Morris Dickson on Catch 22

I found this article on the Daily Beast which summarises Catch 22’s influence, I removed it from the website due to it being hard to read with adverts :

The Catch in “Catch-22”

Joseph Heller’s iconic novel “Catch-22” set the political and moral agenda of the last 50 years with its hilarious cynical viewpoint. Morris Dickstein on how we still haven’t escaped or really heard the novel’s message.
Most books disappear quickly down the memory hole. Even powerful literary works rarely outlast their generation. The world moves on and last year’s sensation can seem as dated as yesterday’s papers. For a book to survive half a century it must excite passion in individual readers and touch a nerve in the national psyche. Joseph Heller’s much-loved 1961 novel Catch-22 is just such a book, as unkillable as Yossarian, its stubbornly nay-saying anti-hero. The novel did not take off immediately, despite the publisher’s brilliantly conceived roll-out, but it broke through the following year as a mass-market paperback when young people could afford to buy it. Mixed reviews showed that its farcical deflation of a Mediterranean bombing campaign late in the “good war,” and especially its cartoonish technique, could make it a closed book to many older readers. But word-of-mouth and changing times soon made it a classic. What made Catch-22 so appealing to the young, no doubt, was its bracing cynicism, which rapidly became the default mindset of undergraduates everywhere. Flying in the face of what everyone imagined about the “greatest generation,” it mocked heroic ideals as little more than manipulative rhetoric, eviscerated mass organizations as totalitarian institutions that chewed up individual lives, treated the army as a system for killing its own men more than the enemy, and sent up its vaunted officers, for all their medals, as pompous, dull-witted, vainglorious fools. For the soldier caught up in this operational nightmare, the only escape was to look out for number one, to save one’s own skin. Yossarian is rightly accused of having “no respect for excessive authority or obsolete traditions.” One of the book’s sharpest reviewers, Robert Brustein, called this “a new morality based on an old ideal, the morality of refusal.” As the sixties wore on this morality seemed ahead of its time. It was as if Heller had anticipated the carnage and miscalculations of the Vietnam War, the stealth and deceit with which the war was escalated. By the late sixties, seeing through everything became the most convincing way of looking at the world. This morality of refusal motivated protesters, draft resisters, and deserters alike. As a bombardier Yossarian is “the best man in the group at evasive action.” He has hatched the peculiar notion that people are trying to kill him. “No one’s trying to kill you,” says his straight-arrow friend Clevinger, a Harvard intellectual (“one of those people with lots of intelligence and no brains”). “Then why are they shooting at me?” he asks. “They’re shooting at everyone. They’re trying to kill everyone,” Clevinger replies. Well, this is cold comfort. “It was a vile and muddy war, and Yossarian could have lived without it—lived forever, perhaps. Only a fraction of his countrymen would give up their lives to win it, and it was not his ambition to be among them.” As a result, “his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive.” Evasion is the survival strategy, paranoia makes perfect sense, while rationality comes to look crazy. Where did Heller come up with this take on the war but also on life itself? For all its low comedy, Catch-22 ultimately treats war as a metaphor for a Pascalian universe, a prison-house from which each of us is led off to die. This vision belongs to the dark side of the 1950s, but its radically disillusioned sense of absurdity and collective insanity became a theme song of the following decade. It is rooted in a grunt’s-eye view of war that had been a staple of comedy going back to Aristophanes and Shakespeare. When Prince Hal tells Falstaff that “thou owest God a death,” he demurs. “‘Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before his day.” Careful of his own tender flesh, proud of his cowardice and his cunning, Falstaff ridicules honor as an empty word, a posthumous achievement: “Who hath it? He that died o-Wednesday.” The insane trench warfare of World War I, with its astronomical loss of human life, brought this home afresh. A curdled view of military valor soon burst into modern literature with Jaroslav Hašek’sThe Good Soldier Švejk and Céline’s scabrous Journey to the End of Night, both rich literary models for Heller. Death and madness were part of the mental climate as the fifties turned into the sixties. The death camps and the Bomb had cast a sickening glow on what had once seemed like a morally uncomplicated war. Existentialism was the hot philosophy of the moment; its influence could been seen in works as different as Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro,” Kurt Vonnegut’sMother Night, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. These writings, like Heller’s, deflate rationality as a rationale for regimentation and look to madness as an authentic response to a world out of kilter. A more sober critique of organized society was voiced by commentators like William Whyte in The Organization Man and Paul Goodman in Growing Up Absurd and in straightforward realistic novels like Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. But the hip new literary works came out in wild metaphors, like the paradox of Catch-22, or the insane logic that leads Milo, the ultimate capitalist, to bomb his own squadron. With such outrageous twists, Heller’s book hit home in a new way, giving the conventional critique the sharp bite of satire, the resonance of myth, and the emotional depth of black comedy. Curiously, earlier in the same year, John F. Kennedy had offered a different vision that also spoke strongly to the young. In his Inaugural Address he famously issued a summons to service and idealism: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” He exhorted the nation to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” For all its high-flown rhetoric, the call was realized in New Frontier programs like the Peace Corps and helped inspire the youthful rebellions of the decade. Marking the 50th anniversary of that occasion, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. recalled that “I fell in love with the speech when I was young, purchasing a long-playing record of Kennedy addresses for 99 cents at the supermarket and listening to it over and over after the assassination.” But subsequent history from Vietnam to Watergate, from Nixon’s lies to Bush’s wars, dimmed youthful idealism, stoked disenchantment, and turned peaceful protest into cynicism and rage. Kennedy had a vision; Catch-22 had legs. The state of the world conspired to keep it in play.

