Skip to main content
Select Source:

Catch-22

CATCH-22

CATCH-22, a 1961 best-selling novel by Joseph Heller (1923–1999), set on a U.S. Air Force base in the Mediterranean during World War II. A work of comic genius, Catch-22 represented not just a satire of life in the military but also a serious protest against the uselessness of both rationality and sentimentality in the face of unbridled power in any form.

The story recounts the efforts of the protagonist, Captain Yossarian, to gain a discharge despite the insane regulations of the military bureaucracy. The concept named in the title—which refers to a situation in which intentionally self-contradictory rules preclude a desired outcome—rapidly entered the American popular vocabulary and became widely used, without reference to the novel, to refer to any absurd situation in which rationality and madness are radically indistinguishable. By showing how catch-22 operated in every arena of authority, the novel staged a concerted assault on every truism and institution in America—including religion, the military, the legal and medical establishments, and big business. Heller's satire thus targeted not just the military during World War II but also the complacent corporate conformism of the 1950s, the self-serving cynicism of the professions, Cold War militarism and patriotism, and above all the bureaucratic mindset.

Despite Heller's difficulty in finding a publisher and initial critical disdain, Catch-22 quickly became one of the most popular American novels of all time. Its irreverence toward established authority helped make it one of the key literary inspirations of the culture of rebellion that erupted during the presidencies of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. In his every phrase and motive, including his manic wordplay and compulsive sexuality, Yossarian embodied the decade's spirit of anarchic dissent. The Vietnam War, which seemed to many to embody and even caricature the madness depicted in the novel, greatly enhanced Catch-22's popularity.

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 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.

NilsGilman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Catch-22." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Catch-22." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/catch-22

"Catch-22." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved May 25, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/catch-22

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

catch-22

catch-22 a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. The term comes from the title of a novel (1961) by Joseph Heller, in which the main character feigns madness in order to avoid dangerous combat missions, but finds that Catch-22 specifies that a concern for one's own safety amid real and immediate dangers is taken to indicate a rational mind.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"catch-22." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"catch-22." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/catch-22

"catch-22." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved May 25, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/catch-22

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

CATCH-22

CATCH-22 n. Cardiac abnormalities, Abnormal facies, T-cell deficiency (from absent thymus), Cleft palate, Hypocalcaemia, chromosome 22 (in which the defect lies): another name for di George syndrome.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"CATCH-22." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"CATCH-22." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/catch-22

"CATCH-22." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Retrieved May 25, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/catch-22

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

catch-22

catch-22 • n. a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"catch-22." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"catch-22." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/catch-22-0

"catch-22." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved May 25, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/catch-22-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.