Page 1. " Pianosa lies in the Mediterranean Sea eight miles south of Elba "

See Setting.

Page 7. " The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him "

In only the second sentence of the novel, the narrator employs two of its most common techniques: surprise and contradiction.

The comment that Yossarian, a man, falls in love at first sight with the chaplain, also a man, will catch most readers up short -- or certainly would have in 1961 when the book was first published. When the encounter is actually described a few pages later, there is no talk of love, let alone at first sight, though later in their conversation Yossarian is said to regard the chaplain with “affection.”

Note, however, that Yossarian also casually and even unintentionally victimizes the chaplain as described on the next page, under “Washington Irving.”

Page 7. " a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice "

Man with skin discolored by jaundice
Creative Commons AttributionMan with skin discolored by jaundice - Credit: James Heilman MD
In the first paragraph that contains more than one sentence, the reader is offered an example of a situation very much like a classic Catch-22. Yossarian doesn’t quite have jaundice; if it became jaundice, the doctors could treat it, and if it failed to become jaundice he could be discharged. But his condition seems to linger just on the edge of becoming and not becoming, a state of being/not-being, like hundreds of other situations that will crop up in this novel.

Page 8. " Death to all modifiers, he declared one day "

By the second page, the reader is treated to another situation that will be repeated many times in the book: arbitrariness. Officers and enlisted men will arbitrarily exercise power over one another, simply because they can, or arbitrary events will happen for no explicable reason.

Here, given the monotonous job of censoring letters written by the enlisted men in the hospital ward, Yossarian assuages his boredom by playing games, such as removing all the adjectives and adverbs, then censoring all the articles (a, an the), or blacking out names and addresses.

Though it seems like somewhat harmless fun, it does affect the lives of other men, and it mimics larger examples of arbitrariness that will govern Yossarian’s fortunes and choices -- one of the most crucial being Colonel Cathcart’s repeated decision to raise the number of bombing missions everyone in his squadrom must fly before being allowed to go home.

Page 8. " Catch-22 "

This is the first mention of the principle that gives the book its title, though it is not explained here, and will not begin to be described for almost another 40 pages.

On page 46, the fullest explanation of Catch-22 is offered during a conversation between Yossarian and Doc Daneeka. Catch-22 “specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.” Orr, who is always eager to fly, can be grounded because he has to be crazy. But if he ever requests to be grounded, he will obviously be sane and his request will have to be denied. He doesn’t have to fly since he wants to, but if he ever doesn’t want to then he’ll have to.

In other words, there’s absolutely no way Yossarian can get out of the bombing missions that terrify him more and more as time passes.

Page 8. " On those he did read he wrote "Washington Irving" "
Daguerreotype of Washington Irving
Public DomainDaguerreotype of Washington Irving

A pioneer of American literature, Washington Irving was born the year the American Revolution ended (1783) and died two years before the commencement of the Civil War (1859). Biographer, essayist, and historian, he is best known today for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

The image at the right is actually an 1861 copy by Matthew Brady of a daguerreotype of Irving that was made by John Plumbe sometime between 1855 and 1860. Brady also reversed Plumbe's original.

There is no particular reason Yossarian should substitute the name of Washington Irving on censored correspondence -- his choice of it seems to have been utterly arbitrary -- but that’s the point. We will witness Yossarian become the victim of so many other arbitrary regulations and decisions by others above and below him in the chain of command. In this instance, Yossarian arbitrarily and even unknowingly victimizes someone else, in fact the exact person he was described a page earlier as being “madly in love” with, though at this point he apparently has not made his acquaintance: Chaplain Tappman.

This passing reference to “Washington Irving” will become an ongoing theme in the book. The C.I.D. man (see below, same page) notices the name and becomes obsessed with tracking down the responsible party. Yossarian mentions the mysterious name to Milo Minderbender in Chapter 7. In Chapter 9 Major Major gets the idea to forge the name on documents after hearing about it from the C.I.D. man (pages 90 and 93-96 in this edition). The name will vaguely cross the consciousnesses of other characters, such as Colonel Cathcart.


Washington Irving's signature
Public DomainWashington Irving's signature

If Yossarian or Major Major managed to execute a decent forgery of Washington Irving's actual signature -- the odds are they didn't, because they probably didn't know what it looked like, or care -- then it would have resembled the name above, as the actual personage wrote it.