Joseph Heller always made it clear that it was not World War II that inspired the sardonic cast ofCatch-22 but the postwar years of cold war, political stalemate, nuclear anxieties, smug intolerance, Red-hunting, and corporate bureaucracy.

With his morning-in-America language and his denunciations of the Evil Empire, Ronald Reagan tried to lay the Vietnam syndrome to rest. There was no Jimmy Carter-style “malaise” in his upbeat vocabulary. But his insistence that greed was good, that self-seeking was the American way, only fueled the national cynicism. As an ethical outlook it was Yossarian personified, Yossarian squared, yet it also unleashed the corporate culture that Heller and his contemporaries had loathed. It was certainly not the communal ethic of service and sacrifice affirmed by Kennedy, or by FDR before him. For all his idealization of American life, Reagan left the impression that ideals were for chumps compared to the solemn obligation of getting ahead. Bill Clinton’s conversion to humanitarian intervention made a difference. So did the bustling economy and the soft uses of American power during his administration. But the only real challenge to disillusioned cynicism came after the 9/11 attacks, which briefly restored a sense of patriotism and national unity not seen in this country since the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Then, as Heller later recalled, there was almost no one his age who was not eager to sign up. It is no small irony that the 50th anniversary of Catch-22 should coincide so closely with the 10th anniversary of 9/11. No one can fail to recall the eerie chill that settled on the city, the haunting images of the towers falling, the clouds of toxic dust, the bouquets of flowers in front of the firehouses, the grim, troubled faces of people on the subway, the unsmiling doormen in front of residential buildings, the political quarrels that shattered long friendships but also the amazing drop in local crime, which withered in the wake of a huge national crime. Older writers like Mailer and Susan Sontag were outspoken in their hatred of the new patriotism, which proved short-lived, since it was soon kidnapped by Bush and Cheney for their agenda of reshaping the world in our image. This did little to restore our sense of national purpose. Joseph Heller always made it clear that it was not World War II that inspired the sardonic cast of Catch-22 but the postwar years of cold war, political stalemate, nuclear anxieties, smug intolerance, Red-hunting, and corporate bureaucracy. As an airman flying 60 missions Heller himself had actually had a good war, or so he claimed: “I was an ignorant kid. I was a hero in a movie. I did not believe for a second that I could be injured. I did not really believe that anyone was being injured…  I’m telling you, the war was wonderful… I had no idea what war was like until I read about the Vietnam War … I don’t consider that I’ve been in combat with my 10 months overseas.” After the war this youthful sense of adventure foundered in struggle and disappointment, which Heller projected back onto the war. The sour corporate and family life of Heller’s harsh second novel, Something Happened (1974), is really a prologue to the darkening comedy and metastasizing horror of Catch-22. The genius of Catch-22 is not so much in its point of view as in the explosive originality of its technique. Many writers of the late 1950s had made the same points about the loss of self in mass organizations, the hollow rhetoric of idealism, or the existential vulnerability of Lear’s unaccommodated man, that poor forked animal. These were commonplace notions of a cultural moment rich with metaphysical angst