BKMT READING GUIDES

Catch-22
by Joseph Heller

Published: 2011-04-05
Paperback : 544 pages
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42 clubs reading this now
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This fiftieth-anniversary edition commemorates Joseph Heller’s masterpiece with a new introduction; critical essays and reviews by Norman Mailer, Alfred Kazin, Anthony Burgess, and others; rare papers and photos; and much more.

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by ...
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Introduction

This fiftieth-anniversary edition commemorates Joseph Heller’s masterpiece with a new introduction; critical essays and reviews by Norman Mailer, Alfred Kazin, Anthony Burgess, and others; rare papers and photos; and much more.

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.

Soon to be a Hulu limited series starring Christopher Abbott, George Clooney, Kyle Chandler, and Hugh Laurie.

Fifty years after its original publication, Catch-22 remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest—and most celebrated—books of all time. In recent years it has been named to “best novels” lists by Time, Newsweek, the Modern Library, and the London Observer.

Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.

This fiftieth-anniversary edition commemorates Joseph Heller’s masterpiece with a new introduction by Christopher Buckley; a wealth of critical essays and reviews by Norman Mailer, Alfred Kazin, Anthony Burgess, and others; rare papers and photos from Joseph Heller’s personal archive; and much more. Here, at last, is the definitive edition of a classic of world literature.

Editorial Review

There was a time when reading Joseph Heller's classic satire on the murderous insanity of war was nothing less than a rite of passage. Echoes of Yossarian, the wise-ass bombardier who was too smart to die but not smart enough to find a way out of his predicament, could be heard throughout the counterculture. As a result, it's impossible not to consider Catch-22 to be something of a period piece. But 40 years on, the novel's undiminished strength is its looking-glass logic. Again and again, Heller's characters demonstrate that what is commonly held to be good, is bad; what is sensible, is nonsense.

Yossarian says, "You're talking about winning the war, and I am talking about winning the war and keeping alive."
"Exactly," Clevinger snapped smugly. "And which do you think is more important?"
"To whom?" Yossarian shot back. "It doesn't make a damn bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead."
"I can't think of another attitude that could be depended upon to give greater comfort to the enemy."
"The enemy," retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, "is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on."
Mirabile dictu, the book holds up post-Reagan, post-Gulf War. It's a good thing, too. As long as there's a military, that engine of lethal authority, Catch-22 will shine as a handbook for smart-alecky pacifists. It's an utterly serious and sad, but damn funny book.

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

1. A complex, chaotic structure makes the novel difficult to follow. How might this structure parallel, represent, and/or elevate themes in the story? How does Heller piece together the chronology of events?

2. Heller’s dialogue style is reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” comic routine of the 1940s. How does Heller use this back-and-forth disorderly logic to develop character?

3. Chapters tend to be named for individuals in the story; however, titles are deceptive because they tend to be about other characters. Why might Heller have named chapters after one character but have written them about another?

4. Yossarian shares a tent with a “dead man.” What role does this mysterious character play?

5. Chief White Halfoat is illiterate, yet he is assigned to military intelligence. Identify and discuss other examples of Heller’s cynicism toward the government and/or other institutions.

6. Choose a poignant passage/scene. How does Heller make this passage/scene work (e.g., how does he evoke emotion in the reader)?

7. Of the multiple characters in the story, which are you drawn to the most? Why? Are there any completely moral characters in the story? Explain.

8. Major Major is described as “the most mediocre of men.” What do the events in his past and present life tell us about humanity and destiny?

9. Both Captain Wren and Captain Piltchard are described as “mild” and “soft-spoken” officers, and they love the war. Why might their personalities be fitting for someone who loves the war?

10. Yossarian returns to the hospital several times. What role do the hospital settings play in the story? In what way might the hospital settings foil the bombing/war scenes? In what way might they be reflective times for Yossarian? For other characters?

11. Compare and contrast Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn. Are they both hypocrites? Why or why not?

12. Circumstances surrounding Snowden’s death are revealed slowly. What does his death mean to Yossarian? To others?

13. Discuss the significance of déjà vu in the story and how it relates to religious faith.

14. While much of the novel is military satire, the story does delve into the private sector. How might Mrs. Daneeka be a satirical character?

15. One of the ironies of the story occurs at the end in which Yossarian has an opportunity to go home a hero. In essence, he has the system in a Catch-22. Explain.

16. Discuss whether the ending of Catch-22 is uplifting or downbeat. Is it a victory or a defeat?

Further Discussion

17. Most of the characters in Catch-22 are over-the-top in the sense that, in many ways, they are caricatures of themselves. What must Heller have known about humanity to make them all so recognizable?

18. What do you believe is Heller’s view of a capitalistic society?

19. Is Catch-22 a comic novel or a story of morality? Explain.

20. What does Catch-22 say about war?

21. Discuss the literary significance of Catch-22 and its relevance in the twenty-first century.

22. How does Catch-22 compare to other war stories you have read? How does it compare to other satires

23. How might Catch-22 be described as an allegory?

24. Discuss how the novel can be described as a struggle between the individual and an institution.

25. Discuss the meaning of sanity as it applies to the story.

Guide prepared by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA.

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

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by KarenC (see profile) 05/17/19

 
by hkbarker (see profile) 10/14/17

 
by DebraF (see profile) 11/22/16

 
  "Not for a 2000+ women's book group"by jaegeral (see profile) 10/15/14

We had a VERY hard time getting into this book and following the story line. There was little plot and more monologue and commentary. We decided in discussion that it may have been a classic better appreciated... (read more)

 
by Jeanrae05 (see profile) 08/25/14

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