In Chapter 36, “The Cellar,” the chaplain finally gets interrogated about the very letter Yossarian defaced back in Chapter 1.

Page 8. " floated a C.I.D. man back into the ward posing as a patient "

A CID badge
Public DomainA CID badge
The United States Army Criminal Investigation Command is the federal law enforcement agency that investigates serious alleged crimes by civilians and military personnel attached to the U.S. Army. You might regard its agents as the detectives of the military police.

Because it was originally called the Criminal Investigation Division when it was founded during World War I at the direction of General John J. Pershing, the command’s agents and operations are still known as “CID” and certainly were referred to as such during the Second World War.

This is probably as good a place as any to recall that although Catch-22 seems to take place mostly in what we would now call the U.S. Air Force, at the time the novel takes place bombers and fighter planes were still under the aegis of the U.S. Army. They went by the name of U.S. Army Air Service between 1918 and 1926, the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1926 to 1941, and U.S. Army Air Forces from 1941 to 1947.

The U.S. Air Force only became a separate branch of the military on Sept. 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of 1947.

Page 9. " who had been shot into the Adriatic Sea "
Map of the Adriatic Sea
GNU Free Documentation LicenseMap of the Adriatic Sea - Credit: Norman Einstein

Satellite photo of Adriatic
Public DomainSatellite photo of Adriatic
The Adriatic is a large body of water that reaches north from the Mediterranean into the European continent between Italy on its west side and the Balkan Peninsula to the east (Greece, Albania, and the former Yugoslavia -- now the states of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzgovina, and Montenegro).

In other words, it is on the other side of the Italian "boot" from Pianosa.

Page 9. " who looked like someone in Technicolor "

Public Domain"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953)
Technicolor was the brand name for a color film process that was the most widely used in Hollywood movies from 1922 to 1952. It was recognizable for an oversaturation of colors, typified by “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), Disney animations of the period, and the color sections of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

At right is a scene with Marilyn Monroe from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," directed by Howard Hawks, which gives a sense of the color saturation of Technicolor.

The narrator likely describes the Texan from Texas this way to suggest that he is garish, hyperreal, a little much.

Page 9. " the Brooklyn Dodgers "

Jackie Robinson in Dodgers uniform
Public DomainJackie Robinson in Dodgers uniform - Credit: Look Magazine photo collection, Library of Congress
The Dodgers were a National League baseball team based in Brooklyn from about 1891. The team’s name came from the phrase “trolley dodgers,” used by New Yorkers to refer to Brooklynites because they had to dash across streets criss-crossed by street trolley tracks. Sportswriters often referred to the team affectionately as “the Bums.” The Dodgers were the first to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball when general manager Branch Rickey, motivated by deeply religious moral reasons, put the gifted African-American player Jackie Robinson on the team in 1947.

The Dodgers and the New York Giants developed a heated rivalry when they were situated across the East River from each other, and this continued when both teams moved to California (the Dodgers to Los Angeles and the Giants to San Francisco) after the 1957 season.

Yossarian refers to the Dodgers as being something that is as American as mom and apple pie.

Page 10. " You fellas are crazy. I didn't even touch him. "

This is the first appearance of a word that will reappear many times in this book. Who or what is crazy, and on what grounds, is a constant point of contention between the characters (almost everyone will accuse almost everyone else of being crazy at one point or another) as well as an issue in the book as a whole.

Though most of the men of the 256th Squadron will accuse the others of being crazy, and defend themselves against the charge of being crazy, Yossarian will repeatedly try to get himself declared crazy. He will act crazy, too, in the hope of getting out of having to fly more bombing missions.

Page 14. " M.P.s won't protect you "

M.P. is the common military service abbreviation for Military Police.

Page 14. " not a Wac and not a Red Cross girl "

WAC air controller
Public DomainWAC air controller
World War II Red Cross poster
Public DomainWorld War II Red Cross poster
Technically, Wac should be rendered in all capital letters: WAC. It’s an abbreviation for Women’s Army Corps, the women’s branch of the U.S Army.

The corps was pretty new at the time the novel takes place, having been established as an auxiliary unit (the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) in 1942 and given full status the following year. About 150,000 women served in the corps during the Second World War, and individual members in the service were familiarly known as “WACs.” The 1943 painting at left, by Dan V. Smith, depicts a WAC air controller at a microphone in an airport tower.

