Chapter 1: The Texan
Captain John Yossarian, a World War II bombardier, feigns a pain in the liver so that he can remain in the ward and not have to fight more combat missions. The doctors, extremely frustrated by a liver that is "short of being jaundiced," patiently give him pills everyday, hoping that either he will be cured or his liver will become jaundiced so they will know how to cure him. In the meantime, Yossarian maintains a daily fever of 101 and is very happy having all his meals served in bed. He plans to remain sick until the end of the war. Yossarian writes everyone he knows, saying that he is going on a dangerous mission and will write back when he returns. His only work is to censor the letters of the other patients. This quickly bores him, and he makes it a game, crossing out all modifiers one day, leaving just articles the next. Eventually he marks out the addresses on the envelopes and signs himself as "Washington Irving" and then "Irving Washington." The authorities send a C.I.D. man to investigate but have no luck in finding anyone called "Irving" or "Washington."
Others in the hospital are feigning illness as well. The artillery captain Dunbar falls on his face everyday to have his meals served in bed. The Texan is obnoxiously gregarious and zealously patriotic. A strange soldier in white gauze was smuggled into the hospital at night; a bottle with liquid drains into his mouth, and another bottle is connected to his kidneys with rubber tubing to collect the waste. When the bottle connecting his mouth is empty and the other bottle full, the bottles are switched. No one knows the colonel’s illness. One day the nurse realizes that the soldier encased in white is dead, and Yossarian and Dunbar throw accusations without evidence.
Yossarian tries to earn the chaplain's sympathy by describing his feigned illness. The chaplain is nervous and shy and promises to return.
Suddenly, without any explanation, the Texan leaves the ward and Yossarian, Dunbar, and the others follow him in a hectic exodus. Everyone except the C.I.D. man with pneumonia return to the front because of the Texan.
Chapter 2: Clevinger
Back on the front, the war is going on. Yossarian resents the Texan for having sent them back and is miserable. In the officers' club, Yossarian claims that everyone is trying to kill him, but Clevinger and the others merely dismiss Yossarian as being crazy. Clevinger passionately argues that everyone is trying to kill everyone else, so there is nothing particularly important about Yossarian being killed.
The camp is also filled with other crazy people. Orr, Yossarian's roommate, has decorated their tent extensively; Havermeyer next door eats peanut butter brittle and shoots field mice. McWatt enjoys flying his plane just right above Yossarian’s tent to drive him crazy. McWatt’s roommate, Nately, has fallen in love with a whore in Rome, and is lavishly wasting his money on her.
The officers sit around making fun of Yossarian for being crazy. Yossarian adamantly claims that they are poisoning his food and claims various random identities, which annoys Clevinger and leads to an argument. Yossarian helps himself to a delicious and large dinner until he remembers that they are trying to kill him. He runs to Daneeka to get off combat duty, and Daneeka tells him that Colonel Cathcart wants fifty missions, but Yossarian has flown only forty-four.
Chapter 3: Havermeyer
Yossarian is frustrated with his two roommates. One just hangs around because he is dead, and Yossarian has reported this corpse to Sergeant Towser and Major Major, but they refuse to acknowledge the dead man's existence or to do anything. Orr has strange obsessions and activities and talks about putting crab apples rather than horse chestnuts in his cheeks.
There are plenty of other troublesome people in the camp as well. Hungry Joe keeps on having nightmares and screams every night, although when he wakes up the next morning, he denies anything has happened. He also enjoys fist-fighting Huple's cat and taking pictures of the large-breasted women at U.S.O. shows. General P. P. Peckem and General Dreedle squabble for power, and Peckem always loses because his verbosity annoys ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen, who throws away General Peckem's correspondence. Peckem retaliates by sending more U.S.O. troupes. In Yossarian's squadron, men pester Towser about whether their orders to leave are in yet. Colonel Cargill, a failed marketing executive, orders his troops to attend the U.S.O. shows.
