Analyzing a bureaucratic way of rule and the effects it has on the people in Catch-22
The way of rule in Catch-22, a bureaucracy, affected the people in the novel greatly and developed a sense of fear in the soldiers. Throughout the book, it is evident that Yossarian and the rest of the men face arduous tasks regarding survival as they are in the midst of a war.
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Before I get into the main topic of bureaucracy I will describe and analyze a literary criticism that goes over a specific part of the book to combat any attempt to denounce Joseph Heller’s writing.
A literary critic used a harsh tone to bash Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and was a very ruthless in the way he discredited his work.
“Jokes are a model of narrative economy. There can be no adipose tissue, no flab, no digression. You have to set it up fast, rush through the middle and pay off BIG at the end. Imagine a joke with a postscript. Or a sequel. Jokes have tyrannical sub-editors and exigent consumers. It’s astounding how easily you can mess up a good joke with duff punctuation, an underemployed adjective or the crucial instinct for when to stop. A haiku is a slurred, drunken 3am rant compared with the chilled discipline and self-mastery of the joke. It’s surpassing strange how fully and painstakingly Heller breaks all those rules. He’s all over the place. Given that it took him so long to write, you’d have thought he could have mastered his indiscipline, tendentiousness and sloppy fertility. But no, not Joe. The world’s worst copy-editor could tidy this creaking baggage up to the tune of a hundred pages or more while losing very little. It was a book he clearly did not know how to write. So, how did it end up such a masterpiece? At some point, he clearly worried about how funny it was and clearly decided not funny enough. And what he did, whether in despair or mere clumsiness was to tinker with the actual mechanics of The Joke. What he did was to unjoke all of his jokes. He repeats most of them ad nauseam. A serious comedy misdemeanour. Some of the main jokes become litanies or tropes. Like an eight-year-old boy’s idea of comedy. If I repeat this often enough, it will cease to be funny, begin provoking irritation but if I then keep repeating it, it will, through a kind of comedy Stockholm Syndrome, suddenly become hilarious all over again. Heller does this with dozens of them. For example, in the exchange between Yossarian and Clevinger where Clevinger is upset that people are trying to kill him and Yossarian reasonably counters that they’re trying to kill everyone, the back and forward goes on several beats too long. Heller kills the joke by not stopping in time. By criminal over-milking. He extends it to where it is no longer funny. And then extends it some more. Until it returns funnier and weirder than ever.”
This critic talked about how Joseph Heller was attempting to implement jokes into this work and, in his mind, was failing miserably. Joseph Heller is a very well known author and this person was unsure as to how this was the case because he only really has one good piece of work. In the criticism, he cited a specific incident that occurred between Yossarian and Clevinger. Yossarian claims that the enemies are trying to specifically kill him and that their only aim is at him. Clevinger argues that he is not the only one who is being shot at as there are many other people who are now injured or dead at the hands of the enemy.
In their engagement, Heller tries to insert a bit of humor and joke. The critic believes that he stretched the joke out for too long unnecessarily. He gives a list of ways that jokes can be ruined in novels and says that Heller managed to find a way to break all of those rules with this one description of their conversation. I disagree with him because I feel that it is almost necessary for the joke to be elongated as if it was shorter, some readers may not understand that Heller is trying to joke and become confused. I also believe that this critic is incredibly too severe in how hard he bashes Heller’s work just for dragging out a joke for a bit too long. The book as a whole is a great book and should not be this discredited just because of one little part that seemed to be protracted.
Later in his criticism, this person said that he was repeating his ideas and parts of the joke which is a “serious comedy misdemeanor”. This would be a serious comedy misdemeanor if this was actually true, but upon reading the passage again, I do not agree with the part that he says about repeating the joke. Yes, the joke is pretty long, but nowhere does Heller repeat his joke. This makes me think that this critic is actually not just a hater of this book but Heller as a writer as he seems to think things that are not true about his writing. One of the most harsh parts of his criticism states that the “world’s worst copy-editor could tidy this creaking baggage up to the tune of a hundred pages or more while losing very little”. Joseph Heller and his editor obviously seemed to feel that the book is good in length and detail as it was published and is very successful. This sentence is horrendously false as never in the book when I read it did I feel like information was being repeated or the things that I was reading was unnecessary to the novel as a whole. If the novel was shrunk down to a hundred pages then a lot of incident and information would be missing and Heller would not be able to tell the story as intended and the message would be missing at least in part. On top of that, he says that this could be done by the worst editor which is also just unnecessarily bashing Heller’s work for being too elementary.