A “Red Cross girl” would be a nurse with the American Red Cross, founded by Clara Barton in 1881. The poster at right also dates from the Second World War.

Page 14. " I'm an Anabaptist "

Anabaptists are Christians of the radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, considered Protestant by some, although some consider Anabaptism to be a distinct movement from Protestantism.  Most Anabaptists adher to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount which precluded taking oaths, participating in military actions, and participating in civil government.

Page 15. " from the zoology department at Harvard "

Harvard is the oldest and wealthiest college in North America, founded in 1636 and located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Page 15. " by a faulty anode in an I.B.M. machine "
IBM's original logo
Public DomainIBM's original logo

I.B.M. is the multinational computer giant, International Business Machines. The company has become known more recently by the nickname “Big Blue,” reflected in the predominant color of its more recent logos. The image at right is the company's original business logo, which it used from 1924 to 1946.

Before the era of desktop computers and laptops, the clients for IBM’s huge mainframe computers were mostly large corporations and government agencies such as the Army.

Only around the turn of the 21st century was it revealed that IBM subsidiary Dehomag had sold punched card equipment and data processing technology to Nazi Germany, and that the equipment was used to help administer the systematic genocide of the Jews.

That a marine mammal specialist from Harvard would have been sent to the front with the Medical Corps because of a malfunctioning anode in a computer is another example of the arbitrariness of fate in these men's (and, by implication, everyone's) lives.

Page 15. " the dying colonel trying to discuss Moby Dick with him "

Public DomainMoby-Dick
"Moby Dick" is a reference to the 1851 novel (and the white whale therein) by Herman Melville about the relentless pursuit of a white whale by the obsessed Captain Ahab. Disdained and neglected in its time, it is now regarded as one of the prime contenders for The Great American Novel and an honored landmark in world literature. It is incorrectly identified here; like the book in which it is mentioned, the title should be hyphenated, as Moby-Dick.

The illustration at right comes from an 1892 edition of the book, published by C.H. Simonds Co.

Page 17. " one of his holidays in the hospital or rest leaves in Rome "

First mention of the capital of Italy, which the characters of the story visit often for R-and-R (especially in the brothels), and where the emotional climax of the novel takes place, in Chapter 39, “The Eternal City” (one of Rome’s most common nicknames).

See more about Rome on the Settings page.

Page 18. " the dead man in Yossarian's tent "

This is the first reference to a guy we’ll hear a lot about, but not in any great detail. Naturally, it’s startling to hear about a dead man in any case, but that there should be one in Yossarian’s own tent is particularly unsettling. Of course, gradually we’ll be allowed to understand that there isn’t really a body in Yossarian’s tent; the “dead man” is yet another one of those casual paradoxes that populate this book: an Absence that’s a Presence.

Page 19. " poison in my food during Ferrara and during the Great Big Siege of Bologna "

Ferrara is a city and province of the same name in north central Italy. It’s west of Venice, considerably north of Rome, but only a short distance north/northeast of Bologna.

Both cities are situated in the Po River valley, although Ferrara stands on one of its main tributaries while Bologna is only near the river. Ferrara has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its beauty and cultural significance, while Bologna is highly industrial and cosmopolitan, and home to the oldest university in the Western world, the University of Bologna, founded in 1088.

When Yossarian refers to these two cities here, however, he is speaking only of his squadron’s bombing missions against them.

Page 19. " They hated him because he was Assyrian "

Heller cannily assigned his hero a nonexistent ethnicity (or rather, one that is ancient and of uncertain historic validity today). At various times they have been known as Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, or Syriac Christians.

Assyria was a Middle Eastern kingdom named after its capital, the ancient city of Assur, centered on the Upper Tigris River where Persia and eventually Iraq would later be situated. The three primary periods of Assyrian ascendancy lasted from the 20th century BCE to the mid sixth century BCE, after which the neo-Babylonian, Median, Parthian, Roman, and Persian empires took over in turn.

Assyria (indicated with gray outline as
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAssyria (indicated with gray outline as "Assur") during the Amarna period

It’s also an appropriate ethnic background for Yossarian because the Assyrians have a long history of being persecuted minorities, often driven from their homes by other peoples. Many emigrated to the Caucasus, Europe, and North America in recent centuries, or were periodically massacred (for example, by the Turks in 1914-20, and by the Iraqi government in 1933 and 1979).

The whole notion that the other men in his squadron would hate Yossarian "because he was Assyrian" is laughable, because they wouldn't know what that was.

