I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.

A Story About A Yo-yo: How Catch-22 Comes Full Circle Without Being Circular

Yossarian’s nickname from Catch-22 is “Yo Yoo.” This is fitting because a yo-yo symbolizes the constant images of linearity, circularity, and chaos that are reflected in Joseph Heller’s novel. While a yoyo follows its straight-line, linear course, while a yoyo bobs along its string continuously, it always returns to its starting point at the palm. Catch-22 is a circularly linear or circularly circular theme that Yossarian uses to develop his morality. But unlike other themes, it finally succeeds at breaking out from Heller’s hopeless circularity. Heller presents Yossarian with a series of moral dilemmas and binary choices that he must confront. Through parallel comparison, he allows Yossarian to experience a moment of moral awakening.

Catch-22 is a series of two-sided experiences that Yossarian has. Yossarian tells doctors, “I see all things twice”. (190). Yossarian sees many things twice. He also encounters similar moral impasses throughout the novel before reaching the “right” decision. The novel isn’t chronological, but it does return to Yossarians’ past. They bombed Ferrara and Avignon. Yossarian is awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, and promoted to Captain “because he was brave then”. Yossarian’s feelings about what he should feel is unclear, even though Kraft and his team died after going over the target two times.

He walked into the briefing room mixed emotions. Kraft and the others had all died in his absence. At the same time, he was facing the same excruciating, vile dilemma of duty, he felt helpless. (147)

Yossarian is shocked to see Snowden die in the raid on Avignon. He decides that he doesn’t want anything to do with war. Yossarian, who has just received his Distinguished Flying Cross arrives to the ceremony naked. Colonel Korn inquires about Yossarian’s nakedness and Captain Wren explains that Yossarian was stripped after he was hit by a plane flying over Avignon last Week. He says he will never wear uniform again (228). Yossarian is shocked to see Snowden die and vows to live for as long as possible (450). But Catch-22’s circular world is difficult to escape. Heller sends Yossarian back to combat with the raid against Bologna.

“By Bologna time, Yossarian wasn’t afraid to walk over the target …” (150). Ironically, Yossarian gets ordered to visit Bologna twice, not just once. Yossarian pretends to have an defective intercom. Then he discovers Bologna had been in a milkrun. Yossarian then assumes that there wouldn’t be any flak. Yossarian’s squadron dies in heavy combat. Catch-22 denies that conjectures are possible because it is impossible to gauge the probability of any thing in a world filled with illogic. Instead, it’s when there are no expectations that hope can grow. Yossarian’s least favorite character is Orr. He is stupid, short, and ugly. His plane is always shot down. “Who would defend a simple-minded, warm-hearted gnome like Orr against rowdies and cliques as well as from elite athletes like Appleby, who have flies in the eyes and would walk right past him with swaggering confidence and self-assurance every opportunity they got?” (322). Orr is thought to have drowned at Sea after his plane crashes in Bologna. The novel ends with Orr being miraculously found on a Swedish beach. Yossarian shouts, “There is still hope!” Can’t it be seen? Clevinger might still be alive, hidden in the cloud until safety permits (459). Heller’s point was not to say that expectations should be avoided, but that it is important to prepare for the worst in times of chaos and war. Orr anticipates the worst, and is able to survive every mission. Yossarian is almost shot down during Bologna. Orr, however, expects a milk rush and is almost shot down.

Yossarian learns after Bologna that life is important and must be alert for potentially life-threatening dangers. Yossarian soon realizes that people want to kill him. This makes him feel more powerless and depressed. Yossarian finds himself in the hospital, editing letters that were written by the enlisted men patients. “Death To All Modifiers,” he declared. He took every letter from the patients and altered them for his own amusement. He waged war on articles the following day. The following day, he went to a higher plane of creativity, blacking out every letter except the “(16). After his brief affair Luciana, he comes back to regret his lack of respect for other people’s letters. Yossarian falls hard for her, even asking her to marry him. However, when Yossarian receives her contact information, the phone number, he tears it into pieces and symbolically tears her apart (169-173). He didn’t have any obligation to destroy Luciana and the letters. He just did so because it was possible. Yossarian indirectly exerts power over the paper and the people who wrote it. This makes him no worse than Colonel Cathcart or Milo. Yossarian realizes, however, that he made a mistake by tearing her young, nude, vibrant, lithe limbs into small pieces of paper and then dumping them down in the gutter. Yossarian is given a conscience and learns how it works through trial-and erection. Yossarian starts to see that blindly exercising power over others can be wrong, and that his autonomy will be subject to the wills of those greater than him.