This critic is elusive at the end of his criticism as he says that there are “dozens”
of examples of drawn out jokes in this book, but only cites one of them. If there are more, what are they and when do they occur? I am not sure if there are even dozens of jokes attempted in this book total. There are jokes but dozens imply at least 24 which is to start way too steep of a number and then for all of those to be badly told is unrealistic, especially for how praised this book is.
Ultimately, this critic was very condemnatory towards Heller’s work and, in my eyes, wrongly so. He criticized him too harshly and seems to be misinformed of Heller’s intentions of using jokes.
On the topic of bureaucracy:
It is evident that Yossarian and the rest of the men face arduous tasks regarding survival as they are in the midst of a war. Yossarian’s main goal is to try to be declared insane so he can be sent home and get out of the war. This becomes a very hard task due to the harsh and overbearing power of bureaucracy in this novel.
Bureaucracy plays a huge role in Catch-22 as the deaths of the men in Yossarian’s squadron are governed not by their own decisions concerning dangerous risks, but by the decisions of an impersonal, frightening bureaucracy that rules over them. Each and everyday, these men must risk their lives even when they know that their missions are useless as the end result will be the same regardless of what they accomplish. These missions are pointless as they are forced to keep flying combat missions late in the novel even after they learn that the Allies had essentially won the war. The bureaucrats are absolutely deaf to any attempts that the men make to reason with them logically as they wished to end the combat missions. They consistently defied their logic day in and day out and the torment continued for the soldiers.
As an example, Major Major will see people in his office only when he is not there. This means that he technically would never be able to listen to people’s problems and won’t talk to them ever. Also, Doc Daneeka refuses to tend to the needs and wants of the soldiers at certain times. He works in a corrupt manner which is symbolized by his refusal to ground Yossarian for insanity because Yossarian’s desire to be grounded reveals that he must be sane.
In this novel, there are multiple scenes where interrogation occurs to add to the bureaucracy’s frustrating refusal to listen to logic and reason of the people. In one scene, Scheisskopf is seen interrogates Clevinger but will not let Clevinger state his innocence because he is too busy correcting Clevinger’s way of speaking. This illustrates the toxic situation that these people are in as even if they had a legitimate issue, they would have no support with the unnecessary amount of corruption that exists at the hands of the bureaucracy.
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In another scene, the chaplain is taken into a cellar as punishment because he is being accused of a crime. The ironic part of this is, the men that are interrogating him do not know what the crime that they are accusing him of is; they are hoping to find out a crime that he committed by interrogating him. Through this instance and others, Yossarian and his companions learn that what they do and say has very little effect on what happens to them in the end. All they can do is learn to navigate their way through the bureaucracy, using its illogical rules to their own advantage whenever possible.
The bureaucracy is constantly restricting the limits of the soldiers on a day to day basis. For Yossarian, this makes his ultimate goal of being sent home after being declared insane much harder as even if he was insane they would not listen to him and keep him their. Him trying to be sent home is why they say he is meant to stay in the battle. In the end, the absolute power of bureaucracy negatively affects everyone there and puts their lives in danger each and every day.
Joseph Heller establishes and develops a bureaucracy that constantly hinders the freedoms of the soldiers as well as stalls their efforts to go back home. Colonel Cathcart is one of the main culprits of imposing the bureaucratic way of authority to the soldiers. He consistently imposes rules that only hurt the soldiers, which raises the question of what is Colonel Cathcart’s true motive to doing these things to the soldiers and does he realize and understand what he causes.