and keen social criticism. But Heller, by turning these truisms into whiplash Abbott-and-Costello routines, gave them fresh and indelible form. Catch-22 is so funny that I almost failed to read it. After seeing a roommate of mine laugh out loud on every page I assumed it was little more than an army joke-book, something like No Time for Sergeants. It was years before I picked up the book and discovered how wrong I was. Heller’s comic-book realism and razor-sharp language, ramped up from his own experience, give the novel a reach and profundity that make you pay dearly for having been so amused. Seemingly broad, formless, and anecdotal, the book circles around leitmotifs that take on the ring of inevitability. When freezing Snowden spills his guts in the back of a plane and Yossarian tries helplessly to comfort him—the scene toward which the book has been building throughout—Heller brings war, death, and the pitfalls of the human condition home to us. The stand-up routines have not prepared us for this bleak revelation, though it is foreshadowed on every page. The death of Kid Sampson, sliced in half by the propeller of McWatt’s plane, his organs raining down on those frolicking on the beach, prepares us for the long-awaited exposure of Snowden’s secret. We learn what we already knew, that man is disposable matter, an imperiled creature of flesh and blood. Catch-22 is less a war novel than a timeless act of existential protest, a cri de coeur that makes comedy heartbreaking and cynicism poignant. No wonder the writer had so much trouble topping his first act. This helped my understand some key points in Catch 22, hope it can help someone else.


The Good, the Bad and the Blake: an introduction to William Blake


William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757, to James, a hosier, and Catherine Blake. Blake’s early ambitions were not with poetry but with painting and at the age of 14, after attending drawing school, he was apprenticed to James Basire, engraver. After his seven-year term was complete, Blake studied at the Royal Academy. In 1784, he set up a print shop, but within a few years the business floundered and for the rest of his life Blake eked out a living as an engraver and illustrator. His wife, Catherine, who he married in 1782, remained faithful and helped him to print the poetry as seen today.

In 1789, he published his Songs of Innocence He published it with the accompanying illustrative plates, a feat accomplished through an engraving and illustrating process of his own design. Blake combined text and visual artwork to achieve his poetic effect. Blake always intended the poems of Songs of Innocence to be accompanied by their respective illustrations. This adds the Additional perspective that cannot be seen within other poets work, such as Yeats. 

Blake’s work, ‘Songs of Innocence’ is described in Gradesaver’s ‘Songs of innocence and of Experience Summary’ as “the naivety and simplicity of innocent youth, Songs of Innocenceis not merely a collection of verses for children. Several of the poems include an ironic tone, and some, such as “The Chimney Sweeper,” imply sharp criticism of the society of Blake’s time.”

Blake’s political radicalism intensified during the years leading up to the French Revolution. He began a seven-book poem about the Revolution, in fact, but it was either destroyed or never completed, and only the first book survives. He disapproved of Enlightenment rationalism, of institutionalized religion, and of the tradition of marriage in its conventional legal and social form. 

This Contemporary attitudes were of inspiration from Emmanuel Swedenborg, an Inventor and philosopher, more information on him here.

