Catch-22 Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-21

Chapter 15: Piltchard and Wren

Captains Piltchard and Wren are two quiet, nice men who are in charge of the squadron operations. Piltchard gently asks his men not to turn back for unimportant reasons like having a defective intercom. To show that they do not resent Yossarian, they assign him to lead the first formation with McWatt and order them to bomb the ammunition dumps in Bologna. As commanded, Yossarian goes directly for the target like Havermeyer and suddenly discovers that he is surrounded by flak. As he cries inside, the bombs are dropped. He screams at McWatt to have the plane climb up as quickly as possible. In the din and chaos, Yossarian orders Aarfy out of the nose and suddenly realizes that the other planes in their formation are gone. As Yossarian panics, Aarfy good-humoredly babbles that he cannot hear Yossarian and does not even respond to Yossarian’s punching.

Suddenly, Yossarian realizes that Orr is no longer there. He curses Aarfy furiously and returns to the briefing room. After much anxious waiting, Orr arrives with one broken engine. He crash-lands, as usual, and Yossarian breathes a sigh of relief. Immediately after this, though, he takes emergency leave and heads off to Rome to find Luciana.

Chapter 16: Luciana

Yossarian finds Luciana alone. She convinces him to dance with her and to pay for her dinner, although she claims she will not sleep with him. Yossarian protests but gives in. Eventually, she agrees to let him sleep with her, but not this evening, since she must return home. Luciana abruptly leaves him behind, and Yossarian is left with the yearning that she would have been the ideal woman to fulfill his sexual fantasies. Her interest in Yossarian is minimal, but she is infatuated with Aarfy, excited about Hungry Joe, and obsessed with fornication.

When Yossarian arrives at Luciana's place, he finds that she is gone and envies Aarfy. Aarfy is worshipped by two beautiful aristocratic women, mother and daughter, who simply ignore Yossarian. It turns out, though, that Aarfy is at his apartment rather than with Luciana. Apparently, Aarfy refused to sleep with her because he considers her to be a “nice girl.” Instead, he persuaded her to be “good” and not sleep around. Consequently, Yossarian loses his temper and Hungry Joe starts to beat up Aarfy.

Yossarian goes to sleep, and when he wakes up, Luciana appears. They kid around about marriage and are passionately kissing when Hungry Joe tries to break in and take pictures of them. Yossarian, in a panic, orders Luciana to dress and sneaks her out. On the way, they meet Nately, who is grieved because he no longer has enough money to see his beloved whore.

The irony is that despite Nately's infatuation, his whore finds Nately uninteresting and is upset about his constant jealousy. In fact, Captain Black sleeps with her whenever possible just to annoy Nately. Before Luciana leaves, she gives Yossarian her name and address. After she leaves, Yossarian tears it up but regrets it immediately. By this time, though, all of the pieces have been blown away by the wind. The next day, he searches for her but to no avail. He begins to have flashbacks about Snowden. After sleeping with an anonymous whore, he meets Hungry Joe, who announces that Colonel Cathcart has raised the number of missions to forty--and Yossarian has only thirty-two.

Chapter 17: The Soldier in White

Yossarian runs to the hospital, determined never to fly another mission. He can safely hide in the hospital because of his liver condition but is well enough not to catch pneumonia or malaria. He likes the hospital much better than the bomb fields. The people are much healthier here than on the battlefield, and the death rate is much lower. Death behaves here, and the people die peacefully rather than being arbitrarily blown up. The only problems are the management, which is troublesome, and the company, which is not always the best quality.

One day, a soldier encased in gauze arrives. He has a thermometer as an adornment. Thinking back, Yossarian begins to wonder whether Nurse Cramer, rather than the Texan, is guilty of the soldier's death. Although the Texan chats with him very cheerfully, the soldier remains as quiet as ever.

Nurses Duckett and Cramer diligently clean him and his jars very often. Yossarian is infuriated at Nurse Cramer for her sympathy to the soldier. They argue vehemently about how anyone could know who is in there, and Dunbar even suggests it is empty. The nurses send off the soldiers and switch the soldier's jars.

The fighter captain, Dunbar, the warrant officer with malaria, and Yossarian each bemoan their ill fates. Yossarian claims he is the worst off because everyone is trying to kill him. He even goes so far as to list in his mind all the people and diseases that might kill him. Hungry Joe is even more obsessed than Yossarian; he makes an alphabetical list of them and constantly consults Doc Daneeka. In turn, Daneeka asks Yossarian for help.

