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Yossarian Quotes – A Poor substitute for the review of Catch 22 that I can’t write

catch 22I’ve never been up to the challenge of reviewing Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 here on the blog, and I’m still not. There’s just too much there. I bet I’ve read it 20 times and I’m still not sure why I think it’s funny/sad/important/moving/what-have-you. It’s the same way with A Confederacy of Dunces and The Good Soldier Svejk.

One day, perhaps.

It’s a slippery book and time makes it more so. Paragraphs that were once funny are now the sad ones. Or paragraphs that seemed important now seem senseless. There are entire underlined pages in my various copies and I never know for sure why I underlined them.

That’s part of the fun, of course, and few books shift around on me like Catch 22.

I have recommended it to people that I know will love it, only to find that they hated it or, worse, found it boring.

“I don’t get it,” said my wife.

“I don’t get YOU!” I might have shouted, had I been the 18-year-old critic Josh and not this paragon of…oh, I’ve got nothing for that.

  • So the best I can do for you is offer you a selection of quotes from the “hero,” Yossarian. Yossarian is a guy who wants out of World War II. And that’s about all the description I’m able to give you:“You’re right, you’re right, you’re right. The hot dog, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mom’s apple pie. That’s what everyone’s fighting for. But who’s fighting for the decent folk? Who’s fighting for more votes for the decent folk? There’s no patriotism, that’s what it is. And no matriotism, eithe
  • Appleby was as good at shooting crap as he was at playing Ping-Pong, and he was as good at playing Ping-Pong as he was at everything else. Everything Appleby did, he did well. Appleby was a fair-haired boy from Iowa who believed in God, Motherhood, and the American Way of Life, without ever thinking about any of them, and everybody who knew him liked him.

“I hate that son of a bitch,” Yossarian growled.

  • “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?”
  • “The enemy,” retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, “is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don’t you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live.”
  • The God I don’t believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He’s not the mean and stupid God you make him out to be.”
  • From now on I’m thinking only of me.

Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile. But “Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way?”

Then…I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?

And now, as is usually the case when I see talk about the book or see its cover, I have to go read it again and see what it’s like.

If the name Milo Minderbinder means anything to you, I came very, very close to naming my son Milo.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Karen March 29, 2011, 6:26 pm

    I read the opening sentence and bought the book on the strength of it when it first came out in paperback. I was in summer school, the summer before I started high school, so it wasn’t really suitable for my age and gender, I suppose, but I loved the whole thing. My Dad, a WWII naval aviator and Vietnam hawk, read it; can’t say he loved it, but he liked it at least, and it gave us some common ground in heated discussions. Later he was one of the pilots who flew in the movie, and I visited him on the set in Guaymas, Mexico. I’ve never been able to find anyone else who likes it and finds as much in it as I do, so I had to write this lame comment.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 30, 2011, 9:44 am

      Lame or not, your last line made me laugh. Consider that a win.

  • Eric | Eden Journal March 30, 2011, 6:18 am

    I’m working my way through Catch 22 right now. I’m not sure how many chapters I am into it, but I’m kind of wondering if it’s going to start picking up. I just finished the chapter that tells the story of Major Major Major. I feel like I’ve been reading backstory for pages and pages, and now I’m wondering if that’s actually the story and does the whole book continue on at this pace. I guess I’m expecting something to happen, but it’s seeming like a story of a bunch of guys just sitting around at camp.

    I think I’m starting to feel like you wife feels about it. So tell me, should I just enjoy the whit, humor, and general weirdness, or does something actually happen in the book?

    • Eric | Eden Journal March 30, 2011, 6:20 am

      oops, typo – wit, not whit.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 30, 2011, 9:44 am

      Eric, Eric, Eric…

      I would say that it’s definitely not a Point A to Point B story, so in that sense, no nothing’s really going to happen.

      Catch 22 is one of the few “important” or milestone books that I have purposefully avoided reading any analysis of, because I’ve wanted to form my own opinions.

      But if I were to try to break it down thematically, I would pick four things to focus on, and three of those are characters that would represent themes present in war:

      The Chaplain

      And I would call the fourth character language itself. I believe the “around and around” nonsensical nature of the book is Heller’s stab at showing both the slipperiness of language–it can mean whatever we want it to mean or agree that it means–and the absurdity of warfare.

      I can’t tell you how you “should” view it, but the wit, humor and general weirdness are the things that I do enjoy most about it.

      I could go further, but I have a marshmallow Peep to go eat.

  • Todd Malone March 30, 2011, 1:02 pm

    Catch 22 is the single book that got me back into reading as a hobby. Half a decade after dropping out of high school, I realized I had never read any of the classic high school required reading. Not knowing where to start, I found that Time Magazine list of 100 great novels. For reasons still unknown to me, I decided to start with Catch 22.

    Awesome choice by me! I found it absolutely hilarious in its absurdity. Being ex-military, I can also relate to some of the ineptitude.

    Years later, I’m always reading now. And though I think there are some real duds on the Time list, I’m still trudging my way through it.