Songs of Experience brings in a dark and cynical tone that laments the destruction of innocence by modern society. The following year he republished both volumes together as Songs of Innocence and of Experience, essentially creating a single volume of poetry that has persisted in this form up to the present day.

In conclusion William Blake presents the Bitter contrast of attitudes of the human mind, through visual plates and innocent versus cynical tone.



Wilfred Owen and Dehumanisation

I was unable to log into word-press due to losing my password, this was saved as a Draft.

Wilfred Owen is the anti-patriot of the First World War; he leads the opinion of De-humanisation throughout his poetry. He is distinguished in his time of scandalous writing against patriotic beliefs of glorious death in battle for your country.  He holds this unpopular opinion due to his first-hand experience of world war.

‘Arms and the boy’ is the earliest of Wilfred Owens poems, and features the first case of Dehumanisation within children.  Wilfred Owen wrote a letter to his mother saying ‘children play soldiers so piercingly’ this presents the idea that Wilfred Owen could see the patriotism within small children. This has a large influence on ‘Arms and the boy’ and he could present this in his evil and vindictive tone as he says ‘let the boy try along the bayonet-blade’, this presents the malice in his poems, which could be said to  de-humanise the ‘boy’.  Wilfred Owen commonly uses personification in his poetry to allude to the mechanising of boys.  He says the steel has ‘keen hunger of blood’ which can be seen as a parallel between the boy and the blade.  This is a technique also found in ‘A Terre’ as he describes the soldier as ‘I’m blind, and three parts shell’ this has ambiguous meanings, as it can be seen to be a metaphor for a injured soldier, however in terms of dehumanisation the soldier could be ‘blind’ to judgement and morality and ‘three parts shell’ could mean the weaponisation of the soldier.

Wilfred Owen produces sibilance and alliteration to mimic mechanised soldiers, as in ‘Arms and the boy’ he could be said to be ironically critical of the soldiers, possibly referring to them as ‘blind, blunt bullet-heads’ this could be seen as a metaphor for the patriotic soldiers. Wilfred Owen write about the treatment of soldiers with this attitude with reference to the powers above soldiers in ‘Anthem for Doomed youth’ he uses agrarian language to create a metaphor that   the men that ‘die as cattle’ suggesting the men are treated like cattle.  Wilfred Owen strongly protested the mistreatment of soldiers and he makes it known in ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ with his use of alliteration and agrarian language, he parallels his friends to be ‘wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong’.  This could be seen to show the human side of war however, I see this as Wilfred Owen using his own experience to protest against the people whom are ordering war which in turn are de-humanising soldiers.

Wilfred Owen lived in a rural area of Oswestry, and would have used and heard agrarian language frequently; he then uses this with the use of nature from is romantics poet inspiration such as Keats and Shelly.  He uses nature prominently in ‘Arms and the Boy’ and ‘spring offensive’ the weaponisation of the humans is shown in ‘Arms and the Boy’ as he uses the metaphor of ‘zinc teeth’ and then in contrast he argues ‘there lurk no claws behind his fingers supple’ which presents  Wilfred Owen’s anti-dehumanization message in this poem. This would have been important in his early poetry as during early World War One, being a soldier was a voluntary service. 

Dehumanisation consists of the mass opinion of zero morality which can be seen in ‘Spring Offensive’ as he visions ‘many there stood still To face the stark, blank sky beyond the ridge’  this use of nature and  the semantic field  of ‘nothing’ to possibly represent emotionless soldiers of which are created from war. To an extent this is a reflection on himself, as he intended to write in the style of the romantics, such as Keats which he decides he cannot write romantically due to the horror of war. This can be seen in ‘the Sentry’ he shows his own draining of emotion.  He presents this with the use of punctuation to represent the tone of his emotion ‘Watch my dreams still….I try not to remember these things now.’

‘Insensibility’ takes Wilfred Owens de-humanisation and romanticism as he uses his rhyming couplet characteristics to show soldiers combinations of man and weaponry ‘Happy are these who lose imagination:

They have enough to carry with ammunition.’ This compares back to ‘Arms and the Boy’ and the metaphor of ‘zinc teeth’ relating to the use of mechanised language throughout his poetry.  

