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Catch-22 is a 1961 novel by the American writer Joseph Heller .

Heller's satire on the absurdity of war was initially unsuccessful, but thanks to the word of mouth of enthusiastic readers, it eventually became a global success. Time magazine ranks the novel among the top 100 English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005.


Heller wrote the first chapter of the novel as early as 1953, which was published in 1955 under the title Catch-18 in the anthology New World Writing . To avoid confusion with Leon Uris ' novel Mila 18 , which also appeared in 1961, the novel was then renamed Catch-22 . The novel was initially published in German under the title Der IKS-Haken , after the film adaptation it was published in West Germany under the original title Catch-22 , the GDR editions stayed with the original German title.


In a short foreword, Yossarian explains that from now on he will only think of himself. His superior Major Danby means indulgent to him, what that would lead to if everyone only thought of themselves. But Yossarian is quick-witted that he doesn't want to be the only one who doesn't think of himself.

In the novel Catch-22 , Captain John Yossarian tries to protect his own life from various unreal and real threats by bombarding a North American B-25 of the US Air Force on the island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean during World War II takes sick leave or tries to be sent home by fulfilling the target. However, the target of necessary enemy flights is continuously increasing.

The other option, namely being allowed to go home on sick leave, makes an obscure rule, called Catch-22 , impossible with paradoxical reasons. For example, you can only send home those who are insane and ask for it themselves. But those who ask to be sent home themselves cannot be insane and accordingly will not be sent home. After all, the desire to save one's life by shirking military service is evidence of the proper functioning of the mind.

At the troop doctor Doc Daneeka, who is constantly worried about his own health, Yossarian investigates the possibility of being written unfit to fly because of madness because he is always terrified during his missions. But Doc Daneeka explains to him that it is completely normal to be crazy with fear during an enemy flight. However, if he were not afraid of an enemy flight, he would be mad and would have to stay on the ground. Then Yossarian begins to understand the deeper meaning of Catch-22.

Catch-22 doesn't actually exist (which doesn't matter as long as everyone believes in it), but is used to justify various injustices and inconsistencies - one of many examples of the sarcastic way in which the stupidity of the system and of his disciples on display. Catch-22 is the devious trick of an absurd system (embodied by the United States Army Air Forces and their insane staff officers) to keep the individual (embodied by the sane Yossarian) always standing as losers.

The motivation of other fictional characters to take part in the war is of different nature: Colonel Cathcart wants to be mentioned in a war reporter magazine, General Peckem wants to be promoted through elegant memoranda, Colonel Scheisskopf wants to hold parades and is finally promoted to general because of their perfection, Milo Minderbinder wants to set up a black market cartel, and Hungry Joe wants to photograph naked women - while Yossarian just wants to get out of the war with his skin intact.

War is portrayed as absurd, as all ideals of war are exposed as absurd ( patriotism , nationalism , war industry, the belief that God is on your side, heroism, authority). Overall, the points of attack in the novel relate less to the specific Second World War and more to the USA in the 1950s. The book was particularly topical with the Vietnam War , to which the element of absurdity applies even better.

Fictional characters

Yossarian has been described and interpreted in many different ways: as an eternally innocent in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn and Josef Schwejk , as a symbol of humanistic belief or as an antihero in a sick world. Important character traits are his lust for the flesh , paranoia , subversiveness , selfishness , social responsibility and incitement.

Milo Minderbinder is a brilliant, only apparently insane "mess officer" (responsible for catering) from Yossarian's troupe on Pianosa . Using the troops' funds (he borrows bombers and uses them as transport aircraft), he is building a global black market (called M & M Enterprises ) for everything from Egyptian cotton , parachute silk to morphine from first aid kits. Milo is actually a very moral person, but his strongest trait is his greed for profit. He soothes his guilty conscience by arguing to himself that not he, but the general public has advantages ( “and everyone has their share” ). Milo is a parodic exaggeration of ordinary capitalism . As a kind of super capitalist without any ideology, he supports friend or foe, depending on which side is paying more. Milo Minderbinder takes on orders to bomb his own troops and sells surplus materials to the Germans (actually the enemy, quote: "But the Germans are respected members of the syndicate. [...] but they pay their bills much more promptly than many of our allies. " ). The best thing about his system is that everyone benefits when he sells things to himself and does crooked business (e.g. he tries to sell chocolate-covered cotton as a candy bar) because “everyone has a share” .

