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Joseph Heller who is perhaps one of the most famous writers of the 20th century writes on some emotional issues such as war. He does not deal with these issues in the normal fashion instead he criticizes them and the institutions that help carry these things out. Heller in fact goes beyond criticizing he satirizes. Throughout his two major novels Catch-22 and Good as Gold he satirizes almost all of America’s respectful institutions. To truly understand these novels you must recognize that they are satires and why they are.
Catch-22 is a satire on World War II. This novel takes place on the small island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean sea late in the war when Germany is no longer a threat. It is the struggle of one man, Yossarian, to survive the war. Throughout this novel Yossarian is trying to escape the war, and in order to do so he does many improper things.
Good as Gold is about a Jewish man named Gold. It is about Gold’s experiences with the government while being employed in the White House. It also deals in detail with Gold’s family problems and Gold’s struggle to write a book on the contemporary Jewish society.
Throughout these two novels, Catch-22 and Good as Gold, Heller criticizes many institutions. In Good as Gold it is the White House and government as a whole, and in Catch-22 it is the military and medical institutions.
In Catch-22 the military is heavily satirized. Heller does this by criticizing it. Karl agrees with this statement by offering an example of the satire of both the military and civilian institutions in Catch-22:
The influence of mail clerk Wintergreen, the computer
foul-up that promotes Major Major, and the petty rivalries among officers satirizes the communication failures and the cut-throat competition Heller saw within both the civilian and military bureaucracies of the 1950’s. Even the Civil Rights movement, not yet widespread in the 1950’s, is satirized in Colonel Cathcart attitudes toward enlisted men. (23)
Karl summarizes the satirazation of the military with this:
The enemy in Heller’s book is not simply the chaos of war, but also the deadly inhuman bureaucracy of the military-economic establishment which clams to be a stay against chaos while it threatens human life more insidiously then battle itself.
Heller also questions the need for the death and carnage throughout the novel asking if it is really necessary.
Many other institutions are also satirized in Catch-22. Bryant points out the extreme variety of institutions that Heller satirizes with this "His satire is directed toward the institutions that make up society, business, psychiatry, medicine, law, the military. . ." (Bryant 228).
Medicine is one of the institutions that is heavily satirized. He does this by portraying medicine as a science that is almost barbaric and not exact. He writes of how the men of the squadron used the hospital as a way out of battle. Catch-22 it self begins in the hospital where Yossarian is faking Jaundice of the liver in order to avoid battle. Many characters also take this up as a form of staying out of battle. Heller addresses the barbarism of medicine with Dr. Daneeka’s aides. He writes of them painting peoples gums and feet violet in order to ward of certain illnesses.
In Catch-22 Heller also satirize religion. This occurs in Chapter Nineteen when Colonel Cathcart is aspiring to become a general. In this chapter religion is satirized in a number of ways. The first is when Colonel Cathcart uses it for a social icon to improve his chance of becoming general. Dr. Peek agrees with this by saying ". . . we see a satire on religion used as a matter of social status" (25).
In Catch-22 there is also one more major satiriazation it is that of industry and finance. The reason this is true is because of certain things Milo says such as "What’s good for the syndicate is good for the country" (Karl 34).
Good as Gold is manly a satire on the White House and government. Heller portrays the White House as being, "disgraceful," according to Merrill. Merrill believes that this work criticizes politics almost from page one and that it does an excellent job of it in fact he writes "A number of reviewers found that
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Catch-22, Yossarian, Colonel Cathcart, Joseph Heller, Satire, Heller, Good as Gold, Doc Daneeka, Chaplain Tappman
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