These constant troubles drive Yossarian back to Doc Daneeka, who belittles Yossarian's troubles and bemoans his own. He advises Yossarian to be more like Havermeyer, the other lead bombardier. Yossarian turns sick at the idea. Havermeyer is the darling of Colonel Cathcart and is hated by the other men because he refuses to take evasive action. He never misses his target, unlike Yossarian, who is trying to stay alive no matter whether he hits his target. Yossarian is loved by his men and relies on Havermeyer to hit the targets he has missed. Havermeyer himself is strange; he baits and kills field mice. One night he frightens Hungry Joe so much that Joe begins to scream all night, and Havermeyer proudly announces that Hungry Joe is crazy.
Chapter 4: Doc Daneeka
Yossarian knows Hungry Joe is crazy, but ironically, Hungry Joe thinks Yossarian is crazy. Doc Daneeka snickers at Yossarian for this and begins to complain about his troubles as a doctor in the army. Doc Daneeka believes that he himself is sick and tries to have his temperature taken every day. He has two very efficient enlisted assistants, Gus and Wes. They send all the men with temperatures over 102 to the hospitals. Those who have a temperature below 102 have their gums and toes painted, are given a laxative, and sent to the bushes. Those with temperatures of 102 have to return in an hour to have their temperatures rechecked.
The bored Doc Daneeka sits around and watches Major -- de Coverley, who wears a transparent eye patch, pitch horseshoes. Daneeka also worries about his health, the flight time, and the Pacific Ocean. He hates airplanes and refuses to perform any favors for Yossarian. Essentially, Doc Daneeka sits around and feels sorry for himself. He always asks, “Why me?” This reminds Yossarian of when he and Clevinger would ask Corporal Black nonsensical questions during the education sessions. This questioning had alarmed the Group Headquarters, so Colonel Korn had passed a rule saying the only people who can ask questions are those who never do.
Cathcart and Lieutenant Colonel Korn both live in the Group Headquarters, where there is a modern skeet-shooting range. Yossarian always misses skeet and also fails to make money off of gambling. Dunbar wastes his life, arguing that an hour shooting with Havermeyer and Appleby is worth years. This initiates yet another argument with Yossarian, Orr, and Dunbar, and ends on a very confusing note about whether a long, boring, meaningless life is worth living.
Chapter 5: Chief White Halfoat
Daneeka tells Yossarian about his days as a doctor before the war. Initially, his practice had been a failure, but when the other doctors started leaving for the war, his practice flourished. Once a couple who had difficulty having a child came to see him. Although they claimed to have sex every day, Daneeka discovered that the beautiful, impressionable young wife was still a virgin. He showed the couple, using plastic models, how to have sex correctly. A few days later, the husband returned and punched Daneeka in the face.
Upon the arrival of Daneeka's roommate, Chief White Halfoat, Daneeka leaves. Halfoat claims that wherever he or his family go, the people strike oil. He rattles on about discrimination against Indians and his unsettled childhood. Yossarian knows he is lying but keeps his mouth shut. Finally, Halfoat resents that after his tribe went to Canada, they were not allowed to return because they were not American citizens.
After one more mission, Yossarian again asks Daneeka to ground him because he is crazy. This time, Daneeka claims that Catch-22 prevents him from doing so. If the men are really crazy, then they will want to fly the missions, regardless of whether or not they want to be killed. If they do not want to fly the missions, then they are sane and must fly them. To Yossarian, the same logic applies to Orr's claim that Appleby has flies in his eyes. While Appleby cannot see the flies, Yossarian claims he cannot see them because they are in his eyes.
While the squadron is preparing for another mission, Yossarian has a flashback about Snowden's death. Suddenly the bombs at Avignon started flying everywhere, and as they were taking evasive action, he heard Dobbs crying to help the bombardier. Actually, Yossarian the bombardier was fine, but Snowden was on his back dying.
Chapter 6: Hungry Joe
Hungry Joe ignores Daneeka's snide comments and instead picks on Huple. Joe is skimpy and sweaty and overeats. He enjoys taking pictures of nude women and is very good at persuading them to pose for him. His pictures never turn out because he always forgets to put in the film, turn on the lights, or remove the lens cover.
