Free Catch-22 Essays: The Character of Yossarian

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The Character of Yossarian in Catch-22

The main character in Catch-22, which was written by Joseph Heller in 1960, was Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier in the 256th Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII. Yossarian's commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart, wanted a promotion so badly that he kept raising the number of missions the men in his squadron were required to fight. Yossarian resented this very much, but he couldn't do anything about it because a bureaucratic trap, known as catch-22, said that the men did not have the right to go home after they completed forty missions (the number of missions the Army demands they fly) because they had to obey their commanding officers. Yossarian was controlled by the higher authority like the doctors restrained Joe. The whole novel was basically about how Yossarian tried to fight catch-22.

Yossarian can be seen as an anti-hero. Many of his actions could be considered immoral or cowardly. For example, in the hospital, he forged and tampered with letters he censored. Whenever he was overwhelmed by the horrors of war and by memories of his friends' deaths, he created symptoms that got him admitted to hospitals. He also made repeated attempts to be judged as certifiably insane so that he could be discharged. In the end, Yossarian deserted the Army and fled to Sweden, the only place he knew to be safe and sane.

However, Yossarian also possessed traits we would expect to find in a hero. He was intelligent. For example, he knew enough about world literature to identify himself with heroic loners from all kinds of classics. He had few illusions, unlike Pip and Henry. For example, in cadet training, Clevinger thought Lieutenant Scheisskopf really wanted suggestions, but Yossarian knew Scheisskopf didn't mean it. He was respected, admired, and liked by others. For example, Dobbs would not carry out his plot to kill Colonel Cathcart unless Yossarian approved. Milo admired Yossarian and asked him for business advice. The chaplain also liked Yossarian enough no to speak up when he recognized a "Washington Irving" forgery as Yossarian's. In many ways, Yossarian was also a very moral person. For example, he turned down the hero deal (his irritated commanding officers offered to send him home as a hero if he would praise them publicly). He did not sleep with a woman unless he was in love with her, unlike Odysseus who was unfaithful to his wife in order to save him and his men.
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