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Definition: Catch-22 from Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable

A 'no-win' situation: whichever alternative you choose, you will lose or be in trouble. Catch-22 is the title of Joseph Heller's novel, published in 1961. The story centres on Captain Yossarian of the 256th United States (Army) bombing squadron in the Second World War, whose main aim is to avoid being killed.

 There was only one catch and that was Catch-22,
 which specified that a concern for one's own safety in
 the face of dangers that were real and immediate was
 the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and
 could be grounded. All he had to do was to ask; and as
 soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would
 have to fly more missions.
ch v

Summary Article: Catch-22
from American Literature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations

A novel by Joseph Heller (1961)

FILM: Catch-22 (Paramount 1970). Adaptation by Buck Henry. Director: Mike Nichols. Cast: Alan Arkin (Yossarian), Martin Balsam (Col. Cathcart), Jack Gilford (Doc), Bob Balaban (Orr), Orson Welles, Richard Benjamin, Buck Henry, Paula Prentiss, Bob Newhart, Norman Fell, Charles Grodin, Art Garfunkle, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight, Anthony Perkins, Austin Pendleton.

TV: Catch-22 (ABC-TV 1973). Adaptation by Hal Dresner. Director: Richard Quine. Cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Yossarian), Dana Elcar (Col. Cathcart), Stewart Moss, Andy Jarrell, Frank Welker, Susanne Zenor.

Joseph Heller's experience of flying bombing missions during World War II inspired Catch-22, one of the most admired novels of the post-war years and one of America's most potent anti-war books. Captain Yossarian is a bombardier on an Mediterranean island in 1943 who starts to break down under the pressures of war. When he tries to be relieved from duty on the grounds of insanity, he is stopped by the military's “Catch-22.” This unwritten regulation states that anyone who wants to avoid combat cannot be insane, and anyone who wants to fight must be insane but is fit to fight. Similar military double talk plagues Yossarian and several other characters except for Yossarian's friend Orr who outwits the Catch-22 and eventually escapes to Sweden. Yossarian vows at the end of the book to do the same. The novel is written from several points of view, skips back and forth through time, and moves from cartoonish farce to horrifying reality involving rape and death. The many characters are vivid and memorable though most of them appear only briefly in the narrative. The highly satirical novel was not only a bestseller but it coined the expression Catch-22 which has come to mean any no-win situation. Buck Henry's screenplay for the 1970 movie version of Catch-22 took episodes from the novel and fashioned them into a conventional, chronological narrative, though both the outlandish humor and ghastly violence was retained. Alan Arkin is properly confused and frustrated as Yossarian and the supporting cast is an impressive series of tragi-comic performances. Fans of the book missed the complex structure and varying points of view of Heller's original but for the most part the long and uneven movie is an ambitious adaptation of a very tricky novel. Only three years later, a television version of Catch-22 was broadcast with Richard Dreyfuss as Yossarian. His performance was so overblown that one questioned the character's sanity, thereby negating the whole point of the book. The TV-movie was little seen and quickly forgotten.

© 2012 McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

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