Joe is the most avid flyer, having more missions than any other person in the squadron. Each time he meets Colonel Cathcart's quota and is removed from combat status, he waits fruitlessly for the orders to go home. As they never come, he gradually begins to blame Sergeant Towser. Joe also begins to have shrieking nightmares, and the other men, including Dobbs and Sergeant Flume, imitate him. Consequently, Colonel Korn has Joe fly the carrier ship, so he will be gone four nights per week. Ironically, each time Cathcart increases the number of missions and places Joe on combat duty again, Joe stops having the nightmares.
Yossarian advises Hungry Joe to see Doc Daneeka about his nightmares. Joe points out that daily nightmares are perfectly normal. Meanwhile, Yossarian keeps on missing the bombing target, so the men must keep returning. The problem is that Colonel Cathcart enjoys volunteering his men for the most dangerous missions as some kind of game.
Meanwhile, Chief Halfoat has frightened Captain flume into thinking that he will slit his roommate's throat when the latter is asleep. As a result, Captain Flume stays awake or has dreams that he is awake when he is actually asleep. Halfoat also enjoys hitting Colonel Moodus in the nose to amuse General Dreedle. Despite this, Halfoat is still an outcast like Major Major, who was arbitrarily promoted by Colonel Cathcart while playing basketball.
Yossarian again asks Daneeka to ground him, saying that Cathcart is disobeying the rules by demanding more than the required number of missions. Daneeka again argues that Catch-22 requires that Yossarian must obey his superior, even if his superior is disobeying Group Headquarters. To his shock, Yossarian discovers just before his departure that Cathcart has again increased the number of missions, this time to fifty-five.
Chapter 7: McWatt
McWatt, Yossarian's pilot, is considered the craziest man. He annoys Hungry Joe by snapping cards during games. He is impressed with Milo. Corporal Snark comes in and tells Milo that Yossarian is entitled to all the fruit and fruit juices. Yossarian asks who Milo is and is told that Milo is the new mess officer. McWatt comes out with half a bedsheet, and Milo laughs that McWatt did not even know that his bedsheet was stolen. Yossarian explains to Milo that he does not actually have a liver condition but has Garnett-Fleischaker syndrome. Yossarian says he does not eat the fruit because it is good for his liver, and he does not want to lose this special syndrome. Instead, he gives most of the fruit to Dunbar as well as Aarfy and Nately.
Milo asks Yossarian to join him as a partner in his firm. Yossarian refuses but Milo trusts him with almost all his confidential secrets. He tells Milo about his first chef, Corporal Snark, who views all the men as Philistines and poisons the squadron by mashing cakes of GI soap into the sweet potatoes. The men love the stuff although it makes them sick.
A C.I.D. man passes by, and although Yossarian reassures Milo that the officer is only looking for “Washington Irving.” Milo says that it is a trick to make him confess about his black market operations. Yossarian infuriatingly declares that he will not fly the 55 missions and will go see Major Major. Milo replies that doing so is futile, so Yossarian says he will return to the hospital. Milo then asks Yossarian to give him one package of pitted dates; in return, he gives Yossarian a quarter of McWatt’s yellow bedsheet.
McWatt arrives, flustered and confused about what to do with his bedsheet. When Milo suggests that McWatt form a syndicate, Yossarian becomes confused as well. Later, Milo admits to Yossarian he is frustrated with McWatt because the pilot failed to recognize that he had traded a quarter of his bedsheet for the dates.
The first chapter is freewheeling and almost random, setting the satirical tone for the rest of the novel. Heller's cynicism about the war and the government is clear. An entire ward is pretending to be ill and is waiting for the war to end. Oddly, no one realizes what a widespread tactic this has become. Even worse, the men manage to avoid the front by the most ludicrous tactics, such as Dunbar's literal falling on his face. Meanwhile, Yossarian is forced into performing the menial governmental duty of censoring. As he quickly discovers, the letters are quite boring and there is very little to censor. Consequently, Yossarian begins to censor everything that should not be censored. His games fail to attract any notice, though, until he actually begins to mark the envelopes themselves. The C.I.D. man fails to find out who this nonexistent "Irving Washington" is and apparently does not realize that this is a fake name. The C.I.D. comes to symbolize the obtuseness of the government.
