Catch-22 Summary and Analysis of Chapters 36-42

Chapter 36: The Cellar

Chaplain Tappman is upset about the death of twelve men. He prays that Nately is still alive and wonders whether he will ever see his wife. He goes to the tent of Sergeant Whitcomb and sobs when he realizes that Nately is dead. Suddenly, Sergeant Whitcomb and Captain Black order the chaplain to come with them and answer some questions.

They begin to run a harsh inquisition against him and accuse him of unknown crimes. The chaplain is ordered to perform a handwriting test. He is accused of faking his handwriting, since it does not match the signature that Yossarian had written in a fake letter (“Dear Mary ... I long for you tragically, A.T. Tappman, Chaplain, U.S. Army”). The chaplain protests against such stupidity, but the colonel shoves him back down and tells him to shut up. The chaplain admits to being an Anabaptist but laughs when he is asked if he is Washington Irving. He explains the plum tomato episode, but Colonel Cathcart denies his explanation and accuses Tappman of stealing it.

The inquiring major presents various documents containing statements made against him, mostly by Cathcart. They declare that he does not believe atheism is against the law, and they discuss his position on insincere condolence letters. Despite his declarations of innocence, they say he is guilty and order him to leave while they decide on his punishment.

The chaplain flees and meets Colonel Korn. He protests against the mission which killed men who already had finished their required seventy missions. Korn snickers. The chaplain says he will speak to General Dreedle. Korn laughs and says that Dreedle is gone and General Peckem, who likes Cathcart, is in charge. He bids the chaplain an acerbic adios.

Chapter 37: General Scheisskopf

Peckem's triumph over Dreedle is short-lived, though, when he discovers that Colonel Scheisskopf has been promoted to Lieutenant General. Moreover, since all combat operations are now under Special Services, Lieutenant General Scheisskopf is now their new commanding officer. Peckem panics and calls up Wintergreen. To his dismay, Peckem discovers from Wintergreen that his own memorandums led to a vacancy that Scheisskopf filled. Scheisskopf orders Colonel Cargill to tell everyone to march.

Chapter 38: Kid Sister

In protest, Yossarian marches backwards and refuses to fly any more missions. Korn decides to send Yossarian to Rome for a few days to try to soothe him. When Yossarian tells Nately's whore about Nately's death, she tries to kill Yossarian with a potato peeler. she cries loudly and starts to beat him up. Yossarian overcomes her, and for a few minutes, she seems to be passionately attracted to him.

But this is only a trick to try to kill him, and she tries to kill him with a bread knife. To worsen matters, her kid sister begins to copy the whore, and both of them run after him with bread knives. She continues to chase him with a steak knife from the men's room to the airport.

Even when he is back in Pianosa, she has followed him there. This time, Yossarian takes her into a plane and drops her off behind enemy lines. On the way back, Yossarian runs into a pilot who asks him whether he is serious about not flying any more missions. Yossarian replies that he is. Appleby and Havermeyer show up in the night from behind the bushes and talk to him. Nobody, though, addresses him in the daytime except for Captain Black. Yossarian hears that all the whores are gone. When Nately hears that the kid sister of Nately's whore has also been driven away, he runs off to go find her.

Chapter 39: The Eternal City

Yossarian persuades Milo to take him back to Rome. On the way, he thinks about the whore, Clevinger, Orr, and others. He thinks about why Nately's whore wants to kill him. Meanwhile, Milo criticizes Yossarian for “rocking the boat,” and Yossarian acquiesces. When they arrive in Rome, the place is in ruins, and only an old woman remains. She tells Yossarian that everyone has been driven away because of Catch-22. Yossarian asks where the little girl is, and the old woman replies that she is also gone. The woman begs for help from Yossarian, and he hands her some money.

Yossarian begs Milo to help him find the twelve-year-old. At first, Milo misunderstands him, but he then realizes whom Yossarian is looking for. He takes Yossarian to see Luigi, but the officer tells Milo that his troops are too busy breaking up the illicit tobacco trade. Yossarian tries to stop Milo, but it is too late, and Milo is excited about taking over the profitable trade.