Yossarian knows so much about fatal disease that he begins to wonder whether he can recognize the symptoms of his own fatal illness and if the doctors in the hospital can save him. Daneeka refuses to sympathize with Yossarian and to give orders for Yossarian to be grounded. At first, he denies that he even has the power to do this, but when Yossarian says that Major Major confessed this in a ditch to him, Daneeka points out the futility of performing his action--Catch-22.

Daneeka then resumes his pathetic posturing and tells Yossarian to at least finish five missions first before asking for help. As Yossarian leaves, he tells the sick Daneeka that he has Ewing's tumor and continues to worry when he will fly his final, fatal mission.

Chapter 18: The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice

Yossarian tries to avoid the war by claiming he has abdominal problems. An arrogant English intern informs him that this condition can be easily cured; on the other hand, if Yossarian has a liver condition, he can fool the doctors for weeks, since the liver is a great mystery. Despite Yossarian’s claim that he has liver pain, the other doctors say he is well and must return to the front.

Fortunately, Yossarian is saved when a soldier creates havoc by declaring he sees everything twice. At last, after much squabbling, the doctors diagnose him with meningitis, although they admit they really do not know what is wrong with him. At the hospital, Yossarian has the most rational, pleasant Thanksgiving dinner he has ever had. (Later, Yossarian remembers this Thanksgiving, when the following year he spends it with the eccentric Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife. They bicker about the pain in life and about why God created pain. Yossarian becomes short-tempered and begins to blaspheme against God, and the wife beats him in anger.)

After the fourteen-day quarantine, just as Yossarian is being sent home, he also begins to yell that he too sees everything twice. The same pandemonium ensues, and Yossarian cleverly begins to copy the other man until the latter dies. At that point, Yossarian says he can see everything once, whether it be one finger or ten. The doctors are relieved that Yossarian is better, although they have not really done anything.

The relatives of the dead man, Giuseppe, have arrived to see their dying child. He orders Yossarian to pretend to be Giuseppe to pacify the grieving family. When Yossarian protests against being an impostor, the doctor threatens to expose Yossarian for pretending to have a liver condition. The relatives come in, impoverished and anguished. They are surprised to discover that their son is named Yossarian but depart with hope that he will end up well in heaven.

Chapter 19: Colonel Cathcart

Colonel Cathcart is a paradoxical man whose goal in life is to become a general. He measures his progress relative to others and consequently has mixed feelings about being a colonel at age 36. He does not trust anyone but sees Colonel Korn as his closest ally. Nevertheless, he bemoans the fact that someone as intelligent as himself should have to depend on a state university graduate for assistance.

Eventually, Colonel Cathcart becomes so desperate to be a general that he decides to utilize religious practices to fulfill his goal. He invites the chaplain to his offices and hands him a copy of The Saturday Evening Post showing an American squadron praying before each mission. The chaplain is relieved that Colonel Cathcart is not going to yell at him again.

The colonel asks the chaplain if he thinks, as shown in the photo, whether praying before each mission will help the squadron and himself. The chaplain says they might, and the Colonel imagines that he too might appear in The Post. He offers the chaplain a red plum tomato but is turned down. The Colonel returns to the subject of prayers and says they will start praying this afternoon. But he warns the chaplain against any really hardcore preaching--or passages involving religion. Finally, Cathcart asks for a prayer for a tighter bomb pattern to please General Peckem.

An argument arises when the chaplain asks for the atheists to be excused and to include the enlisted men with the officers. Colonel Cathcart becomes infuriated and begins to think that the chaplain is plotting against him and about the treachery of enlisted men. At last, when the chaplain points out the exclusion of the enlisted men might result in a looser bomb formation, the colonel gives up. Before he leaves, the chaplain mentions to Cathcart the wrongful increase of the number of missions to sixty--and Yossarian's bad health condition.

Chapter 20: Corporal Whitcomb

Doc Daneeka becomes extremely upset and runs outside rather than for cover. As he tends the men, Yossarian comes out with the dead bodies of Snowden and the young tail gunner. Snowden is dying. Daneeka finds Yossarian naked, wraps him up, and gives him shots and pills to put him to sleep. When Yossarian wakes up, he refuses to wear his uniform and walks around naked. Finally Yossarian climbs a tree, and Milo follows him. At the top, Milo offers Yossarian chocolate-covered Egyptian cotton. Yossarian says it is disgusting, but Milo decides he will feed it to the other men anyway.

