American Literature books summary
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The cold weather comes, and Kid Sampson's legs are left on the beach; no one will retrieve them. The first things Yossarian remembers when he wakes up each morning are Kid Sampson's legs and Snowden. When Orr never returns, Yossarian is given four new roommates, a group of shiny-faced twenty- one year-olds who have never seen combat. They clown around, calling Yossarian "Yo-Yo" and rousing in him a murderous hatred. Yossarian tries to convince Chief White Halfoat to move in with them and scare the new officers away, but Halfoat has decided to move into the hospital to die of pneumonia. Slowly, Yossarian begins to feel more protective toward the men, but then they burn Orr's birch logs and suddenly move Mudd's belongings out of the tent--the dead man who has lived there for so long is abruptly gone. Yossarian panics and flees to Rome with Hungry Joe the night before Nately's whore finally gets a good night's sleep and wakes up in love.
In Rome, Yossarian misses Nurse Duckett and goes searching in vain for
Luciana. Nately languishes in bed with his whore, when suddenly Nately's whore's kid sister dives into bed with them. Nately begins to cherish wild fantasies of moving his whore and her sister back to America and bringing the sister up like his own child, but when his whore hears that he no longer wants her to go out hustling she becomes furious, and an argument ensues. The other men try to intervene, and Nately tries to convince them that they can all move to the same suburb and work for his father. He tries to forbid his whore from ever speaking again to the old man in the whores' hotel, and she becomes even angrier, but she still misses Nately when he leaves and is furious with Yossarian when he punches Nately in the face, breaking his nose.
Yossarian breaks Nately's nose on Thansksgiving, after Milo gets all
the men drunk on bottles of cheap whiskey. Yossarian goes to bed early, but
wakes up to the sound of machine gun fire. At first he is terrified, but he
quickly realizes that a group of men are firing machine guns as a prank. He
is furious, and takes his .45 in pursuit of revenge. Nately tries to stop
him, and Yossarian breaks his nose. He fires at someone in the darkness, but when a return shot comes Yossarian recognizes it as Dunbar's. He and
Dunbar call out to each other, and go back to help Nately. They cannot find him, and discover him in the hospital the next morning. Yossarian feels terribly guilty for having broken Nately's nose. They encounter the chaplain in the hospital; he has lied to get in, claiming to have a disease called Wisconsin shingles, and feels wonderful--he has learned how to rationalize vice into virtue. Suddenly the soldier in white is wheeled into the room, and Dunbar panics; he begins screaming, and soon everyone in the ward joins in. Nurse Duckett warns Yossarian that she overheard some doctors talking about how they planned to "disappear" Dunbar. Yossarian goes to warn his friend, but cannot find him.
When Chief White Halfoat finally dies of pneumonia and Nately finishes
his seventy missions, Yossarian prays for the first time in his life, asking God to keep Nately from volunteering to fly more than seventy
missions. But Nately does not want to be sent home until he can take his
whore with him. Yossarian goes for help from Milo, who immediately goes to
see Colonel Cathcart about having himself assigned to more combat missions.
Milo has finally been exposed as the tyrannical fraud he is; he has no intention of giving anyone a real share of the syndicate--but his power and influence are at their peak and everyone admires him. He feels guilty for not doing his duty and flying missions, and asks the deferential Colonel
Cathcart to assign him to more dangerous combat duties. Milo tells Colonel
Cathcart that someone else will have to run the syndicate, and Colonel
Cathcart volunteers himself and Colonel Korn. When Milo explains the complex operations of the business to Cathcart, the colonel declares Milo the only man who could possibly run it, and forbids Milo from flying another combat mission. He suggests that he might make the other men fly
Milo's missions for him, and if one of those men wins a medal, Milo will get the medal. To enable this, he says, he will ratchet the number of required missions up to eighty. The next morning the alarm sounds and the men fly off on a mission that turns out to be particularly deadly. Twelve men are killed, including Dobbs and Nately.
