Most of what we really say has no meaning. This concept is perfectly supported in Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. Almost every character and scene in the novel contain dialogues where the people speak aimlessly and have no explanation for why they are talking. Colonel Cargill addresses his men by saying, Youre American officers. The officers of no other army in the world can make that statement. Think about it. Even though the remark is true, it has no meaning.
These type of random statements and dialogues occur throughout the whole book. Another situation when two people speak without making any sense is when Clevinger is being questioned. “I didn’t say you couldn’t punish me, said Clevinger.” “When?” asked the colonel. “When what, sir? Now you’re asking me questions again.” “I am sorry, sir. I’m afraid I don’t understand your question.”
Later in the interrogation, the colonel is so twisted in his conversation that he no longer wants to know when Clevinger said that he could not be punished. He now wants to know when Clevinger did not say that he could not be punished. Clevinger quickly rebuts and states, “I always didnt say you couldnt punish me, sir.”
Finally, the colonel is satisfied with that answer even though Clevingers statement did not answer the question and has no meaning. Major Major often spoke with a lack of meaning. He simply did not make sense. For instance, he told Sergeant Towser, his assistant, “From now on, I don’t want anyone to come in to see me while I’m here.” According to this statement, when would anyone be able to see him if they could only go to his office when Major Major was out?
When Appleby once went to see Major Major, he started to talk to Sergeant Towser. “About how long will I have to wait before I can go in to see the major?” Just until he goes to lunch, Sergeant Towser replied. “Then you can go right in. But he wont be there then.” “Will he?” “No, sir. Major Major wont be back in his office until after lunch.” The famous catch 22, stated that one can only be grounded from flying if he/she is crazy. However, if one asks to be grounded, he/she is no longer considered to be crazy and the soldier would have to fly more missions.
Yossarian always fell into this trap. He wants to be grounded but he couldn’t be considered insane because he keeps on asking to be grounded. Dr. Stubbs comments about Yossarians catch 22. He says, “That crazy bastard may be the only sane one left.” This obviously represents a complete contradiction. When Orr explains why he walks around as a kid with crab apples in his cheeks, he too speaks with no meaning. His explanation was, “because they’ve got a better shape than horse chestnuts.” But, why put anything in your cheeks? This conversation is so ambiguous and had such little meaning that the answer to why? is never explained to Yossarian.
For no reason, Yossarian and Orr convince Appleby that he has flies in his eyes. Appleby becomes extremely worried and asks Havermeyer if he truly has flies in his eyes. Havermeyer confirms that he does not. A few minutes later, Appleby says to Havermeyer, “You’ve got peanut brittle crumbs on your face.” Havermeyer quickly responds by saying, “I’d rather have peanut brittle crumbs on my face than flies in my eyes.” Havermeyer contradicts himself because he first says that Applyby has nothing in his eyes and then moments later abruptly says that he has flies in his eyes.
Another example of when the characters in the novel talk and act without making any sense is when Captain Black started the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade. Captain Black encouraged the soldiers to sign this optional oath to show that they were not communists. However, he says to Milo, “The men don’t have to sign…….if they dont want to. But we need you to starve them to death if they don’t.”
Obviously, this statement is a contradiction. If Captain Black is going to starve them to death, then the oath is, in fact, forcing every member of the squadron to sign. Colonel Cargill, Clevinger, Major Major, Dr. Stubbs, Sergeant Towser, Captain Black, Appleby, Havermeyer, Orr, and of course, Yossarian are all notorious for speaking profusely and rarely saying anything of substance. Frequently, the jumbled dialogues are a result of two characters communicating on different wave lengths.
This is seen when Clevinger is being questioned. The colonel and Clevinger are thinking so differently at the time, that there is no way they would be able to understand one another. This book definitely makes one realize how difficult it is to communicate, the problems people have trying to understand one another, and realizing that sometimes what we say has no meaning.