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To What Extent Is Marxist Criticism Helpful In Opening Up Potential Meanings In Catch 22?

1970 words - 8 pages

A Marxist reading enables the critic to see Catch 22, by Joseph Heller, as not simply an anti-war novel but a satirical representation of the absurdity of American bureaucracy and capitalism, and thus shows the extent to which the situation at the time was of concern to Heller. The novel takes place in Italy during World War II and the novel follows Yossarian who is a part of an air squadron yet Heller confirms that “The elements that inspired the ideas came to me from the civilian situation in this country in the 1950s”. Marxist literary criticism claims writers are formed by their social contexts. Indeed, Heller’s social and political climate formed Catch 22, which Heller criticizes the complacent attitude towards profiteering at the expense of the individual. This is achieved through the voices of key characters, such as Yossarian, who dare to question the moral complacency of Catch-22’s military bureaucracy. As Yossarian struggles against the self-interested bureaucracy, Heller illustrates that the individual will always struggle against the vested interests that control the world.
The phrase Catch 22, which after the novel was published became a common idiom, plays a focal part in the novel. It can be seen as the unwritten loophole in every written law which empowers the authorities to revoke your rights whenever it suits them; it is, in short, the principle of absolute evil in a malevolent and flawed world. Dogged by Catch-22, Yossarian becomes a tormented witness to the slaughter of his crew members and the destruction of all his closest friends, until finally his fear of death becomes so intense that he refuses to wear a uniform, after his own has been bespattered with the guts of his dying gunner. Yossarian’s predicament is summed up by this self-defeating logic that is catch 22, present in the air forces code of practise which stated “that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind". Doc Daneeka, the squadron physician and Yossarian’s friend explains this through Orr, another flyer: “Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't […]. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to". In essence, the only sane reaction to war is to recognise its madness. But in doing so, and proving his sanity, Yossarian makes himself eligible to fight: he cannot escape the war. This use of anti-thesis is certainly confusing for the reader and shows the absurdity of war in a satirical light. Moreover, the repetition of ‘crazy’ leads to its meaning becoming its psychological opposite; to be sane is impassively to embrace irrationality and to be crazy is to see clearly. Heller pointed out that "Frankly, I think the whole society is nuts - and the question is: What does a sane man do in an insane society?" The paradoxical situation is satirical, but overtly it illustrates the idiocies of military control and subterfuge....

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