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Catch-22

- Joseph Heller


Humor



About the book:

Catch-22 is a hilarious, tragic novel in which an American air force base on a small island off Italy becomes a microcosm of the modern world as it might look to someone dangerously ...(more)



Excerpt 2:    (Excerpt 1)  (Excerpt 3)


There were many principles in which Clevinger believed passionately. He was crazy.

'Who's they?' he wanted to know. 'Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?'

'Every one of them,' Yossarian told him.

'Every one of whom?'

'Every one of whom do you think?'

'I haven't any idea.'

'Then how do you know they aren't?'

'Because...' Clevinger sputtered, and turned speechless with frustration.

Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn't know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn't funny at all. And if that wasn't funny, there were lots of things that weren't even funnier. There was nothing funny about living like a bum in a tent in Pianosa between fat mountains behind him and a placid blue sea in front that could gulp down a person with a cramp in the twinkling of an eye and ship him back to shore three days later, all charges paid, bloated, blue and putrescent, water draining out through both cold nostrils.

The tent he lived in stood right smack up against the wall of the shallow, dull-colored forest separating his own squadron from Dunbar's. Immediately alongside was the abandoned railroad ditch that carried the pipe that carried the aviation gasoline down to the fuel trucks at the airfield. Thanks to Orr, his roommate, it was the most luxurious tent in the squadron. Each time Yossarian returned from one of his holidays in the hospital or rest leaves in Rome, he was surprised by some new comfort Orr had installed in his absence - running water, wood-burning fireplace, cement floor. Yossarian had chosen the site, and he and Orr had raised the tent together. Orr, who was a grinning pygmy with pilot's wings and thick, wavy brown hair parted in the middle, furnished all the knowledge, while Yossarian, who was taller, stronger, broader and faster, did most of the work. Just the two of them lived there, although the tent was big enough for six. When summer came, Orr rolled up the side flaps to allow a breeze that never blew to flush away the air baking inside.

Immediately next door to Yossarian was Havermeyer, who liked peanut brittle and lived all by himself in the two-man tent in which he shot tiny field mice every night with huge bullets from the .45 he had stolen from the dead man in Yossarian's tent. On the other side of Havermeyer stood the tent McWatt no longer shared with Clevinger, who had still not returned when Yossarian came out of the hospital. McWatt shared his tent now with Nately, who was away in Rome courting the sleepy whore he had fallen so deeply in love with there who was bored with her work and bored with him too. McWatt was crazy. He was a pilot and flew his plane as low as he dared over Yossarian's tent as often as he could, just to see how much he could frighten him, and loved to go buzzing with a wild, close roar over the wooden raft floating on empty oil drums out past the sand bar at the immaculate white beach where the men went swimming naked. Sharing a tent with a man who was crazy wasn't easy, but Nately didn't care. He was crazy, too, and had gone every free day to work on the officers' club that Yossarian had not helped build. Actually, there were many officers' clubs that Yossarian had not helped build, but he was proudest of the one on Pianosa. It was a sturdy and complex monument to his powers of determination.

Yossarian never went there to help until it was finished; then he went there often, so pleased was he with the large, fine, rambling, shingled building. It was truly a splendid structure, and Yossarian throbbed with a mighty sense of accomplishment each time he gazed at it and reflected that none of the work that had gone into it was his.

There were four of them seated together at a table in the officers' club the last time he and Clevinger had called each other crazy. They were seated in back near the crap table on which Appleby always managed to win. 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.

The argument with Clevinger had begun a few minutes earlier when Yossarian had been unable to find a machine gun. It was a busy night. The bar was busy, the crap table was busy, the ping-gong table was busy. The people Yossarian wanted to machine-gun were busy at the bar singing sentimental old favorites that nobody else ever tired of. Instead of machine-gunning them, he brought his heel down hard on the ping-pong ball that came rolling toward him off the paddle of one of the two officers playing.

'That Yossarian,' the two officers laughed, shaking their heads, and got another ball from the box on the shelf.

'That Yossarian,' Yossarian answered them.

'Yossarian,' Nately whispered cautioningly.

'You see what I mean?' asked Clevinger.

The officers laughed again when they heard Yossarian mimicking them. 'That Yossarian,' they said more loudly.

'That Yossarian,' Yossarian echoed.

'Yossarian, please,' Nately pleaded.

'You see what I mean?' asked Clevinger. 'He has antisocial aggressions.'

'Oh, shut up,' Dunbar told Clevinger. Dunbar liked Clevinger because Clevinger annoyed him and made the time go slow.

'Appleby isn't even here,' Clevinger pointed out triumphantly to Yossarian.

'Who said anything about Appleby?' Yossarian wanted to know.

'Colonel Cathcart isn't here, either.'

'Who said anything about Colonel Cathcart?'

'What son of a bitch do you hate, then?'

'What son of a bitch is here?'

'I'm not going to argue with you,' Clevinger decided. 'You don't know who you hate.'

'Whoever's trying to poison me,' Yossarian told him.

'Nobody's trying to poison you.'

'They poisoned my food twice, didn't they? Didn't they put poison in my food during Ferrara and during the Great Big Siege of Bologna?'

'They put poison in everybody's food,' Clevinger explained.

'And what difference does that make?'

'And it wasn't even poison!' Clevinger cried heatedly, growing more emphatic as he grew more confused.

As far back as Yossarian could recall, he explained to Clevinger with a patient smile, somebody was always hatching a plot to kill him. There were people who cared for him and people who didn't, and those who didn't hated him and were out to get him. They hated him because he was Assyrian. But they couldn't touch him, he told Clevinger, because he had a sound mind in a pure body and was as strong as an ox. They couldn't touch him because he was Tarzan, Mandrake, Flash Gordon. He was Bill Shakespeare. He was Cain, Ulysses, the Flying Dutchman; he was Lot in Sodom, Deirdre of the Sorrows, Sweeney in the nightingales among trees. He was miracle ingredient Z-247. He was -

'Crazy!' Clevinger interrupted, shrieking. 'That's what you are! Crazy!

'- immense. I'm a real, slam-bang, honest-to-goodness, three-fisted humdinger. I'm a bona fide supraman.'

'Superman?' Clevinger cried. 'Superman?'

'Supraman,' Yossarian corrected.

'Hey, fellas, cut it out,' Nately begged with embarrassment. 'Everybody's looking at us.'

'You're crazy,' Clevinger shouted vehemently, his eyes filling with tears. 'You've got a Jehovah complex.'

'I think everyone is Nathaniel.'

Clevinger arrested himself in mid-declamation, suspiciously. 'Who's Nathaniel?'

'Nathaniel who?' inquired Yossarian innocently.

Clevinger skirted the trap neatly. 'You think everybody is Jehovah. You're no better than Raskolnkov -'

'Who?'

'- yes, Raskolnikov, who -'

'Raskolnikov!'

'- who - I mean it - who felt he could justify killing an old woman -'

'No better than?'

'- yes, justify, that's right - with an ax! And I can prove it to you!' Gasping furiously for air, Clevinger enumerated Yossarian's symptoms: an unreasonable belief that everybody around him was crazy, a homicidal impulse to machine-gun strangers, retrospective falsification, an unfounded suspicion that people hated him and were conspiring to kill him. But Yossarian knew he was right, because, as he explained to Clevinger, to the best of his knowledge he had never been wrong. Everywhere he looked was a nut, and it was all a sensible young gentleman like himself could do to maintain his perspective amid so much madness. And it was urgent that he did, for he knew his life was in peril.



More from Catch-22:    Excerpt 1    Excerpt 3



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