Cathcart can be described as a villain in this novel as he seems to be on everyone’s bad side and never does anything to really help the soldiers. The soldiers, who are their mostly involuntarily, have a common main goal of making it out of the war alive so they can go back to their families. Yossarian and other soldiers try to find a way around the authority’s rules and display many acts of rebellion. Cathcart forces a certain number of missions that all of the soldiers must fly before they try to return home. Each soldier works very hard to complete the steep number they must attain so they can finally go home and be away from the horrors of the war. However, this was futile as Colonel Cathcart had the ability to raise the number of required missions at any point. The men tried their best, but were aware of this as he has done this multiple times in the past. They knew from “experience that Colonel Cathcart might raise the number of missions again at any time”, which rendered their hard work worthless (26). As the men very well understood, as Cathcart increased the number of missions that they had to fly, he was directly diminishing their chances of ever returning home and increasing their chance of death. However, they did keep their heads high in hope that they would eventually be able to go home. Towards the end of the book, Dobbs thought that “Maybe he won’t raise the missions any more” and that “sixty is as high as hell go” (308). However, this optimism seemed to never work out as the following day, Cathcart would raise the minimum even higher.
Cathcart’s motives behind doing this is never clearly stated in the book which leaves it up to interpretation and speculation. There are a multitude of reasons as to why he may feel the need to do this. Heller describes Cathcart as “brimming with tough pride in his new outfit and celebrating his assumption of command by raising the number of missions required” (54). This description broadcasts Cathcart as an egotistical person who is using his authority arbitrarily. Therefore, one reason that Cathcart could be increasing the missions could be that he just wants to flex his power over the other soldiers. Another viable reason behind Cathcart’s motives could be that he does not want the soldiers to ever leave. If all the soldiers meet their requisites, then they would be able to go home and Cathcart would have to get more people. Naturally, Cathcart would want to keep his squad and not have to search for more people to go to war and then teach them the ropes all over again.
In all, the bureaucracy created in this novel is overpowering and limits the amount of freedom the people have. The bureaucratic system is comparable to the limitation of freedom experienced by Winston and some of his peers in the novel 1984 by George Orwell. Similar to the soldiers in Catch-22, Winston is aware of the conditions they are in and how it affects them on a daily basis.
A majority of this novel is based around the absurdities and critiques of bureaucracy and how it affects everyone under authority. Major Major, who gets his position seemingly based on his name, is never taken out even when he continues to do nothing. Bureaucracy is one of, if not the most, major and abundant motifs in this novel. It is a constant factor in all of the soldier’s decisions and outcomes in their life.
As stated previously, Major Major gets his position simply because of his name even though he has nothing else going for him in a war setting. This shows the absolute insanity that bureaucracy is and how it works with little to no logic. The soldiers are aware of the imperfections of the bureaucracy and Clevinger specifically with this situation can tell that “even among men lacking all distinction, [Major Major] inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was” (Heller 93). They are consistently oppressed under the bureaucracy as they have no say in most of their daily activities, which is highlighted by Major Major and his lackadaisical attitude towards most things except making their lives living hell most of the time.
Another influential character in the bureaucratic way of authority is Milo. Milo is someone who is very adamant in staying in the war and keeping all of the soldiers their to fight on. Milo is invested in not only their group but also the Germans, who “are also members in good standing of the syndicate, and it’s my job to protect their rights as shareholders” (Heller 265). Yossarian and the other soldiers are very aware of this and also his intense want for money, one of the reasons he wants to continue to fight in the war. Earlier in the novel, Yossarian was wondering how Milo could be making money selling eggs for two cents less than he bought them for. It is obvious that Milo is failing at feeding his hunger for money by making negative profit on selling the eggs. This shows the absurdity that some of the people in the bureaucracy display on a daily basis.
Everyone in the bureaucracy is described as egotistical and preposterous, which is shown through their everyday actions and demands to the soldiers. Ultimately, the way of ruling in this novel outlines the craziness and chaos that occurs under a bureaucracy and how it negatively affects everyone in their daily life.