The two sit up in the tree and talk. Yossarian tells him they are burying Snowden, who was killed at Avignon, and that Milo is responsible for the tail gunner's death. Milo argues that it is not his fault that the opportunity to corner the Egyptian cotton market came up and bemoans his poor investment. Meanwhile, they watch Snowden's burial. Milo tries again to make Milo eat the cotton. Yossarian becomes upset and suggests that Milo bribe the government to buy the cotton. Milo hesitates at first but convinces himself it is for the good of America. He leaves and asks the still naked Yossarian to put on his uniform.

Chapter 21: General Dreedle

Colonel Cathcart becomes upset at just seeing the name Yossarian. He begins to think it reminds him of communists and fascists, how un-American it is. His mind digresses about the illicit trade of plum tomatoes and his home in the hills. Eventually, though, it returns to Yossarian and makes a list of all the incidents in which the name “Yossarian” appears. Cathcart's main ambition is to be promoted to general, and he wonders whether he has made the required number of missions high enough to attract attention. His chances of promotion are extremely slim, because Wintergreen destroys any correspondence of his that would give Cathcart a chance to be promoted.

General Dreedle, the wing commander, is a mean, torturous man. He hates his son-in-law, Colonel Moodus, because he hates marriages. General Dreedle specifically hires a beautiful nurse just to torment Colonel Moodus, who has not had sex since the war began. He takes pride in his unpretentious style and believes that all young men should listen to his superiors. He also hates General Peckem. When he awards Yossarian the Distinguished Flying Cross, he demands to know why Yossarian is naked. Colonel Cathcart becomes upset, but General Dreedle declares that he approves of it simply because General Peckem wants everyone to wear their uniforms--so they look good when they are killed. As he leaves with his nurse, the soldiers catch sight of her. Yossarian and Dunbar began to ooh, and Nately rebukes them. Finally, General Dreedle tells them to shut up, but Major Danby is too busy synchronizing the watches. Infuriated, General Dreedle orders Major Danby to be shot, but Colonel Moodus meekly tells him he does not have this power. Colonel Korn then orders the men to synchronize the watches; he feels in the limelight. Much to his shock, though, Colonel Cathcart tells him that General Dreedle thinks he is an idiot.


As elsewhere in the book, these chapters feature numerous digressions and fragments of plot, taken apart and put back together. The digression of the plot in mood and content is particularly noticeable in Chapter 15. It begins with the mellow, cheerful speech made by Piltchard and Wren, then reaches an abrupt, horrifying climax with Yossarian and his crew in the cockpit. Then, without warning, the drama completely collapses when the men return safely and silly Orr safely putts back into the field.

The pair featured in the this chapter, Piltchard and Wren, represent do-gooders who obediently and blissfully follow the institution's orders. They never question the commands of the institution, and their constant association with each other throughout the book indicates their lack of individuality, as compared with the very independent-thinking Yossarian. Aarfy figures prominently as the dope who fails to recognize the danger his life is in, and he is just as oblivious as Piltchard and Wren. His lack of sensitivity is demonstrated when Yossarian punches him and he does not respond.

Chapter 15 starts with the satirical tone typically used throughout the book. But the extensive scene of Yossarian flying in combat dramatically alters its viewpoint from the macroscopic view to the microscopic one of what exactly is going on in Yossarian's mind. For once the reader fully appreciates that Yossarian's arguments with Clevinger--that everyone is trying to kill him--are in earnest and not just Yossarian’s way of getting out of the war.

In Chapter 16, Yossarian engages in a search for pleasure, which is figured in Luciana. She is a curious person who lives on the periphery of temptation and fulfillment. She talks dirty with various men but not with Yossarian, whom she persuades to dance with her and buy her dinner. At last, when Yossarian thinks that the game is up and has won her over, she unexpectedly departs. The evening continues to be filled with twists. Once again, what appear to be mere eccentricities turn out to affect the plot in crucial ways. First, Aarfy refuses to sleep with “nice girls” and will not pay for sex. His consequent dissuasion of Luciana from sleeping around creates much suspense, for the reader wonders whether she will return to Yossarian or not. When she does, another strange habit--this time Hungry Joe's insane desire to photograph naked women having sex--interferes with what should be a normal evening of lovemaking. This strange parade of seemingly unimportant details becoming turning points in the plot will grow even more important as a theme as the book progresses.

The strange logic of Catch-22 pervades Yossarian's and Luciana's frivolous idea about getting married--a mix of infatuation and absurd rationalization. Luciana insists that Yossarian is crazy to want to marry her, and he laughs back that she is crazy not to marry him. Later, his mad, futile search parallels his claustrophobia in the plane and fear of death when flying his missions. Just as Yossarian punches Aarfy in the plane out of confusion and frustration, Yossarian likewise madly throws himself onto the maid in lime-colored panties. This desperation for pleasure, no matter who the woman may be, points to Yossarian's need for enjoyment and sensation in these times of cruelty and destruction.

