AP English Composition and Literature
February 20, 2013
The Meaning of Time in Catch-22
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, tells the story of Yossarian, a bombardier in the air force during World War II. The novel is marked by it’s lack of the story’s chronology and by abruptly moving backwards and forwards in time through a series of flashbacks, stream of consciousness, and repetition of events. Heller is able to use repetition and to maintain suspense in Catch-22 by creating a seemingly timeless setting to expose the ultimate meaning behind a mask of humor.
By repeating several key events in the novel, Heller creates situations that bring out and emphasizes the horror hidden beneath absurdity and comedy. Throughout the novel, Heller consistently brings up an event in passing, then continues to talk about it throughout the novel, each time with more detail, in order to gradually reveal the sickening and ultimate revelation of the novel. Yossarian repeatedly mentions Snowden, a new tail gunner who flew with and died on Yossarian’s plane on his mission to Avignon, yet it’s not until the penultimate chapter that the exact circumstances of his death and the impact it had on Yossarian is revealed. In the first flash back to the mission over Avignon, we find that Snowden is dead, “’Then help him, help him,’ Dobbs begged. ‘Help him, help him.’ And Snowden lay dying in the back.” (50). In the climax of the novel, Heller reveals to the reader the details and depth regarding Snowden’s death. Yossarian describes it in graphic detail, “Snowden was wounded inside his flak suit. Yossarian ripped open the snaps of Snowden’s flak suit and heard himself scream wildly as Snowden’s insides slithered down to the floor in a soggy pile and just kept dripping out.” (439) In the first quote, which was a mention of Snowden early in the novel, only a brief and early glimpse of the climactic final description, which explains everything, and reveals its connection to...