In Closing Time, the sequel to Catch-22 that Heller published in 1994, Yossarian is said to be an actual Armenian (the name resembles one from that ethnic background) posing as an Assyrian.

Page 20. " he was Tarzan, Mandrake, Flash Gordon. He was Bill Shakespeare. "

Public DomainTarzan
Tarzan was a fictional feral child, raised in the African jungle by apes, who returns to civilization only to reject it and become a heroic adventurer in the jungle. He was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in a magazine story in 1912, and the first of 26 novels in 1914. The image at right is the cover art for Burroughs's first Tarzan story, in the October 1912 issue of "The All-Story" magazine. The character lived on in radio, television, and film adaptations.

Flash Gordon was the hero of a science fiction adventure, a rocket ship pilot, that first appeared in comic strip form in 1934. The story was intended to compete with a comic called Buck Rogers. The story went on to be dramatized in serial films, radio, television, and animated series.

Leon Mandrake was a Canadian magician (1911-1993), but Yossarian is probably comparing himself to a comic strip character, “Mandrake the Magician,” a specialist in hypnotic technique, who debuted in 1933 and continued to run as a color comic strip for the rest of the century -- also making appearances on radio and in films, theater, and television.

Bill Shakespeare was an English playwright.

Page 20. " He was Cain, Ulysses, the Flying Dutchman; he was Lot in Sodom, Deirdre of the Sorrows, Sweeney in the nightingales among trees "

Public Domain"Cain Kills Abel" by Doré
Yossarian piles on more fictional comparisons: Cain, the oldest son of Adam and Eve, known forever after as the first murderer for killing his brother Abel in the Biblical Book of Genesis; Ulysses (Latin version of “Odysseus”), the legendary Greek king of Ithaca and hero of Homer’s Odyssey; and the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship from nautical legend, said to sail the seas until Judgment Day.

Lot Fleeing from Sodom
Public DomainLot Fleeing from Sodom

Lot is another figure from the Book of Genesis, who sought to rescue his wife and daughters from the wicked city of Sodom, but whose wife did not heed the warning not to look back at the city and was turned into a pillar of salt. “Deirdre of the Sorrows” is the name of a play by Irish writer John Millington Synge, left unfinished by him but completed by William Butler Yeats in 1910, about the foremost figure from Irish mythology: Deirdre was so beautiful that kings repeatedly went to war over her.

The final reference is likely to a 1919 poem by T.S. Eliot, “Sweeney Among the Nightingales,” which cynically presents its characters as mundane and vulgar, rather than romantic and heroic. Although it includes a Greek epigraph consisting of the final words of Agamemnon in the ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, Eliot portrays Sweeney as brutish, abusive toward women, and undeserving of a heroic fate, so Yossarian’s use of the reference is ironic, sarcastic, and inappropriate -- as if he’s run out of steam.

Basically, Yossarian comes across here as what we used to call "a legend in his own mind."

Page 20. " “Superman?” Clevinger cried. “Superman?” "

Having misheard Yossarian’s claim to be a “supraman,” Clevinger thinks the captain has referred to himself as the comic-book superhero from the planet Krypton. The character was the creation of American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian artist Joe Shuster, who had come up with the character in 1932 but did not debut until Action Comics #1 in June 1938. 

Superman received his own self-titled comic the following year (mostly filled with recycled stories) and made appearances in World’s Finest Comics and All Star Comics in the early 1940s.

Public DomainSuperman

Yossarian and his army buddies might well have seen Superman in the newspapers, where a daily comic strip and separate Sunday series had launched in 1939 and would run steadily until 1966. The image above is from a 1941 cartoon by the Fleischer Studios. At its peak, the Superman comic appeared in more than 300 daily newspapers and 90 Sunday papers, with a readership of roughly 20 million.

Page 20. " You've got a Jehovah complex "

Jehovah is an anglicized version of the proper name for God in Hebrew. The earliest Latin text that employs a name that sounds like it dates from the 13th century. Clevinger is accusing Yossarian of delusions of grandeur, even of godhood, which would be a nifty way to be declared crazy (and therefore unfit to fly).

