Catch-22 Insanity vs. Sanity Imagine being stuck in a box with absolutely no way out. Everyday becomes another struggle to escape only to find that you are being controlled and confined for no apparent reason. One would eventually let reality slip through their hands and welcome insanity into their empty minds. This is the life of the men in the novel Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Catch-22 introduces a world were sanity and insanity have switch places, were the logical man is pronounced crazy and the insane man is pronounced a hero.
In the novel Catch-22, the theme that is portrayed is that it is impossible to live as a sane person in an insane world. Heller supports this theme with the use of situations that happen to the main character Yossarian, the mind-boggling regulation called Catch-22 and the enlisted men. Set in a World War Two American bomber squadron in Pianosa, Italy, Catch-22 is the story of Captain John Yossarian. Joseph Heller uses various examples of Yossarian trying to remain sane even though the rest of the men have lost their minds. In his attempts to be sensible, Yossarian is seen as a madman among the rest of the men.
An example of this is when Yossarian refused to wear his uniform and decided to walk around naked. While talking to Yossarian, Milo asks why he is not wearing his uniform only to get the response of, “I don’t want to” (Heller 242). Many people think Yossarian has lost his mind but in reality, Yossarian is not satisfied with what the uniform stands for. Too many of his good friends have died and he no longer wanted any part of it. Furthermore, it is seen that because of the war, Yossarian suffers from an extreme case of paranoia.
Heller narrates that, “Yossarian’s symptoms [were] an unreasonable belief that everybody around him was crazy…an unfounded suspicion that people hated him and were conspiring to kill him” (Heller 29). Yossarian believes that people are trying to kill him, which is an absolute fact seeing that every time he enters his plane, there are bullets flying towards him. Because of Yossarian’s belief, the men think that he is insane. His friend Clevinger insists that no one in particular is shooting at him, instead they are shooting at everyone. Puzzled, Yossarian simply replies, “And what difference does that make? (Heller 29). Lastly, an example of Yossarian’s so called “insane” sanity, is illustrated when he decided to run away to Sweden instead of being a sellout and lie for Colonel Cathcart and Korn or risking his life by doing more missions. As Yossarian tries to justify why he decided to leave he says, “I’m not running away from my responsibilities, I’m running to them. There’s nothing negative about running away to save my life” (Heller 414). Major Danby is convinced that Yossarian has lost his mind but it is only Yossarian and the Chaplin who can see the logic.
Despite the tremendous odds against the success of Yossarian’s plan, Heller suggests that his actions are not crazy but a sane response to an insane situation over which Yossarian has no control. By Yossarian being the only sane man, the other men in the squadron believe he is insane. Showing that Yossarian successfully portrays the theme that it is impossible to live as a sane person in an insane world. Because of this regulation, many men have died but for those who are still alive, they are rapidly turning towards insanity
The title of the novel is the name of the outrageous military regulation that determines Heller’s attitude towards sanity and insanity. Catch-22 is described in a number of different ways that can be applied to a number of different aspects. This illogical law has continuously given the men problems, for their sanity is continuously challenged because this rule makes no sense yet must be obeyed. An example of how the regulation is applied is when Yossarian wanted to leave the war but could not because the colonel kept raising the number of missions the soldiers needed to do in order to be finished.
When Yossarian went to Doc Daneeka for help, Doc Daneeka simply said: “ Catch 22…Even if the colonel were disobeying a Twenty-seventh Air Force order by making you fly more missions, you’d still have to fly them, or you’d be guilty of disobeying and order of his. And then the Twenty-seventh Air Force quarters would really jump on you” (Heller 64) Catch-22 is ridiculous because it causes the soldiers to get stuck into situations they should not, by regulation, have to deal with. Yossarian began to learn that this twisted law has trapped him into a life that he no longer wants to be a part of and nothing can be done about it.
Another example of this absurd regulation is when Doc Daneeka is trying to explain to Yossarian why Orr, Yossarian’s crazy friend cannot be grounded from flying any more missions even though soldiers marked insane do not have the right to fly when he says, “ 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” (Heller, 52). In this situation, Catch-22 implies that concern for one’s safety in the face of danger is the process of a rational mind, thus proving an individual’s sanity.
Furthermore, the effects of Catch-22 prove that insane people are really the sanest while the supposedly sensible people are the true madmen. This is shown when Heller describes McWatt: “McWatt was the craziest combat man…probably because he was perfectly sane” (Heller, 65). McWatt no longer tries to escape missions and has in fact started to enjoy them, to everyone else he is seen as normal but to those who are sane, it is noticed that McWatt has lost his mind because the missions were so dangerous that only a crazy person could do them without complaining.
The regulation Catch-22 comes up repetitively throughout the novel and it is unfortunate because men are sent into real danger based on a few unreal and unreliable words. Because of this regulation, many men have died but for those who are still alive, they are rapidly turning towards insanity. Through out the novel senseless irrationalities are found that affect the men in the squadron. With these situations, the men have proven themselves to be truly insane time and time again. To illustrate this, Heller used the story of McWatt.
When playing a practical joke by flying his plane close to the ground, McWatt accidentally hit Kid Sampson and killed him. Instead of landing the plane and dealing with the consequences, McWatt, “…dipped his wings once in salute, decided oh, well, what the hell, and flew into a mountain” (Heller 315). McWatt, though seen as a sensible man to the rest finally lost his mind, which ultimately lead to his death by suicide. Another example is when a few of the men were driving back to their tents after hanging out for the night. Chief White Halfoat was driving and refused o turn on his headlights resulting in the men crashing the car and flipping over. Still laughing, Chief White Halfoat says. “ Somebody kept telling me to put my headlights on but I just wouldn’t listen…I wish I had a drink…”(Heller 125). Chief Whit Halfoat is still not able to understand that because of his bad decisions, he risked the life of four other people. Fully knowing that he had drank too much that night, Chief Halfoat insists on driving any why which, has shown itself to be a less than sensible decision. The last example is shown through Arfy, one of the men in Yossarian’s flight crew.
Arfy has grown accustomed to near death situations while flying, to many he is seen as brave for not being scared, but to Yossarian he is seen as insane for the exact same reason. While flying through an anti aircraft zone, Yossarian is trying to communicate with Afry but unfortunately Arfy decided to joke a round saying, “I can’t hear you” (Heller 143) every time Yossarian spoke. Arfy has done many missions and in result of that, he lost his mind and is no longer able to act accordingly in dangerous situations. Life has now become a joke to Arfy, which can be risky for those who have to work with him.
With all things considered, it is effectively shown how the men in the squadron have turned to insanity because they were not able to cope with a world that is insane, proving the theme that it is impossible to live as a sane person in an insane world. Living in a world of insanity, it is only natural to follow the rest in order to cope or maybe for some, they are able to find the logic in a world were it seems to not even exist. Through out this novel, Joseph Heller has successfully captured the true nature of insanity; he is able to create well-rounded and believable characters because he himself was enlisted as a pilot in the army.
He effectively supports the theme that it is impossible to live as a sane person in an insane world through the use of Yossarian, the only sane man in the squadron, Catch-22, the ridiculously illogical military regulation and the various men the squadron who have all turned into madmen. Even though this novel describes the life of men during World War Two, insanity in the world still exists. In a situation like this, one would think that it would be better off to be the only sane person who is continually misunderstood rather than to follow the world into insanity.