“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s 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 ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.
– Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Catch-22 is one of my favorite novels. If I had to think about it, it might even be my number one favorite of all time.
Few writers are able to say they coined a phrase. Joseph Heller did. “Catch-22” has become shorthand for “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
As in the WWII pilots in this novel found out – if you’re sane, you have to fly. Yet, to not want to fly a dangerous mission…in an airplane…high above the Earth…being shot at by the enemy….and you could easily be shot out of the sky and die at any second….to NOT want to fly such a mission is the sanest thing you could ever do. Alas, if you’re sane, you’re cleared for take off. But if you’re insane, well, of course insane people who actually want to be in dangerous combat aren’t going to be turned down.
Heller was able to weave humor with serious topics and create a novel that was both light hearted and rough at the same time.