Just as Luciana stands for the unattainable woman who leaves Yossarian behind, almost as if she were just a dream, the maid provides a source of pleasure for the entire squadron, for she will sleep with anyone. Ironically, though, just as she is the symbol of sensuality, she is also tied to death. Yossarian notices Snowden's bag just outside the door; Snowden had also seen her before his death. Later, in a reverse situation, Aarfy rapes and kills the maid, just because he does not want to pay for sex. This future incident contrasts sharply with Aarfy's pressure on Luciana not to sleep around—he sees two kinds of women, the nice ones and the whores.

The hospital could be a haven away from the dangers and senselessness of the war, yet this appearance of rationality turns out to be only a façade. The nurses waste their time diligently attending to the soldier in white, who turns out to be empty. Daneeka’s mission is not to save lives but to save himself from being sent to the Pacific. The lack of emotional support for the men and the feeling that they are being protected from death create a delusional obsession with disease and illness in Yossarian and Hungry Joe. What starts off as a natural concern for one's life and health turns out into a crazed mission to protect oneself from death. The war has suddenly made them realize how fragile life is and how close people always are to the brink of death. The inability to accept that sickness and death from disease is a natural process of life results in people’s insane behavior. Doctors are not immune from such fears either, for Daneeka is very susceptible to Yossarian's sarcastic suggestion that he has Ewing's tumor. Ironically, these men are quite physically healthy but have made themselves mentally sick through their paranoid fears.

The question of justice comes up repeatedly in Chapter 17. As the men in the hospital talk about illness, they come to realize that disease and death randomly choose their victims, without any regard for moral justice. The same lack of fair treatment arises when Yossarian approaches Doc Daneeka and demands to be grounded. Daneeka unjustly prefers to save himself rather than fulfill the traditional role of a doctor devoted to the lives of wounded men.

The soldier in white is a curious character in the plot. Having been briefly alluded to in Chapter One, he is explained somewhat more clearly in this chapter. It is still unclear what exactly his role is. For the first time, the idea that no one is inside the shell--the case is just a deception--comes up and makes sense. Yossarian's suggestion that it could be Mudd, the dead man inside his tent, points to a terrible possibility. Perhaps this man all bandaged up is simply a rendition of a mummy. Another hypothesis is that the soldier in white is the fate of whichever soldier is so unfortunate to get caught in the middle of all the fire. As the artillery captain appropriately points out, this figure is simply a “middleman” and should just be eliminated. Essentially, the soldier in white comes to represent the former civilian who is tossed into the war and, in the process, is deprived of his spirit and identity and transformed into a hollow, dead soldier.

In Chapter 18, the medical institution becomes the primary target of the satire. The doctors are unable to diagnose the strange disease of Giuseppe. Despite this, they decide to declare a diagnosis anyway. This ignorance and absurd panic that result from this unknown disease only prove that the doctors' role is superficial and useless. The doctors' inability to give any worthwhile treatment is actually quite fortunate because most of the men are feigning illness and do not need assistance anyway.

Moreover, the doctors' medical ignorance and unjustified arrogance assist Yossarian as he devises plans to remain in the hospital. The English doctor is the one who tells Yossarian that a liver condition is incurable. Similarly, when Yossarian decides to copy the man who feigns a strange illness, the doctors are so afraid of having him die and being exposed that they keep him in the ward. But when one of the doctors threatens to expose Yossarian's liver condition as fake, he decides to take part in the doctor's scheme.

The scene with Giuseppe's family only proves the lack of scruples and consideration of the doctors. Rather than breaking the truth to them, he takes pleasure in deceiving the family and receiving credit. The grief of the family is somewhat lightened with the humorous confusion of their son's own name. Instead of realizing that they have been deceived, the family members simply make sincere but inapplicable comments. It is especially ironic to be confused with a religious Italian because Yossarian is an Assyrian who does not believe in God.

The Saturday Evening Post incident mocks the use of religion during war. Colonel Cathcart points out that preaching is fairly useless in these times of mass destruction, and what are necessary are economical, practical prayers. In times of war, religion does not provide ideals but instead, for the ever-opportunistic Colonel Cathcart, a chance to gain publicity and fame. Much to his shock, he discovers from those who are devout, such as the chaplain, that religion is not a means which can be bent to his convenience. But the chaplain also seems to be swayed by ambition rather than spirituality alone.