Orr is seemingly the craziest. He seems harmless and naive. But it is nevertheless he who is the only one who ultimately succeeds in outsmarting the madness of war. While almost all of Yossarian's other friends were killed in the course of the novel, Orr survived; His constant crash landings are training for his apparently long-term planned coup: He escapes by ditching his plane and paddling to Sweden in the one-man lifeboat. Yossarian learns this - and with him the readers - only at the end. This surreal closing punch emphasizes the equally surreal character of the event without diminishing the gripping criticism of the novel about the extremely real madness of the war. Whether Orr actually arrives in Sweden, or whether he just goes crazy, is up to the reader or viewer to decide whether the book or the film is up to the audience. The plot of the book and the film take place entirely in the Mediterranean, and to paddle to Sweden, Orr would have to cross the entire Mediterranean, Gibraltar, in the Atlantic, past Spain and Portugal, through the English Channel and finally through the North and Baltic Seas. This is a more than questionable undertaking. But for crew members, as author Heller himself was back in the war, the two neutral countries Sweden and Switzerland were like two huge, saving lighthouses in a sea of ​​violence and senselessness.

The perversion of the war profiteers was vividly depicted in several unique characters and scenes: When Yossarian's B-25 comes under fire, he checks his parachute. In his rucksack, however, he does not find his life-saving, silk parachute, but in exchange for a share in M & M Enterprises and worthless filling material. The same is true in the scene in which Milo Minderbinder presents his superior with a hen's egg next to the runway and explains the business model to him by multiplying the difference between the low purchase price and the high selling price by the daily number of items. Meanwhile, in the background of the scene, a shot, burning B-25 bomber lands on only one wheel, comes off the track, explodes and burns out completely. Milo Minderbinder and his supervisor drive past the burning wreck in an open jeep. Both characters are so fascinated by the expected profit of the business that they don't lose a second of attention to the drama in the background on the runway.


In 1994, 33 years after Catch-22 (1961), the sequel, Closing Time , appeared, which shows the same characters (at least the survivors) in old age.


In 1970, Catch-22 was made into a film by Mike Nichols . Orson Welles (General Dreedle), Anthony Perkins (Chaplain 'Father' Tappman), Jon Voight (Milo Minderbinder), Martin Sheen (Dunbar), Art Garfunkel (Pilot Nately) and Alan Arkin (Bombardier ) played, among others ] Yossarian). The German title is Catch-22 - The Evil Trick . The film is considered a literary adaptation of a difficult original. The novel plot, which at first glance appears to be “chaotic”, was implemented by contrasting comedy and horror, explosive violence and everyday banalities. The recurring flashbacks to Yossarian's key traumatizing experience - the death of the only 17-year-old gunner Snowden - make his development into a quasi "crazy" appear plausible. The film was included in the "50 most important films" series of the Süddeutsche Zeitung .

In 2019, Catch-22 by George Clooney , Grant Heslov and Ellen Kuras was re-filmed as a 6-part miniseries for Hulu (streaming provider) and released on May 17, 2019. It played among other Christopher Abbott (John Yossarian), Kyle Chandler (Colonel Cathcart), Hugh Laurie (Major De Coverley), George Clooney (lieutenant colonel later Colonel or General shit head), Daniel David Stewart (Milo Minderbinder), Austin Stowell (Nately ), Rafi Gavron (Aarfy Aardvark), Graham Patrick Martin (Orr), Pico Alexander (Clevinger), Jon Rudnitsky (McWatt), Gerran Howell (Kid Sampson), Lewis Pullman (Major Major Major Major), Grant Heslov (Doc Daneeka) , Tessa Ferrer (Nurse Duckett), Jay Paulson (The Chaplain), Giancarlo Giannini (Marcello) and Harrison Osterfield (Snowden) with.


The success of the novel led to the fact that the term to designate paradoxical situations was adopted in the English language and has meanwhile also found its way into the German-speaking area. In Swedish, the term moment 22 is also used.



Individual evidence

  1. ^ Catch-22. Retrieved May 26, 2019 .