Tuesday, September 12, 2000
Period 2 Shonty
AP English Composition & Language
What?s So Funny…Catch 22?
Comedy and tragedy have always been separated into separate categories. Certainly most tragedies have humorous moments, and even the craziest comedies were at times serious. Nevertheless, even the development of tragedies left the division unharmed. That is, until Catch-22. Joseph Heller does not deal with these issues in the normal fashion instead he criticizes them and the society that help carry these things out. Heller in fact goes beyond criticizing, he satirizes. Joseph Heller manages to bond humor and terror, comedy and tragedy, and reveals in the process the stubbornness of the human character and of society gone nuts.
From the first chapter, we are presented with unbelievable characters whose actions and thoughts are wildly funny, and horrifically disturbing. In fact, the manner in which the reader recognizes the character’s altar nature will serve as the first example of Heller’s combination of comedy and tragedy. Dunbar’s theory of life is first received with a burst of laughter from the audience. Life is short, and Dunbar wishes to extend it as much as possible. If time flies when one is having fun, then conversely, time must slow when one is bored. Dunbar actions to make his life as boring as possible, thus increasing the length of its passing. Indeed, it is understandable why such an attitude should produce a laugh, but the further allusions are horrific. Heller further reinforces that idea with characters such as Doc Daneeka, who values protection and money over responsibility and friendship, and Milo who values pride and fortune over the lives of thousands of others. The idea that follows gives us characters that are more interested in themselves. Though they are initially comical, their nature is ultimately revealed to be false and appalling, arousing disgust and pity, a combination of comedy and tragedy.
The satire of society is revealed further in a second major type of character, the foolish. Though most serve largely as obstruction to Yossarian and his viewpoint many can still be made. Clevinger is perhaps the best example of a mislead character. His discussion with Yossarian serves as an insightful evaluation of their awareness. He argues that, although everyone is trying to kill him, everyone is not trying to kill him. The humor of the argument cannot be denied, but horror and tragedy are equally present. The question leaves the readers struggling to decide who is crazy. Clevinger falls into an obvious contradiction, but his argument still strikes as common sense. In face of Yossarian’s statement “what difference does that make?” The spectators are left with the realization of its mistakenness, but of the reminder that they believed it. With this revelation, the audience follows the rebellious path of Yossarian, or falls victim to the training of society, and meets the same fate as the deceived. As the audience is attacked with insanely comedic ironies of Catch-22, they are further aware of its horror.
A primary example of irony is found in Milo, when he is praised for bombing his own company when it?s learned that he made a great deal of money. Again, this evokes a decreased laugh, and then leaves the audience amazed with horror. Exaggeration makes this funny event. The further instances of ridiculously backward behavior, Hungry Joe’s screaming, Havermeyer’s disregard for life, Mc Watt’s destructive flying, and so on, further provide the audience with humorous instances of exaggeration, which prove to be horrifying. The blend of exaggeration and truth create a terrible, though comedic, accusation for his irony.
Perhaps the most memorable attribute of Catch-22 is its unimaginable paradoxes, catches. These paradoxes range from the absurd, to the disastrous. When Yossarian and his friends begin asking clever questions to disrupt boring educational sessions, Colonel Korn decides that only those who never ask questions may ask questions. When they want to discuss a problem with Major Major, they are allowed into his office only when he is out. Even when Yossarian is offered a harmless deal that would allow him to go home as a hero, there is a catch. He must betray his friends by praising the officers who caused many of them to die. As demonstrated, life is reduced to one frustrating paradox after another.
The most notable instance of the paradox is Catch-22. The first solid reference is Doc Daneeka’s version, presented to Yossarian on the matter of groundings. To be grounded, one must be insane, but one must also ask to be grounded. However, asking to be grounded shows the desire for security, a sure sign of sanity. If one were truly insane, independently one would fly the missions voluntarily. Thus, no one is grounded. This is remarkable for its lack of imagination and is humor, but its allusions are equally gross. As the novel continues, the paradoxes remain equally humorous, but their suggestions more ugly.
In the end, Catch-22 is the unwritten excuse that empowers authorities to revoke your rights whenever it suits their cruel impulses. As humorous as Catch-22 is, the horror with it is evident. Likely the most important element of Catch-22 is its irrationality. Ridiculousness pervades the novel, creating twice the humor and terror.
Mockery represents one of the most skillful blends of comedy and tragedy in the entire novel. Though conflicting, horror and tragedy are combined. Heller creates situations where the audience laughs, and then must look back in horror at what they were laughing at. Through characterizations, irony, paradoxes, and irrationality, Heller manages humor and terror, comedy and tragedy into a whole as Catch-22. Expressing a painful or troubling theme or idea in a humorous or pleasurable way.