Page 20. " I think that everyone is Nathaniel "

In building on Clevinger’s accusation that he thinks he’s God, Yossarian is likely saying he sees everyone around him as “Nathaniel,” identified as one of the Twelve Apostles in the Gospel of John (although other gospel accounts refer to the character as “Bartholomew”). It comes from the Hebrew name Netanel, which means “God has given,” from natan (“has given”) and el (“God”). Of course Yossarian instantly pretends not to know or understand the name in his next remark because he’s playing with Clevinger’s head.

Page 20. " You're no better than Raskolnikov "

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov is the hapless protagonist of Dostoyevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment, who deludes himself into thinking he is a Nietzschean “great man” with the prerogative to do and take what he wants. He murders an old woman pawnbroker for her money and then spends most of the book wrestling with his conscience and playing an intellectual cat-and-mouse game with police detective Porfiry Petrovich.

Page 20. " in Smyrna for the fig harvest "

Smyrna is an ancient Greek city near Izmir, on the western coast of Turkey. It actually consists of two sites dating from different periods: Old Smyrna, an Aeolian settlement dating back to the 11th century BCE, and a newer city dating from about the time of Alexander the Great, in the 4th century BCE and largely destroyed by an earthquake in the 2nd century AD.

Public DomainSmyrna - Credit: Georges Jansoone

The photo above shows the agora, or public assembly place, of Smyrna today, with columns along the western stoa (a covered walkway or portico) at the rear.

It is anachronistic for the narrative to say Milo is in Smyrna on business, since the city consists largely of archaeological digs.

Page 21. " a secret mixture Milo had stolen from a crooked trader in the Levant, served with Iranian rice and asparagus tips Parmesan "

The modern Levant
Public DomainThe modern Levant - Credit: The Arab League
The Levant is not a precise geographical term, but refers to a swathe of Middle Eastern nations at the east end of the Mediterranean, including Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan, and sometimes Cyprus, the Sinai, and part of Iraq. The word comes from a Middle French word for “the Orient.” In the past it could have been used to refer to all the Mediterranean lands east of Italy and as far north as the Taurus Mountains, or simply “the land of the rising sun” (i.e., everything to the East).

Iranian of course refers more specifically to the people and culture in the land between the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea, to the east of Israel and Jordan and the west of Iraq and Afghanistan, previously known as Persia.

Parmesan is an adjective that can refer to anything from, or in the style of, the north central Italian province of Parma. The most famous example is Parmesan cheese, often used to garnish pizza.

Page 21. " followed by cherries jubilee for dessert and then steaming cups of fresh coffee with Benedictine and brandy "

Cherries Jubilee
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCherries Jubilee - Credit: Stu Spivack
Cherries jubilee is a dessert made from cherries and liqueur (often Kirschwasser) that is flambéed and poured over vanilla ice cream. The great French chef Auguste Escoffier is supposed to have created it in honor of one of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations -- either her 50th in 1887 or her 60th in 1897.

As an adjective, Benedictine could refer to anything coming from a spiritual community of monks that follows the Rule of St. Benedict, but in this context it refers to an herbal liqueur beverage invented by Alexandre Legrand in 1863. He was trying to recreate an aromatic herbal beverage reportedly used by Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy but lost during the French Revolution.

70 cl bottle of Bénédictine
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike70 cl bottle of Bénédictine - Credit: Chriusha (Хрюша)
The recipe for Bénédictine (80 proof) contains a mixture of 27 plants and spices and is a closely guarded trade secret supposedly known to only three people at any given time. The company also produces “B&B” (for Bénédictine and Brandy), which is an 86 proof commercial version of what Milo has been mixing up and serving to the troops in his mess hall.

In other words, this is one fulsome meal.

Page 22. " who looked a little like Henry Fonda in distress "

Henry Fonda, publicity photo from 1950s
Public DomainHenry Fonda, publicity photo from 1950s
Henry Jaynes Fonda (1905-1982) was an American film and stage star whose most famous movies included “Young Mr. Lincoln,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “The Ox-Bow Incident” (all of which Yossarian and the other men might have seen), as well as “My Darling Clementine,” “Fort Apache,” “Mr. Roberts,” “Twelve Angry Men,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and “On Golden Pond” after the war.

He was best known for playing plain-spoken idealists, and daughter Jane, son Peter, and granddaughter Bridget all became actors of note.

Page 22. " Yossarian put aside the musette bag "

A musette bag is another name for the U.S Army haversack or backpack used by all infantrymen to carry their bedroll, clothing, rations, and personal items. Flaps and adjustable buckle-straps held it together.