The medical establishment is also severely ridiculed. Ironically, the men are seeking to avoid actual injury or death by pretending to be ill. Dunbar claims he can lengthen his lifespan by lying in a deathlike state for hours on end. Somehow the doctors are all deceived into believing that the entire ward is ill while the nurses have come to realize that the soldiers are simply pretending. Despite their extensive medical testing and knowledge, the doctors fail to realize that the men are faking their illnesses. They have been trained such that they can only recognize certain types of diseases, such as jaundice, and the fake illnesses that do not fit a known category bewilder them. Moreover, their methods of treatment are absurd. They keep on giving Yossarian a daily pill, hoping he will either get well or become jaundiced. The encased man is fed his own urine. All of this symbolizes the futility of life. At last, the stupidity of the doctors is exposed when the ill-educated, bigoted Texan proves that everyone in the ward except the C.I.D. man is a hypochondriac and sends them back to the front.
Heller also cleverly uses irony for more humorous purposes, especially in character development. The Texan talks about being American as apple pie and the Brooklyn Dodgers and decries the lack of patriotism among his comrades, yet he turns out to a hypochondriac avoiding the war just as much as everyone else in the ward. Yossarian, the pathetic censor, claims to be the famous literary figure Washington Irving. The man who is encased in white bandages turns out to be a cleverly concealed black man.
Perhaps the nicest example of Heller’s ability to pile up one ironic incident after another is the interaction between Yossarian and the chaplain. One time when Yossarian is censoring the letters, he deletes the entire letter except for the salutation and then writes an absurd sentence in which the group’s chaplain is pining away for love for her. Then when the chaplain does arrive, Yossarian is censoring romantic passages from the letters. Yossarian himself suddenly falls in love with the chaplain, who for his part is so shy and lacks confidence that he is worried that Yossarian does not even like him. Such cleverly placed layers of irony within this chapter foretell this technique’s extensive use for the rest of the novel.
Finally, the common feature in the first chapter is the constant presence of suspense and foreshadowing. Heller cleverly uses the technique of writing a cliffhanger and then going off on a tangent until much later in the chapter. The result is a strange discontinuity and constant switching between descriptions of the characters and recollection of the events. Chapter One begins with, "It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him." But the subject is then abruptly changed to Yossarian’s rather irrelevant background. It is not until the end of the chapter that the chaplain reappears in a rather casual interaction. Another suspenseful scene, in which the Texan is accused of murdering the encased black man, is never explained. Then suddenly at the very end of the chapter, everyone abruptly departs. The only tantalizing clue is that "the Texan drove everybody in the ward back to duty." Whether or not this is connected to the alleged murder will remain an issue for future chapters. Clearly, the discontinuity of this chapter leaves much room for plot development and explication for the rest of the novel.
Chapter 2 introduces Clevinger, a foil to Yossarian. Clevinger comes to represent the defender of the ideas of social and political institutions and a person indoctrinated to believe that their impersonality is part of life. He argues that war is impersonal and everyone has to become used to it. Yossarian, on the other hand, represents the individual who protests against such mass destruction, even if that destruction is not intentionally targeted against him in particular. Under normal conditions, Yossarian would be considered paranoid, claiming that everyone wants to kill him. However, under the circumstances of war, his declarations are strikingly accurate.
Yossarian's loud declarations of being various personas will become particularly important later, when a psychiatrist diagnoses him as having split personalities. In the second case, though, Yossarian is simply being misinterpreted. What is amazing, at first, is the fairly dismissive reaction Yossarian receives. In a camp where each person has his own madness, Yossarian fits nicely into this atmosphere of madness. Presently, what seems to be a person's eccentricity will change Yossarian and the other men's lives.
Nately's whore will try to kill Yossarian, McWatt's habit of flying a few inches from the surface will result in Kid Sampson's death--in the end, it will be not the seemingly major but hollow decisions that will affect the men, but the unimportant details and a few superficially unimportant incidents that have the most impact. First, Yossarian's “inane” declarations that the cooks are poisoning the food will be justified. Indeed, Corporal Snark is putting cakes of GI soap into the mashed potatoes, and most of the men do not even notice the difference in taste and clamor for more--despite the diarrhea. Second, Yossarian's gorging on what seems to be luxurious food points to an important development in the plot: M&M Enterprises. Finally we keep hearing that Colonel Cathcart has increased the number of missions required to go home, a recurring theme in the novel.