Yossarian leaves Milo and wanders about the city. He thinks about the impoverished women and children. As he goes through the city, he witnesses police brutality and various drunks meandering about. Finally, Yossarian sees Michela, the countess's maid, thrown out the window--dead. He runs inside and finds Aarfy, who tells him without any compunction that he raped and killed her. In shock, Yossarian asks why, and Aarfy replies that he never pays for sex and does not need to. Yossarian cries that he will be arrested for murder, but Aarfy feels that he is immune from arrest. The police arrive, and after they arrest Yossarian for not having a pass, they apologize to Aarfy for the intrusion. The police take Yossarian to Colonels Cathcart and Korn, who tell Yossarian that they are finally sending him home.

Chapter 40: Catch-22

Of course, letting Yossarian go home means that there is a Catch-22. Colonel Korn correctly points out that they cannot let him go home on the ground that he has already flown the appropriate number of missions. Otherwise, so many replacements would be needed that an inquiry would result. Yossarian argues that this is their fault, but they retort that it is his fault, because now the men realize that they do not have to fly more missions. They point out that they gave Yossarian a promotion and a medal. Yossarian does not care.

Both colonels say they are prepared to make a deal. Right now, they are unwilling to lose the favor of Generals Scheisskopf and Peckem. They ask Yossarian to fight on their personal behalf. Yossarian asks why they represent the country, but they say that he is either for them or against his country. Yossarian retorts that he does not buy this argument, and Colonel Korn admits that he does not either.

After many insults are passed back and forth, they offer Yossarian the deal. While they cannot let the other men go home, they offer to bribe him to return home without saying a word. They even say that he will be lionized and admired in the press. If he does not give in, though, they will court-martial him. Either way, both men are adamant that Yossarian stop his behavior, because Colonel Cathcart wants to be a general and Colonel Korn wants to be a colonel. Yossarian swiftly and jubilantly agrees. The two colonels quickly get chummy with him and call him “Yo-Yo.” As he leaves, he meets a private in green fatigues. Suddenly, the private turns into Nately's whore, and she knocks him unconscious.

Chapter 41: Snowden

The doctors argue about whether or not to perform surgery on Yossarian. Meanwhile, he refuses to cooperate. He makes obnoxious answers to annoy the doctors. They argue about whether they should operate on his liver. Finally, the doctors just totally knock him out while Colonel Korn stands nearby. Yossarian fluctuates in and out of a subconscious state. He hears them they say they have caught his pal. Yossarian thinks he sees the chaplain, but Aarfy appears.

When he opens his eyes, the chaplain tells Yossarian that he is doing well and tells Yossarian he has been busy praying. The chaplain tells Yossarian that he is very proud of him for saving Colonel Cathcart's and Korn's lives from the Nazi assassin. Yossarian snickers and tells the chaplain the truth about her and the deal. Yossarian confides to the chaplain that he is actually not going to accept the deal and was just pretending. The chaplain asks him what he will do. Yossarian admits that he does not know.

The chaplain says to Yossarian that he has been under surveillance and is under interrogation. Yossarian asks what happened to his last remaining pal, Hungry Joe. The chaplain says that he died in his sleep during a dream. In the middle of the night, the stranger comes back and says that he has Yossarian’s pal. Yossarian tries to grasp his throat but cannot.

Suddenly, Yossarian remembers his pal Snowden. He remembers that when he was trying to treat Snowden, all the syringes of morphine were taken by Milo. Snowden kept complaining that he was cold. Yossarian tried to comfort him, but to no avail, and began to cut through his leg just below the groin. For a brief moment, Yossarian thought there was hope, but Snowden slipped away, becoming only colder and colder. As Yossarian stared at Snowden, he thought of how all the organs were God's plenty. Yossarian covered Snowden with a parachute to try to keep him warm.

Chapter 42: Yossarian

Major Danby tells Yossarian that the deal is working out. Yossarian replies that he is going to renege on the deal. He points out that Yossarian will be court-martialed. Yossarian tells Major Danby that the official report says that he was stabbed by a Nazi assassin--so he can't be court-martialed. Major Danby replies that another official report says he was stabbed because of black market operations, and the officials can choose whichever report they find most appropriate. Yossarian quickly discovers that the military bureaucracy is ready to plot and lie against him just to continue the war effort. Essentially, Major Danby says that an innocent man should be imprisoned for the good of the country.

Yossarian decides to run away. Major Danby points out the difficulties and how foolish it would be. He admits that he only listens to Colonels Cathcart and Korn because they are his superiors, although they disgust him. He urges Yossarian to think of his country just as he does. Yossarian says he is in more danger than the country is. Danby says that the chaplain is upset because he is afraid he might have wrongly influenced Yossarian. Danby then admits that he hates making decisions and likes being a vegetable.