While Colonel Cathcart's offering of a plum tomato to the chaplain seems fairly unimportant at this moment, this episode will play a crucial role when Colonel Cathcart later accuses the chaplain of stealing a plum tomato. This petty occurrence will be twisted into a melodramatic theft when the officers want to victimize the chaplain. Likewise, the other slight comment that the chaplain makes about atheism not being against the law will also be turned against him.

Colonel Cathcart forms a paradoxical image of an officer who has no values or independent judgment and can only evaluate himself based on others. He has a very limited view of life, priding himself on foolish, petty things. Like Yossarian, he suffers from paranoia, but instead of being afraid of being killed, he fears people endangering his position and his attempts to be promoted. He lacks any kindness or compassion as he mercilessly increases the number of required missions in a mad effort to become a general. Later, the colonel's distortion of the minor episodes of the plum tomato and atheism will reveal that he is also a destructive, cruel man who is trying to avenge the chaplain's indirect refusal to assist his mission to gain more power.

Finally, Colonel Cathcart and the chaplain serve as foils to each other. The chaplain is the one who expresses tolerance for everyone despite his religious beliefs or military background. The Colonel's conception of religion is based on the military bureaucracy. He sees the enlisted men as almost separate species who need to be kept separate from the officers. This exclusivity and lack of respect is diametrically opposite to the egalitarian and accommodating attitude of the chaplain.

Chapter 20 introduces material which will figure in the later trial of the chaplain. Seemingly unimportant episodes, such as the plum tomato episode, the Washington Irving signature on the letters, and Major Major's correspondence, will become critical when the chaplain is grilled by Colonels Cathcart and Korn. The other important element here is the character of Corporal Whitcomb, another foil to the chaplain. Corporal Whitcomb, like the officers, seeks to win the good graces of his superiors by falsifying evidence against his hated superior, the chaplain. Whereas the chaplain quietly pities Corporal Whitcomb, Corporal Whitcomb openly usurps the chaplain's power and seeks to earn the gratitude of his superiors to receive promotions.

The description of the chaplain's home uncannily resembles Eden with its flowers, beauty, and serenity. Like Eve and the Serpent, the chaplain fails to recognize the dangers of the diabolical Corporal Whitcomb, or at least is ineffective in fighting him off. Whitcomb tells the chaplain of all the wrongful charges against the latter but then denies having any hand in it and even claims that he is the chaplain's best friend. Such hypocritical behavior confuses the chaplain. Gradually, Whitcomb plants doubts in the innocent chaplain about God and his religion. Eventually the chaplain will discover a new kind of sin and will enjoy it without realizing the evil cause of the whole process.

Chapter 21 focuses upon two major themes: the occasional overzealousness of the pro-American spirit, and the eccentricity and cruelty of the military bureaucracy. Colonel Cathcart's initial, angry reaction at seeing Yossarian's name reflects the prevalent mood among other officers. Cathcart lets himself think that because Yossarian has a foreign-sounding name, he could be a traitor. Like Captain Black, Colonel Cathcart has no justification for such a belief. This prejudice, along with his paranoia and his pro-Americanism, drives injustices such as the anti-communist witch hunts after World War II. The agenda of political vindication, such as that of Colonel Cathcart, can trump the truth. His paranoia also differs greatly from that of Yossarian's or even Major Major's. Cathcart's fears are not based on any actual events. While Yossarian may be taking an extreme view of the war when he declares that everyone is trying to kill him, one can understand how the human instinct to survive has overwhelmed him.

Cathcart, though, suffers from an egotistical need to become a general. He cannot trust anyone above him because those who are more successful than he is are depriving him of his status. Anyone who is equal to him is his competitor, and anyone below him is trying to subvert him. His inability to trust anyone results in a strange mania in which he seeks to attract attention by increasing the number of missions to an absurd amount. Cathcart is not the only one suffering from such an egotistical mania. Colonel Korn's moment of self-importance, when performing the insignificant activity of synchronizing the watches, parallels Cathcart arrogant notion that he should increase the number of missions to a thousand.

Finally, the title character, General Dreedle, represents the boorishness and cruel, autocratic nature of much of the military in the novel. He ignores Yossarian's utterly absurd behavior in receiving his medal naked, yet Dreedle arbitrarily orders Major Danby to be put to death immediately while he is performing the routine of synchronizing the watches. The timid Colonel Moodus is one of the few people who have the audacity to speak up. Much to his shock, General Dreedle realizes that he is not the dictator he imagined himself to be. Dreedle, like the dictators the Allies are fighting, feels the all-too-human desire to gain and use power arbitrarily over others.