Chapter 3 discusses in greater detail the characters who were only briefly mentioned before, including Orr and Havermeyer. The incidents with which they are introduced become their trademarks. Orr, Yossarian's roommate, is engaged in peculiar activities, such as putting together a faucet with almost invisible pieces, putting apples in his cheeks, and being beaten by a whore. For now, these incidents will remain obscure; only after Orr's disappearance will Yossarian realize what the motive is behind such strange behavior. Whether Orr's madness actually lets him see the light or whether Orr is a brilliant man who can pretend to be mad is never clearly determined.
Two other episodes form the terrible web of events for the book. First, the strange infighting between Generals Peckem and Dreedle is mentioned. Their attempts to outwit each other will result in strange incidents such as the eventual promotion of Lieutenant Scheisskopf. Second, Doc Daneeka's refusal to help Yossarian (and later the other men) to be grounded because of illness or insanity becomes a way for Colonel Cathcart to trap his men into flying an unacceptable number of missions.
Colonel Cargill, General Peckem's colonel, represents certain losers who enter the military ranks. To prove his obtuseness, he orders his men to enjoy themselves at the U.S.O. shows, as if he controls their emotions. His attempts to sound patriotic prove his stupidity. He is so dull that he does not even recognize that his own men make fun of him. Such idiocy makes the reader wonder how he came to be in charge of the enlisted forces.
Havermeyer, the title character, is a brainless man who has been converted into a war machine. Unlike Yossarian, who is sensitive about the possibility of dying and insists upon retaining his independent thinking, Havermeyer cares nothing about his own life or his men and readily accedes to all the demands made by his superiors. Havermeyer is not brainless in the way that Aarfy is, though. He has a cruel, destructive streak. War has become a game in Havermeyer's mind. He takes a disgusting pleasure in shooting field mice with a 0.45. This inhumane, bloody act only demonstrates how war and death can destroy people's sensitivity and caring.
In chapter 4, several important institutions are satirized: the medical establishment, the military bureaucracy, and the officers. Doc Daneeka comes to represent the ineffective doctor whose only interests are improving his financial and personal situation rather than caring for his patients. The doctor himself is a hypochondriac and is too concerned with all his own potential illnesses to care about the diseases of others. He is not only useless as a healthcare provider; he also fails to provide his patients with the emotional empathy and compassion they need. Despite Yossarian's pleas for help, Daneeka ignores him or coldly blows him off with the strange “Catch-22” argument. It seems as if his soul and heart have died.
The military bureaucracy is not only cumbersome but also stifling. It prefers to remain on the safe path and seeks to stop people such as Yossarian who ask disturbing questions, such as the location of Snowden, the man who died on the Avignon mission. Instead, they prefer to keep the men's brains happy and dull by preoccupying them with activities such as skeet-shooting.
The skeet-shooting range symbolizes the place where the men internally rot into the soldier in white, empty shells. As the men learn to tolerate boredom and discomfort, they lose their sense of pleasure and love for life. These characteristics make them apathetic and more willing to fly missions. Eventually, these feelings reach such a point that officers such as General Dreedle and Colonel Cathcart have completely lost their sexual appetites. But men such as Yossarian, who retain their feelings and realize the danger of flying these missions, refuse to give up their lives for worthless causes.
As in the previous chapters, Chapter 5 continues to introduce the characters as well as open up new motifs that will figure in the rest of the book. The use of foreshadowing and episodic narration is still pervasive, but Chapter 5 includes several particularly important episodes that will drive the book and resurface continuously. Perhaps the most critical plot development is Yossarian's seemingly tangential but emotionally intense flashback of Snowden's death. Amazingly, this memory is triggered entirely by Yossarian's entrance into the bomber. While this flashback is not clearly explained, it will reappear and unfold again throughout the book in bits and pieces, particularly in the episodes involving death or destruction. The importance of the memory of Snowden's death cannot be understated. It symbolizes Yossarian's fears of the casualties and the frailty of human life.