The chaplain is devastated by Nately's death. When he learns that
twelve men have been killed, he prays that Yossarian, Hungry Joe, Nately, and his other friends will not be among them. But when he rides out to the
field, he understands from the despairing look on Yossarian's face that
Nately is dead. Suddenly, the Chaplain is dragged away by a group of military police who accuse him of an unspecified crime. He is interrogated by a colonel who claims the chaplain has forged his name in letters--his only evidence is a letter Yossarian forged in the hospital and signed with the chaplain's name some time ago. Then he accuses the chaplain of stealing the plum tomato from Colonel Cathcart and of being Washington Irving. The men in the room idiotically find him guilty of unspecified crimes they assume he has committed, then order him to go about his business while they think of a way to punish him. The chaplain leaves and furiously goes to confront Colonel Korn about the number of missions the men are required to fly. He tells Colonel Korn he plans to bring the matter directly to General
Dreedle's attention, but the colonel replies gleefully that General Dreedle has been replaced with General Peckem as wing commander. He then tells the chaplain that he and Colonel Cathcart can make the men fly as many missions as they want to make them fly--they've even transferred Dr. Stubbs, who had offerred to ground any man with seventy missions, to the Pacific.
General Peckem's victory sours quickly. On his first day in charge of
General Dreedle's old operation, he learns that Scheisskopf has been promoted to lieutenant general and is now the commanding officer for all combat operations: He is in charge of General Peckem and his entire group.
And he intends to make every single man present march in parades.
Yossarian marches around backwards so no one can sneak up behind him
and refuses to fly in any more combat missions. When they are informed of
this, Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn decide to take brief pity on
Yossarian for the death of his friend Nately, and send him to Rome, where he breaks the news of Nately's death to Nately's whore, who tries to kill
Yossarian with a potato peeler for bringer her the bad news. When he resists, she tries to seduce him, then stabs at him with a knife again when he seems to have relaxed. Nately's whore's kid sister materializes, and tries to stab Yossarian as well. Yossarian loses patience, picks up
Nately's whore's kid sister and throws her bodily at Nately's whore, then leaves the apartment. He notices people are staring at him, and suddenly realizes that he has been stabbed several times and is bleeding everywhere.
He goes to a Red Cross building and cleans his wounds, and when he emerges
Nately's whore is waiting in ambush and tries to stab him again. He punches her in the jaw, catches her as she passes out and sets her down gently.
Hungry Joe flies him back to Pianosa, where Nately's whore is waiting to kill him with a steak knife. He eludes her, but she continues to try to kill him at every opportunity. Yossarian walks around backwards; as word spreads that he has refused to fly more combat missions, men begin to approach him, only at night, and to ask him if it's true, and to tell him they hope he gets away with it. One day Captain Black tells him that
Nately's whore and her kid sister have been flushed out of their apartment by M.P.'s, and Yossarian, suddenly worried about them, goes to Rome without permission to try to find them.
He travels with Milo, who is disappointed in him for refusing to fly more combat missions. Rome has been bombed, and lies in ruins; the apartment complex where the whores lived is a deserted shambles. Nately finds the old woman who lived in the complex sobbing; she tells Yossarian that the only right the soldiers had to chase the girls away was the right of Catch-22, which says "they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing." Yossarian asks if they had Catch-22 written down, and if they showed it to her; she says that the law stipulates that they don't have to show her Catch-22, and that the law that says so is Catch-22. She says that the her old man is dead. Yossarian goes to Milo and says that he will fly as many more combat missions as Colonel Cathcart wants if Milo uses his influence to help him track down the kid sister. Milo agrees, but becomes distracted when he learns about huge profits to be made in trafficking illegal tobacco. He slinks away, and Yossarian is left to wander the dark streets through a horrible night filled with grotesqueries and loathsome sights; he returns to his apartments late in the night to find that Aarfy has raped and killed a maid. The M.P.'s burst in. They apologize to Aarfy for intruding, and arrest Yossarian for being in Rome without a pass.
Back at Pianosa, Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn offer Yossarian a
deal: they will allow him never to fly another combat mission and will even
send him home, if only he will agree to like them. He will be promoted to
major and all he will have to do is to make speeches in America in support
of the military and the war effort, and in support of the two colonels in
particular. Yossarian realizes it is a hideous deal and a frank betrayal of
the men in his squadron, who will still have to fly the eighty missions, but he convinces himself to take the deal anyway, and is filled with joy at
the prospect of going home. On his way out of Colonel Cathcart's office,
Nately's whore appears, disguised as a private, and stabs him until he falls unconscious.