In conclusion Wilfred Owen presents the de-humanisation of soldier in his poetry, personifying soldiers using mechanised language and agrarian comparisons to represent  his own experiences and his fellow soldier, turning his romantic inspire poetry into the wide description of de-humanisation.

Apologia Pro Poemate Meo

I, too, saw God through mud –
   The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
   War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
   And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.

Merry it was to laugh there –
   Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
   For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
   Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

I, too, have dropped off fear –
   Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
   And sailed my spirit surging, light and clear
   Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

And witnessed exultation –
   Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
   Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
   Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.

I have made fellowships –
   Untold of happy lovers in old song.
   For love is not the binding of fair lips
   With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,

By Joy, whose ribbon slips, –
   But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong;
   Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
   Knit in the welding of the rifle-thong.

I have perceived much beauty
   In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
   Heard music in the silentness of duty;
   Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

Nevertheless, except you share
   With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
   Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
   And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth:
   You shall not come to think them well content
   By any jest of mine. These men are worth
   Your tears: You are not worth their merriment.

Also, this poem is best listen to whilst reading:-

First impressions:-

This is a this poem is a sour and satirical ballad with the bitter contrast of the honor, glory and victory against the torture of Soldiers and their questionable worth to higher powers. He shows his compassion to his fellow man and their humanised suffering.  It features common techniques shown throughout his work, such as an alternating rhyme pattern, harsh Sybellance and alliteration forcing graphic imagery upon reading.

First i shall look at the historical context:-   November 1917 – December 1917.


Battle of Cambrai (1917):- Hundreds of British Tanks Breach the Hindenburg Line at Cambrai General Byng’ s Army, After Nearly Reaching Its Objective, Forced to Retreat British Forces

The Western Front comprises the Franco-German-Belgian front and any military action in Great Britain, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Holland.

The Bolshevik delegates went through the farce of opening “peace parleys” with the Germans on November 28, 1917.

Wilfred Owen’s context:- source:

“Of this I am certain,” Owen told his mother on 31 October 1918, (and they were the last words of the last letter he was to write),”you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here.”

It was one thing a war geared to acts of destruction could not destroy. It is what APOLOGIA PRO POEMATE is about.

Next I shall look at the themes of the poem:


Owen attacking anyone who thinks they understand the horrors of war. Looking at the comradeship between the soldiers and how they managed to survive. There is also looking at the doubt in religion;

 -Dehumanisation of soldiers


-Civilians dont understand

-soldiers are superior

-Doubt in religion

 -Doubt in higher  powers wisdom/ sympathy/ understanding

– Clear message to the reader

Poetic devices:-

syllables per line: 6 10 10 10 0 7 11 11 11 0 6 10 10 10 0 7 10 11 10 0 6 10 10 10 0 6 10 10 10 0 7 10 11 10 0 8 11 10 11 6 10 10 10

Para- rhyme

Harsh sybellance- Used to carry the rhythem of war and a tone of anger.

 alliteration- a classic technique of Wilfred Owen the repetition of the ‘L’  gives an argumentative tone.

Arms and the Boy


Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.
Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-heads
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads.
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.
For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.
 First of all lets find out the historical context of Wilfred Owen and World War one:
  • Jan 19th – 1st German Zeppelin attack over Great Britain, 4 die
  • Jan 24th – German-British sea battle at Doggersbank & Helgoland
  • Jan 31st – 1st (German) poison gas attack, against Russians
  • Feb 3rd – Turkish & German army reach Suez Canal
  • Mar 18th – Failed British attack in Dardanelles
  • Apr 22nd – 1st military use of poison gas (chlorine, by Germany) in WW I
  • Aug 23rd – Czar Nicolaas II takes control of Russian Army
  • Oct 8th – Battle of Loos, almost 430,000 French, British & Germans killed
  • Dec 16th – Albert Einstein publishes his “General Theory of Relativity”

Wilfred Owens context:

May to June

  • Back to France after a brief visit home.


