“Catch-22” figures high on the list of mandatory literature for my last year in high-school. So as any other compulsory read, it was pretty low-prioritized, giving way to amazing novels whose reviews would soon be published. However, one day as I was browsing through, perhaps, the only independent bookstore in my town, I serendipitously lit upon an old copy of the book. Its cover was slightly battered and its pages were yellowed and stained with marks of the years gone by.
It was love at first sight.
The first time I flicked through its pages, I fell madly in love with it.
“Catch-22” is no ordinary book. The arrangement of the novel is extraordinarily cunning! The words: consistency, chronology and succession do not apply to its case. All the events are jumbled up and the story is held together by myriads of tenuous strings of iron-clad associations which are revealed solely to those who persevere till the end. Yet every sentence is astounding in its meaningfulness and pertinence to the motives in the novel.
“Catch-22” is not merely a thrilling read, but a fascinated puzzle in which so as to connect dots you should start after you’ve finished.
Yossarian is a 28-year-old soldier in the Air Force squadron on the island of Pianosa who is quite agog for the prospect of being grounded. He spends most of his days lying in various hospitals, feigning non-existent symptoms of unheard ailments so as to evade combat duty. He takes World War II to heart and is convinced that everyone is out to kill him: “Strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them and it wasn’t funny at all.”
Faced by the inevitability and finality of death, he is going out of his way to defy the implacable bureaucracy, its malign exertion of control over all troops and its grandiloquence in order to preserve his personhood. “He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt.” Everything he does is out of sheer selfishness, yet he proves to be one of the most reasonable and honest men in his squadron.
As the story unravels, the deterioration of moral values, the blurred contours of right and wrong, the accumulation of unpunished delinquencies and the despicable distortion of truth during the time of war are becoming more and more blatant and shocking. The distrust and havoc that rule over the hearts and lives of all men are emphasized by the disarray of the novel itself. The more dialogues we witness, the more conspicuous the hypocrisy of language and deeds become. The ambiguity of words when used as weapons by the blindly ambitious bureaucracy is juxtaposed with the impotence of the tongue when coping with the stark reality. “There, there” is an effete consolation when life is slipping out of you.
And in all the misery, doom and hilarity, paradoxes spring up like mushrooms. “Anything worth living for is worth dying for.” However, among all the self-contradictory nonsense that the characters utter or detect, Catch-22 is the most abominable. It is an illogical, paradoxical curlicue of reason that entangles its victim in its loop of irrationality and serves those who comprise the judiciary. Catch-22 is also present implicitly in the stories of all the characters, apart from the clearly defined unwritten laws. It is an underestimated, and often neglected, part of all our social conventions, inveigling us to conform to society’s expectations despite their anachronistic or desultory aspects.
But the novel “Catch-22” exudes hope. It attests coruscating that any crazy bastard can contest and overcome the insanity life challenges us with. “It’s better to die on one’s feet that live on one’s knees.”