Thursday, September 22, 2011
We are the Snowdens of yesterday- Thoughts on Catch-22
We just finished our study of Catch-22 in my Contemporary American Literature class. My experience reading it for class was much different than my first time reading it-- then again, I was about 13 the first time I read it.
Though I did appreciate the irony and concept of the "Catch-22," on this reading I began to appreciate the text as a story of trauma. The circular, recurrent pattern of the story always returns to the Avignon mission where the gunner, Snowden was killed. The way the story is told in waves of memory, often out of order it isn't just to create a state of chaos, it has psychological significance. Slowly we get closer and closer to the trauma, we get closer to Snowden's "secret" and the impact in had on Yossarian.
Heller plays with language and the inversion of expectations. The "secret" is not what we're expecting it to be. He can turn a whole situation or character in one sentence.
In class we were discussing the shift in the second half of the novel. No longer just bizarre and surreal, the world becomes a nightmare that the characters are constantly waking into. It's a fight for identity and the definition of what Catch-22 is become more and more sinister. There is less humor to find in the ending chapters. Yossarian's frustration at the insane world around him becomes our frustration as well. We are equally gutted by the horrendous deaths of characters we've come to know earlier in the story.
I really enjoyed my rereading of Catch-22, though enjoy seems the wrong word to use. I can appreciate Heller's contribution to the changing landscape of literature. It was difficult at some points, but when I finished and set it down on the table, I knew it was one of the good books, one that I'll never forget.