Yossarian still refuses to succumb to the deal, especially after so many of his friends have died. Suddenly he realizes why Orr acted so inanely--he had been planning to flee to Sweden without anyone suspecting it. Immediately Yossarian begins to ask for crab apples and for someone to hit him on the head. Major Danby begs the chaplain to help him, but the chaplain supports Yossarian. Yossarian then declares he will run away. Major Danby gives Yossarian his blessing. Yossarian jumps--just in time to avoid the knife of Nately's whore.


The inquisition of the chaplain is another example of the repressive cruelty of the military bureaucracy. Seemingly innocuous events such as the chaplain's receiving a plum tomato, or meaningless statements such as atheism not being against the law, are maliciously misinterpreted as evidence against him. Here the dangerous logic of wartime prevails over simple reason. A foolish statement about atheists being in foxholes is taken out of context to trap the chaplain about a deeper and more profound issue of whether heaven exists. There is also a resemblance between this trial and that of Clevinger's. The suspect is assumed to be guilty and is threatened with severe punishments. Even worse, the chaplain is not given a chance to provide any evidence to prove his innocence. Here, two basic tenets of American justice are denied: the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the right to respond to allegations with evidence. The irony of this situation is particularly poignant because a crucial point of World War II was to fight for such human rights worldwide. Military justice has propagated the evils it has tried to end.

The immoral logic exposes the cruelty of Colonel Korn and touches upon a disturbing question. Assuming that some must die in a war, does it matter who? To the military bureaucracy, which in this novel only sees human lives as expendable resources, and for whom consumption is necessary to achieve their missions, it does not matter. Likewise, to big business, it does not matter so long as the maximum profit is achieved. But from an individual standpoint, such as that of Yossarian, it does matter who dies. The trouble is that the military has a point: if everyone put themselves and their friends ahead of the collective mission, their side would lose. This crucial point summarizes the impasse of the book and the conflict between Yossarian's claim to his rights as an individual versus society's imposition of the war upon its civilians for the supposedly higher cause.

Although Chapter 37 is quite brief, one critical event does occur: Scheisskopf is promoted to general. After much squabbling, General Peckem succeeds to General Dreedle's position. Ironically, though, his superior is now even worse than Dreedle, Scheisskopf. This incident exposes two flaws with the military bureaucracy in the novel. First, it is not merit-based, as would be expected, but based on unimportant paperwork. Second, after much sophisticated maneuvering by General Peckem to displace General Dreedle, Lieutenant Scheisskopf triumphs without even the least effort. The new general is not up for any bureaucratic interests (such as delegating responsibilities or squabbling) but cares about the parades.

Chapter 38 is dominated by Nately's whore, who madly chases Yossarian to kill him. Yossarian is torn between two desires. He does not want to be killed, but he feels a sexual urge that prevents him from leaving her when he can safely flee. This desire is so strong that the whore even offers to sleep with the other man if they kill let her kill Yossarian. At last, Yossarian's paranoia that everyone is trying to kill him appears justified again.

For the rest of the chapter, Yossarian searches for his new identity. Yossarian and most or all of the men possess a curious split personality. In the daytime, they appear to conform to their superiors, but at the nighttime, they become very different creatures. Everyone is secretly a Yossarian inside but lacks the courage to express it. Underneath the facades of absurd behavior and bravado, the only critical difference between Yossarian and the men is that Yossarian has the courage to express his resistance to his superiors.

The side of himself that Yossarian recovers is to aid others in need, although his life is at risk. His determination and humane concern to help the kid sister provide a more complete picture of Yossarian. He had seemed self-centered in previous apathetic statements to the effect that he did not care if others died as long as he lived, but his humanity shows itself once again.

The world in Chapter 39 is a fallen paradise. The beautiful city in which the officers enjoyed themselves--the apartments with lots of beautiful women--it all has become a hell overrun by the military police. The streets are deserted except for random insane people. The war has taken away most of the men, and many of the women have turned to prostitution and are now being driven away.

For a brief moment, Milo's recovery seems possible. He has given up the materialistic goal of his syndicate and is sacrificing himself for Yossarian's greater cause to save an innocent girl. Unfortunately, reality catches up with Milo too quickly. Unwittingly, the policeman Luigi provides Milo with another illegal idea for his business. Milo is unable to change himself and his ways. As for many businessmen, pragmatism and money, rather than ideals and human needs, touch closer to his heart.

