Joseph Heller: Catch-22

Catch-22 is a satirical, anti-war novel by Joseph Heller, set during World War II, that tells the story of Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier in the United States Army Air Forces. The novel explores themes of bureaucracy, the absurdity of war, and the struggle for individual autonomy within a dehumanizing system. Known for its nonlinear narrative structure, dark humor, and unique blend of realism and surrealism, Catch-22 has become a classic of American literature and a defining work of postmodern fiction.


number of pages: 450
literary movement: POSTMODERNISM
literary genre: DARK HUMOUR, SATIRE, WAR
1st edition: 1961
years of writing: 1953 - 1961


The story is set on the fictional island of Pianosa, located in the Mediterranean Sea, where Yossarian and his fellow airmen are stationed. Throughout the novel, Yossarian becomes increasingly disillusioned with the war and the military bureaucracy that governs his life, seeking ways to escape the seemingly endless cycle of bombing missions and the arbitrary rules that keep him trapped. One such rule is the infamous Catch-22, a paradoxical regulation that states a pilot can be grounded for being mentally unfit to fly, but the very act of requesting to be grounded due to insanity proves the pilot’s sanity and thus disqualifies the request.

Catch-22 is populated by a colorful cast of characters, each representing various aspects of the absurdity and irrationality of the military bureaucracy and the human condition. These characters include the opportunistic Milo Minderbinder, who turns the war into a profitable enterprise; the obsessive-compulsive Major Major Major Major, who is promoted to major simply because of his name; and the idealistic Chaplain Tappman, who struggles to find meaning and purpose in the face of war’s horrors.

The novel’s narrative structure is marked by its disjointed chronology, shifting perspectives, and recurring motifs, which serve to underscore the chaos and absurdity of war. Through its satirical portrayal of military bureaucracy and its exploration of the individual’s struggle for autonomy within a dehumanizing system, Catch-22 provides a powerful critique of the irrationality and futility of war.


Captain John Yossarian

The protagonist, a B-25 bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Forces stationed on the island of Pianosa. He is disillusioned with the war and struggles to find a way out of his dangerous missions, often employing absurd and outrageous tactics.

Milo Minderbinder

A mess officer who becomes an influential entrepreneur, exploiting the war for personal profit. He represents the extreme capitalistic side of war and is more focused on his business empire than the well-being of his fellow soldiers.

Colonel Cathcart

The ambitious commanding officer who continually raises the number of required missions for his men. He is primarily concerned with his own reputation and seeks recognition from his superiors.

Doc Daneeka

The squadron’s flight surgeon and a close friend of Yossarian. He is sympathetic to Yossarian’s plight but is also bound by the military bureaucracy and rules, including the infamous Catch-22.


A young and naive American pilot who falls in love with a prostitute in Rome. He is idealistic and believes in the goodness of people, providing a contrast to the cynical and jaded attitudes of other characters.

Major Major Major Major

A character accidentally promoted to the rank of Major because of a computer error. He is an ineffectual leader who avoids responsibility and interaction with his subordinates.

Chaplain Tappman

A kind and gentle Anabaptist minister who is often tormented by the cruelty and senselessness of war. He struggles with feelings of inadequacy and seeks to provide moral support to the soldiers.

Captain Black

A vindictive and cruel officer who revels in the suffering of others. He is a foil to Yossarian, demonstrating the darker side of human nature and the corrupting influence of power.

Captain Aarfy Aardvark

Yossarian’s navigator, who is oblivious to the dangers of war and often puts his crew at risk. His carefree attitude and lack of empathy highlight the absurdity of war and the disconnect between the individual and the larger conflict.


A young gunner who dies during a mission, greatly affecting Yossarian. His death serves as a turning point for Yossarian and underscores the brutal reality of war.

…[A]nything worth dying for … is certainly worth living for.



  • Author: Catch-22 is a satirical novel written by American author Joseph Heller, published in 1961.
  • Setting: The story takes place during World War II, primarily on the fictional Mediterranean island of Pianosa, where the main character is stationed.
  • Main Character: The protagonist is Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier.
  • Catch-22: The novel introduces the concept of a “catch-22,” a paradoxical and absurd rule that puts characters in a no-win situation. In the story, soldiers are considered insane if they want to continue flying dangerous missions, but they can only be grounded if they request it, proving they are sane.
  • Satire: Catch-22 is a biting satire of war, bureaucracy, and the absurdity of military logic. Heller uses humor and irony to critique the dehumanizing aspects of war and the illogical reasoning of those in power.
  • Nonlinear Narrative: The book’s narrative structure is nonlinear, with events described out of chronological order, which can be disorienting but emphasizes the chaotic nature of war.
  • Supporting Characters: The novel features a large ensemble cast of eccentric characters, each representing different aspects of the military hierarchy and bureaucracy.
  • Themes: Catch-22 explores themes such as the absurdity of war, the consequences of unchecked power, the loss of individuality, and the struggle for personal integrity in a corrupt system.
  • Influence and Legacy: The novel was initially met with mixed reviews but has since become a classic of American literature, influencing other anti-war works and popular culture. The term “catch-22” has entered the English language, referring to a paradoxical or unsolvable situation.
  • Adaptations: Catch-22 has been adapted into a film, directed by Mike Nichols in 1970, and a television miniseries, released in 2019, starring Christopher Abbott as Yossarian and George Clooney as Scheisskopf.


The 1970 movie adaptation of Catch-22 is a black comedy war film directed by Mike Nichols and based on Joseph Heller’s satirical novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Buck Henry, and the film stars an ensemble cast, including Alan Arkin as Captain John Yossarian, Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Art Garfunkel, Jack Gilford, Charles Grodin, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Paula Prentiss, and Orson Welles.

The movie follows Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier stationed in the Mediterranean during World War II. Yossarian is desperate to be declared insane and sent home, but he is continually thwarted by the paradoxical Catch-22 rule: a soldier who is sane enough to recognize the danger of flying dangerous combat missions must be sane enough to continue flying them.

The film captures the absurdity, black humor, and tragic nature of war through its episodic structure, mixing surreal and realistic scenes to illustrate the insanity of the situations the characters find themselves in. While the movie received mixed reviews upon its release, it has since gained a cult following and is considered an important example of American black comedy cinema from the 1970s.

Catch-22 (1970)


In conclusion, Catch-22 is a groundbreaking and influential novel that offers a unique and compelling exploration of the absurdity of war, the struggle for individual autonomy, and the destructive power of bureaucracy. Its nonlinear narrative structure, dark humor, and unforgettable characters have cemented its place as a classic of American literature and a defining work of postmodern fiction. Catch-22 remains a powerful and thought-provoking read, offering insights into the human condition and the often irrational nature of the systems that govern our lives.



Joseph Heller was an American author best known for his satirical novel Catch-22. His works often combined dark humor with biting social commentary, offering a unique perspective on war, bureaucracy, and the absurdity of modern life. In this comprehensive article, we will explore Heller’s life, his most famous books, and the impact his writing has had on the literary world.


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