Is the phrase “Catch 22” part of your vocabulary? It is mine. I wonder how many of us use it but don't know where it originated.
Well, perhaps most people of the baby-boomer generation know where the term originated, but the phrase is popular with many of the young set as well.
The following information is from National Public Radio:
In August 1944, Heller flew on a mission over the French town of Avignon. Sitting in the plexiglass nose cone of a B-25 bomber, Heller faced the very real possibility of death for the first time. That mission, says Heller biographer Tracy Daugherty, shaped the way Heller thought about war, a sensibility that permeates his novel.
"After that mission over Avignon, Heller really understood that this is not an abstraction," Daugherty says. "They are out to kill me personally, and he didn't like it — and Yossarian, Heller’s creation in the novel, doesn't either."
Yossarian an everyman soldier who is trying as hard as he can to get out of the war. But the more he tries, the more he is caught in the famous catch: "Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy," Doc Daneeka, the Army physician, explains.
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. [Bomber pilot] Or was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.
When Catch-22 was first released, it wasn't universally well-received. Until then, books about war tended to be serious works, often tragic in tone. Heller's war was a black comedy, filled with orders from above that made no sense and characters who just wanted to stay alive. The novel seemed to offend some reviewers. The New York Times called it an "emotional hodgepodge." But other critics took on the book as a cause.
By the time Catch-22 came out in paperback, the word of mouth was more positive than negative and the book became a best-seller. But Daugherty says it was more than just the praise of critics that turned the tide in its favor.
"Really what turned the tide I think was that the Vietnam War began to heat up and was more and more in the news, and Heller's book seemed to prophesy what was happening," she says.
The young people who took to the streets to protest the war embraced Catch-22. Heller may have based the novel on his own experiences in World War II, but the voice that emerged captured the tone of a new generation that had lost respect for authority and refused to take anything at face value.
"What was being stated publicly [in the mid-1960s] was clashing so obviously with the images we were seeing on our television screens," Daugherty says. "And so I think in a large sense, the entire culture began to distrust language. We were being told one thing and seeing another, and there's the paradox. That's the heart of Catch-22."
Catch-22 is a concept everyone can understand. That's why it so quickly became part of the language — a phrase to be called upon when there seems no way out of the traps life can set for you and when humor really is the best response. And that is why the book has endured.
Is the phrase “Catch-22” part of your vocabulary? Have you read the book? I read it years ago and now I want to read it again!