Satire and Black Humor in Catch-22
The only thing going on was a war, and no one seemed to notice but Yossarian and Dunbar. Yossarian is one of the few "normal" characters found in the books, or at least he thinks he is. As the story progresses, it appears that no one is "normal." Values either no longer apply, or do in reverse. In this backwards world of Catch-22, where everyone is crazy, Heller uses black humor and satire to make light of an otherwise dismal situation.
Satire in the book mainly attacks three general things: senior military officers, professional and business interests, and society's remarkable reliance on forms, papers, rules and regulations. The senior officers are generally trying to intimidate and persecute the soldiers, most obviously by raising the number of missions, endangering the men's lives even more (Young 2). They are very selfish and have warped ideas about what they can do and what they can make the squadron do. They only do what they have been told to do, and have very few if any original thoughts. General Dreedle, for example, tries to have Danby shot for moaning during a mission briefing while in his presence. Another example of their warped beliefs is when Lieutenant Schisskopf comes up with the idea that they could stick pegs into each man's thighs and hook them together with copper wire so that the men would march better. Captain Black starts the Loyalty Oath Crusade, in which the men have to sign loyalty oaths for practically every task they need to perform throughout the day. They have to sign oaths to get their map cases, obtaining flak suits, being driven to their planes, and even eat or get their hair cut. His theory is that the more loyalty oaths the men sign, the more loyal they are to their officers and to the country (Merrill 17-18). Colonel Cathcart is only concerned with whether something is a "Feather in His Cap" or a "Black Eye," and is obsessed with getting his picture in the Saturday Evening Post (Young 2).
Professions and businesses are attacked throughout the book. A very humorous example of this is the antics of Gus and Wes, Doc Daneeka's assistants. They are incredibly incompetent, as all they do is bring people to the hospital who have temperatures of 102 and above, painting their gums and toes with a gentian violet solution. The competency of the nurses can also be questioned, and their treatment of a man covered completely in bandages. The only thing the nurses do for him is to switch the bottles of liquid going in and out of his body (Magill 849). The doctors don't know what to do about Yossarian either. He stays to the infirmary for several weeks complaining about his liver. The doctors tell him it's not jaundice but they don't know what it is. Finally they tell him that nothing is wrong with him at all and let him go (Merrill 19).
Another attack of businesses is the story of how Chief White Halfoat and his family were exploited by the...