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Crisis Of Conscience Essay

1754 words - 7 pages

In Catch-22, Joseph Heller creates a surreal world of irrationality to illuminate madness and corruption. Through the satirical characterizations of the novel's leaders, Heller criticizes not just the institution of war but all forms of bureaucratic establishment. The authority figures in the novel are portrayed as selfish and deranged maniacs without any sense of morality, driven purely by their desires to expand their power and reputations. These leaders are able to skew reason to their benefits through their followers’ acceptance of conformity and conventions. The novel's protagonist, Yossarian, however, rejects the pressures of conformity and is unwilling to accept his leaders' illogical projections of truth and duty. By running away to rescue Nately's whore's sister, Yossarian is able to overcome the oppression of authority and find his own sense of purpose by deciding for himself what is right and pursuing it. This victory advances Heller’s commendation of standing up against the conventions of society and refusing to accept truth blindly.
Joseph Heller’s novel makes use of humorous surrealism to illuminate corruption in society. Heller admits that in his novels, “the texture, the approach,” as opposed to the “basic story line, the sequence of action,” is what “makes them distinctive” (Rielly). Indeed, at its most basic level, the plot of Catch-22 is hardly surrealistic or unconventional at all; it is a reasonably historically accurate portrait of the end of the Second World War. The missions Yossarian flies, the deaths he witnesses, and the poverty he observes are all true to the setting. Many events in the book, such as the mission where Yossarian and his comrades are ordered to bomb a civilian city to create a roadblock, were inspired by Heller's own experiences as a bombardier in World War II (Rielly). The surrealism of the novel is instead manifested in the way the characters think. Their actions are based on blatantly irrational reasoning, and, though the readers realize this, most of the characters themselves do not, and their unreasonable actions are accepted as reasonable within the novel’s fantasy universe. For example, a reader may find humor in Captain Black’s assertion that though “the men don’t have to sign Piltchard and Wren’s loyalty oath if they don’t want to,” Milo needs “to starve them to death if they don’t” (Heller 124). The characters in the scene, however, are not laughing and find this proposition legitimate. The reader is now left to reflect on real situations in which figures of authority abuse their power and render claims of personal freedom pretentious, such as during the Red Scare in America prior to Catch-22’s publishing. This ironic technique is essential to the novel’s success as a satire, as it allows readers to objectively examine a world that functions on its own skewed rules of logic and, ultimately, to find unsettling similarities between this fictional reality and actual society.
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