Date of Award

Spring 1971

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




When Joseph Heller 's Catch-22 appeared in 1961, it met with extreme reactions from reviewers. Those who attacked the novel did so with fervor. An anonymous reviewer in Daedalus summed up many unfavorable criticisms of the book by charging that Catch-22 wa s not "written"; that it had no story or real characters; that it was repetitive and formless; finally, that it was an example of the most "destructive and immoral" kind of literature--a novel which spat "in-discrimimitely at business and the professions, at respectability, at ideals, at all visible tokens of superiority." Favorable reviews focused mainly on the brilliance of Heller 's humor. Three reviewers, however, went beyond general praise to recognize Heller for his formal achievement and his serious intentions. Robert Brustein commented on both the convincing internal logic and the "new morality" embodied in Catch-22. While commenting on the internal consistency of the novel, Julian Mitchell classified Catch-22 as one of the finest examples of a new genre, "the anguished farce." Nelson Algren praised the truthfulness of what he called "the strongest repudiation of our civilization, in fiction, to come out of World War II."

Reason and morality are vitally connected issues in the novel, and the first chapter of this essay will examine that connection. Heller manipulates reason in the construction of scenes, the basic units of structure in his episodic plot. Absurdity is symbolized in the "reasoning" employed by the army-bureaucrats in scene after scene. This absurdity becomes immoral as it is perpetuated by human action, victimizing and ultimately destroying most of the rational characters in Catch-22. The intention of the first chapter is to define how the concern with reason (or the lack of it) which Heller builds technically into his book functions to define a moral perspective.

The Second and third chapters will discuss the artistic pattern of the novel as a whole. The focus of the second chapter will be Heller 's use of time as a structural device. In the third chapter, an analysis of the structure of Catch-22 will emphasize a pattern of guilt and redemption which suggests that Heller 's concern is not simply moral, but religious.