Through Heller’s parallel dilemmas, Yossarian’s development in morality is presented as a blurred chronology. Heller presents Yossarian with two similar situations: one in which he makes an ‘unwise’ decision, and another in which he makes an ‘appropriate’ decision. This feeling of reaccurance can be described well by the chaplain: “Deja vu.” Paramnesia was characterized by a subtle, persistent confusion between reality and illusion (214). Yossarian is found naked under a tree at Snowden’s funeral. However, the chaplain doesn’t realise it is Yossarian. He is still unsure if it was déjà vu. Yossarian is all three. The chaplain may not be aware of this. Yossarian is constantly in deja vu due to the fact that he is living in a circular world, which forces him repeatedly to do similar acts. Even though he knows his existence is futile, he resists the circularity of his world and is almost sucked back into it. Heller models Catch-22’s world like a large circle, with Yossarian’s own life as sets and chords within that circle. Yossarian is also jamais vu because Yossarians’ experiences are like chords that dissect the circle, but never untangle it or change its course. Yossarian, as such, is linearity within circle: a Yo-Yo.

Yossarian discovers that, just as Yossarian questions the metaphysics and appearances of the naked apparitions, so does the chaplain. Catch-22 sees the soldier dressed in white twice. Yossarian assumes that the soldier in white is real (18) when he first encounters him. Yossarian asks Dunbar if he really is the soldier and he says ‘hollow inside’, much like a soldier who is chocolate. Dunbar then asks Dunbar (377). If he wasn’t seen, he can’t be real. Catch-22 is the same logic that Yossarian uses. He asks an elderly woman in Rome if they showed it to him. It was not even there,” (418).

Yossarian desires to be alive at the end of his novel. He doesn’t care if his bombs are dropped or who they hurt, as long he is safe from any flak. Yossarian, at the end the novel, accepts responsibility. “Somebody had the responsibility to do some thing.” Every victim was a suspect, and every victim was also a victim. Somebody had to take action to stop the awful chain that was affecting them all.” (415-416). Yossarian, filled with regret, sets out to find Nately’s Rome-based whore’s child sister. However, he loses his hope when Milo decides to go after illegal tobacco rather than the girl (421). Yossarian witnessed in Rome numerous instances of people abusing power to harm other people, culminating in Aarfy killing and raping a young girl (427-428). Yossarian realizes that using other people for their ends is not justified, even if it is to one’s own benefit. Heller closes the novel with a final moral dilemma. Will Yossarian be forced to choose between being court-martialed and being sent home in exchange for publicly validating the war that has claimed so many lives (434-437). Yossarian will not be able to break free from the power structure that holds him captive. Even if Yossarian chooses to be sentenced to court martial, he’ll not have to do the “odious” act of validating the war, but the military will use him to encourage other enlisted members to agree to fight. Yossarian says, “Between my ideal and every ideal I find Scheisskopfts. Peckems. Korns. Cathcarts. That kind of change the ideal (455). Major Danby tells him he is going home and that he will only think about himself. He pauses and says, “You know what, I get the queer feeling that this conversation has been had before with another person.” It’s the same as the chaplain feeling that he has experienced everything twice. (456).

Heller never misses an ironic opportunity. Yossarian finally makes it complete circle. Yossarian discovers Orr’s identity in Sweden and the possibility of finding hope in the entire world. He is aware that he cannot benefit from the help of others. He realises that he does NOT want to be confined by a corrupt power structure intent on his destruction. Yossarian, who is willing to risk his life, decides not to remain under Catch-22’s tyrannical tenets. He jumps (463).

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