crazy. This absurd logic, hilarious at first, is the root of Catch-22, and is but one such absurd joke among many in the book. In Catch-22, Joseph Heller employs comedy to illustrate how initially comical characteristics can, when pulled to the extremes, lead people to enact cruelties. Many of the most memorable moments of Catch-22 are indisputably hilarious. One such example is Colonel Cathcart, an indecisive squadron leader obsessed with his own self image. Plagued by constant doubts about his every choice, Colonel Cathcart oscillates rapidly and randomly between relying on his subordinate Colonel Korn for advice…show more content…
Colonel Cathcart’s manipulation of the finish line is funny until the moment we realize the body count left behind by his petty ambitions. As the number of missions drags on, characters disappear one by one until the main character, Yossarian, is almost entirely alone. Clevinger, Orr, Dunbar, Dobbs, Kid Samson, McWatt, and Hungry Joe all disappear. By the end of the novel, half of the named characters are dead, and there’s no better culprit than Colonel Cathcart. Rather than a slapstick comedy, Cathcart’s constant raising of the number of missions takes on a Sisyphean edge. On a lesser scale than Colonel Cathcart, the same pattern of surface-level comedy turning disturbing is present with Aarfy. Aarfy is initially played as a good-natured, if mischievous, man. Sure, Aarfy is a complete disaster of a navigator, a characteristic that is played for laughs when Aarfy navigates them into extreme danger repeatedly. Although Aarfy seems to only befriend Nately in hopes for a job offer after the war, Aarfy still seems virtuous when he expresses his refusal to take advantage of nice girls and to pay for prostitutes. Aarfy’s existence seems to be a joke made just to annoy him squad mates, and the punchline hits horrifically when Yossarian discovers Aarfy raping a maid before killing her to silence her. When questioned on his actions, Aarfy repeats his previous statement of never paying for sex. Thus concludes the joke, and the reader is…show more content…
In retrospect, Colonel Cathcart’s blatant goalpost manipulation isn’t funny anymore once you consider that all the deaths it causes had no other reason than pointless posturing. In fact, upon seeing its results, his actions are sickening. When has it ever been funny to give soldiers hope of returning home just to snatch it away? Why were we laughing at this tragedy? The darker implications of Cathcart’s actions reflect twistedly on the humor of those first scenes. These cherished, humorous moments of the book cannot be laughed at anymore without a sense of unease. This evolution of scenes is especially clear with the novel’s name. The Catch-22 in the beginning is but a series of elaborate and absurd paradoxes. Yossarian cannot go home until he reaches the required number of missions, but the required number of missions always increases. It’s impossible to enter Major Major’s office if he’s in it, but you can talk to him in his office when he’s not in the office. The initial uses of Catch-22 is that of a comedic device that revels in the absurdity of the world. Our ability to twist logic for our own means entertains us in the novelty of what can result from it. As the book draws to a close, however, Catch-22 starts being used with a distinctively different connotation, shown when Yossarian escapes to Rome. There, upon entering the

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