  • Returns to England and enlists in 3/28th London Regiment which shortly afterwards became the 2nd Artists Rifles Officers Training Corps.

Next I shall look at the themes of the poem:

Dehumanisation of  young men- the boy becomes the weapon
youth- shown by the semantic field of impatience
weapons- Bayonets,
These are common themes in Wilfred Owen also seen in Dulce Et Decorum Est with weapons and Dehumanisation.
Form and structure:
Heroic couplets-  five iambs;
‘And God will grow no talons at his heels’ 
3 stanzas
9,11,9,9,10,9,10,8,9,11,10,9 syllables
The poetic devices used are:
  • the persona of weapons- if men were truely born to kill why do they not have ‘zinc teeth’ or ‘claws’ ? this is going towards the idea of war is nonsensical and barbaric
  • para-rhyme
  • punctuation- blood; flash; flesh;
  • reference to god-  note: Wilfred Owen says he has rejected god from his life however, he has been brought up by a religious family, giving that with the addition of the trauma of war in its mechanical from, would make a man want to clench onto a hope of  ‘something at the end of the tunnel’, in this case heaven.
  •  alliteration- a classic technique of Wilfred Owen the repetition of the ‘b’  gives an overall atmosphere of perpetual warfare.
The Wilfred Owen association provides some interesting interpretations on some of the stanzas:-
Stanza 1

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade

Command? Plea? Advice? Given by whom? Not Owen himself, we judge, but Owen on behalf of those who would initiate children into –

Shooting, war, hunting, all the arts of hurting as he had already written (again, in another’s voice) in A TERRE.

Personification makes weapons diabolical as well as lethal.

…keen with hunger of blood

Owen has used the device before, for instance in ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH, INSENSIBILITY, the ARTILLERY sonnet and THE LAST LAUGH.

Although I agree with this interpretation, an alternate interpretation may be that Wilfred Owen, his intentions when saying ‘Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade’  is to give the allusion that whoever ‘let’ the boy ‘play with the blade is the sinister immoral higher power, creating a paradox between the  righteous government and a villain.



WW1 Research

I have been away from home for a while so needed refreshing my memory. This was the same research I did in year 10 for GCSE History, thank you ethropp for this.


Those who survived barbed wire and machine gun bullets went mad or wrote poetry. World War One has become a byword for how awful, stupid and useless war can be.
During and immediately after the conflict, Britons built a wide range of different meanings out of the war years.
In the years after the war, Britons commemorated it in print, on stage, in stone and in ceremonies.
Different meanings for the war co-existed uneasily. It was widely feared that veterans who wished to celebrate survival, camaraderie and victory would upset bereaved families. The presumed emotional needs of bereaved parents in particular also exercised a powerful social taboo against saying that the war lacked meaning, even for those who were tempted to term it ‘futile’.
In describing the new world for which they hoped they were fighting, the British increasingly came to rely on a version of World War One which…

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Sailing to Byzantium-W.b Yeats

I missed the lesson to this and have saved this onto my computer, very helpful thankyou.


‘Sailing To Byzantium’, is from Yeats ‘The Tower’ collection, published in 1928. Yeats dismisses life in Ireland and the vitality of nature and the living world can offer no consolation for him as he is by this time, an old man and no physical strength, nor appearance can help him. Yeats escapes into his imagination into the city of Byzantium, where the worship of immortal art offers him a life that goes beyond the limits of nature.Dr Craddock said; “Byzantium represents an ideal where art is revered and spiritual wisdom is expressed in fantastic sculpture.”  Yeats’ Byzantium is completely imaginary, he has never  visited there, it is merely an representation of a place where art is treasured and can last, which makes up for the fact that man must die reflecting Yeats mood at this time.
Yeats’ dramatises his own struggles to find some sort of consolation for his old age and death in this…

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