Doc Daneeka proposes the notion of a “Catch-22” as a means of justifying the never-ending process of the men having to fly missions. While irrational behavior and peculiar rationalizations have been pervasive, it has not been labeled until now, and, as will be seen later, such craziness is the prevailing philosophy in the war.
Another character from the camp is also introduced in greater detail. Chief White Halfoat provides another opportunity to expose a terrible facet of military life and American culture. While racism was hinted at in the first chapter when the Texan was accused of murdering the soldier in white because he was black, racial discrimination is more directly addressed here. Chief White Halfoat cleverly points out the irony that Native Americans are in a sense the original Americans. Despite his exaggerations, the mood and essential complaints of Chief White Halfoat are not unprecedented. The style in which racial discrimination is described prevents the reader from being offended and lessens the blow with hyperbolic humor. Yossarian claims quite correctly that most of Halfoat's anecdotes are inaccurate or simply made up. Yet this story-telling is funny and even forgivable. Halfoat is not seeking to lecture but is drawing on the ancient oral tradition of his ancestors. As Yossarian remarks, Halfoat is simply retelling what was told him by his family and parents, and he simply does not know the truth.
Chapter 6 touches on a central theme: the war is a nightmare. This point will reappear at the end of the book when Yossarian is running madly about the ruins of Rome, looking for the kid sister. Hungry Joe's nightmares come to symbolize the men's fear of being killed. Just as Joe denies that he has had nightmares when he wakes up, similarly the other men, except for Yossarian, deny that they are humans and admit their fear of being killed in the fighting.
The inability to reject authority and to stand up for themselves is exemplified in both Doc Daneeka and ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen, who create the fallacious Catch-22 argument. Much of Colonel Cathcart's success in having the men fly so many missions comes from the military bureaucracy that lets all kinds of crazy injustices slip through the cracks.
Two incidents that will be explained later are worth noting here. First, Halfoat has managed to make Captain Flume's life into a living nightmare by threatening to kill him. Halfoat takes pleasure in this metamorphosis of Captain Flume from a happy and nice man to a disturbed and agonizing one. This episode presents a particularly nice parallel to Hungry Joe's ongoing nightmares. Second, the random mention of Colonel Cathcart telling Major Major that he is the new squadron commander will have important implications in future chapters, because this too will transform him from a happy, accepted man into a paranoid outcast.
Although Chapter 7 is entitled "McWatt," it recalls the origins of what will eventually become M&M Enterprises. The new mess officer, Milo, is inspired when he discovers that Yossarian's friends are selling fruit on the black market. Like most good businessmen, he recognizes opportunity when he sees it. His initial transaction with McWatt indicates the nature of what sort of business Milo will run. McWatt is utterly unaware that any transaction has ever gone on. Instead, he is left clueless and bewildered. Likewise, Yossarian is given a totally useless product from the exchange, a quarter of a bedsheet. This unequal, manipulative trading will become the standard of Milo's business.
Milo is the star character in this chapter while McWatt represents the first of what will be a series of people Milo dupes and leaves clueless. Milo has a quick mind and is ruthlessly practical. He soon recognizes McWatt is the sort who can be dealt with unevenly, without the victim even realizing what is going on. This attitude differs from that of Yossarian, who generously gives away all of his fruit. These two different kinds of deals will reappear when Milo bombs his own outfit for “business” reasons, but Yossarian reacts with honor.
In sum, Yossarian should not be dismissed as a clueless jerk like McWatt. He is quite capable of deception himself. He confides to Milo that he actually does not eat any of the liver because he wants to remain “sick enough.” When Milo inquires about his condition, Yossarian answers Milo as enigmatically as Milo does when McWatt enters with the torn bedsheet. However, there is a subtle but important distinction between Yossarian's and Milo's deceptions. Yossarian's motive is to protect himself from danger while Milo's is to capitalize on others. As the plot moves forward, Yossarian, for all his flaws, will be developed as a man who respects human life and will, at any cost, protect it, whereas Milo will be willing to pursue the money trail at any cost.