Also in this chapter, a new, disturbing dimension of Aarfy is seen in his rape and murder of an innocent, poor Italian servant girl. This event exposes his apathy and cruelty. Aarfy suffers from twisted, sickening desires, in this case the pride of having the pleasure of a woman without having to pay for it, which he is willing to make happen without regard for human life. While he has not been as cold-hearted as Colonel Cathcart or Colonel Korn, the war has desensitized him so much against the importance of human life that to him, a whore’s life is an object of convenience to be disposed of or used at his whim.

The suspense used throughout the book is especially evident in Chapter 40. In this chapter, Cathcart and Korn appear to have a detailed strategy. At first, they try to bully Yossarian into flying more missions. When this fails, they try to persuade him to fight, asking him to be a good patriot and to fight on their behalf. Yossarian is too smart to fall for this, and he even has Colonel Korn admit that he does not buy his own argument. Finally, Cathcart and Korn offer to send him home under the agreement that he likes them. Much to the reader's surprise, Yossarian agrees. At the end of the chapter, though, two twists occur. First, Yossarian breaks out laughing. Second, before the laugh can be explained in greater detail, Nately's whore knifes him.

The sudden personality transformations of Cathcart and Korn also bring up the question of their honesty. At the beginning of the chapter, they accuse Yossarian of preventing them from fulfilling their ambitions and wish he were dead. By the end of the chapter, they call him “Yo-Yo.” It is fair to genuinely wonder whether or not they will fulfill their end of the deal or if this is another cruel trap that they have set up. As it will turn out, these colonels will use this deal against Yossarian to trap him in a corner: either yield to their interpretation of Yossarian's departure or face a court-martial. These abrupt reversals foreshadow the sudden decisions that must be made by Yossarian in the final chapter.

The scene with Yossarian and the doctors presents a powerful contrast to Yossarian's attempts to save Snowden. The doctors treat Yossarian with contempt and hatred and even wish him dead. One of them even sees Yossarian as a toy to play with and wants to cut him up for fun. In contrast, Yossarian treats Snowden with compassion and empathy. He tries to comfort Snowden, who constantly complains that he is cold, and covers him up. Yossarian finds himself in the terrible situation of having to amputate Snowden's leg. Later, when the mysterious figure comes to him and says, “We have your pal,” the meaning is symbolic. Yossarian has in an important sense become Snowden. While his life is not as endangered as Snowden's was, his identity is at stake with an urgency like Snowden's physical life was.

In fact, Snowden comes to represent soldiers whose physical identities have been destroyed. As Yossarian watches Snowden's guts spill out, Snowden becomes the soldier in white, whose internal organs have been dumped out and whose outer body has been cut apart and defiled so that nothing remains of him.

Finally, the conversation between Yossarian and the chaplain touches upon a critical moral issue: at what cost should a person give of himself for justice? In other words, where is the line between serving practicality and serving ideals? Yossarian can save his life by agreeing to the deal. But in doing so, the argument that the continual increase of missions is unjust will be defeated. This issue becomes the major question in the final chapter.

The last chapter of Catch-22 succinctly explains what has been driving the often irrational, if not cruel, behavior of everyone from the officers to the doctors and the enlisted men. Innocent men can be punished, if that is necessary to keep the war effort going. Major Danby finally elucidates these developments to Yossarian, who has pretty much understood the politics and choices involved. The difference between Major Danby and Yossarian is that the former is willing to compromise on the surface without sacrificing his ideals, but Yossarian is not so willing. At this critical juncture, Yossarian must decide whether or not he wishes to follow Danby's method of compromise and conceal his true self or whether he wishes to openly express himself and take the consequences.

In the process of their conversation, Major Danby admits that he would just like to be a vegetable. In a sense, Major Danby serves as yet another foil to Yossarian: the civilian who seeks stability and peace and does not wish to do anything significant. Danby is not interested in expressing himself but knows what he must do--run away. When Yossarian realizes that he has no other choice and decides to actively face the consequence of becoming a deserter, he is rejecting the choice to be a vegetable and thus re-establishes his identity as a human individual. Although he may indeed be caught and punished by the military bureaucracy, the individual has triumphed against the institution because he is no longer afraid of the punishment that the institution uses as a deterrent against those who resist.