In the hospital, a group of doctors argues over Yossarian while the
fat, angry colonel who interrogated the chaplain interrogates him. Finally
the doctors knock him out and operate on him; when he awakes, he dimly
perceives visits from Aarfy and the chaplain. He tells the chaplain about
his deal with Cathcart and Korn, then assures him that he isn't going to do
it. He vaguely remembers a malignant, almost supernatural man jeering at
him "We've got your pal" shortly after his operation,. He then and he tells
the chaplain that his "pal" must have been one of his friends who was
killed in the war. He realizes that his only friend still living is Hungry
Joe, and but then the chaplain tells him that Hungry Joe has died--in his sleep, with Huple's cat on his face. Later, Yossarian wakes up to find a mean-looking man in a hospital gown leering saying "We've got your pal." He asks who his pal is, and the man tells Yossarian that he'll find out.
Yossarian lunges for him, but the man glides away and vanishes. He flashes back to the scene of Snowden's death, which he relives in all its agony--
Snowden smiling at him wanly, whimpering "I'm cold," Yossarian reassuring him and trying to mend the wound until he opens up Snowden's flak suit and
Snowden's insides spill out all over him. He then --and remembers the secret he had read in those entrails: "The spirit gone, man is garbage." man is matter, and without the spirit he will rot like garbage.
In the hospital, Yossarian tries to explain to Major Danby why he can
no longer go through with the deal with Cathcart and Korn: he won't sell
himself so short, and he won't betray the memory of his dead friends. He
tells Danby he plans to run away, but Danby tells him there is no hope, and
he agrees. Suddenly the chaplain bursts in with the news that Orr has
washed ashore in Sweden. Yossarian realizes that Orr must have planned his
escape all along, and joyfully decides there is hope after all. He has the
chaplain retrieve his uniform, and decides to desert the army and run to
Sweden, where he can save himself from the madness of the war. As he steps outside, Nately's whore tries to stab him again, and he runs into the distance.
Yossarian - The protagonist and hero of the novel. Yossarian is a captain in the Air Force and a lead bombardier in his squadron, but he hates the war. His powerful desire to live has led him to the conclusion that millions of people are trying to kill him, and he has decided either to live forever or, ironically, die trying.
Milo Minderbinder - The fantastically powerful mess officer, Milo
controls an international black market syndicate and is revered in obscure
corners all over the world. He ruthlessly chases after profit and bombs his
own men as part of a contract with Germany. Milo insists that everyone in
the squadron will benefit from being part of the syndicate, and that
"everyone has a share."
Colonel Cathcart - The ambitious, unintelligent colonel in charge of
Yossarian's squadron. Colonel Cathcart wants to be a general, and he tries to impress his superiors by bravely volunteering his men for dangerous combat duty whenever he gets the chance. He continually raises the number of combat missions required of the men before they can be sent home.
Colonel Cathcart tries to scheme his way ahead; he thinks of successful actions as "feathers in his cap" and unsuccessful ones as "black eyes."
The Chaplain - The timid, thoughtful chaplain who becomes Yossarian's friend. He is haunted by a sensation of deja vu and begins to lose his faith in God as the novel progresses.
Hungry Joe - An unhinged member of Yossarian's squadron. Hungry Joe is obsessed with naked women, and he has horrible nightmares on nights when he isn't scheduled to fly a combat mission the next morning.
Nately - A good-natured nineteen year-old boy in Yossarian's squadron.
Nately comes from a wealthy home, falls in love with a whore, and generally tries to keep Yossarian from getting into trouble.
Nately's whore - The beautiful whore Nately falls in love with in Rome.
After a good night's sleep, she falls in love with Nately as well. When
Yossarian tells her about Nately's death, she begins a persistent campaign to ambush Yossarian and stab him to death.
Clevinger - An idealistic member of Yossarian's squadron who argues
with Yossarian about concepts such as country, loyalty, and duty, in which
Clevinger firmly believes. Clevinger's plane disappears inside a cloud during the Parma bomb run, and he is never heard from again.
Doc Daneeka - The medical officer. Doc Daneeka feels very sorry for
himself because the war interrupted his lucrative private practice in the
States, and he refuses to listen to other people's problems. Doc Daneeka is the first person to explain Catch-22 to Yossarian.
Dobbs - A co-pilot, Dobbs seizes the controls from Huple during the
mission to Avignon, the same mission on which Snowden dies. Dobbs later
develops a plan to murder Colonel Cathcart, and eventually awaits only
Yossarian's go-ahead to put it in action.
McWatt - A cheerful, polite pilot who often pilots Yossarian's planes.
McWatt likes to joke around with Yossarian, and sometimes buzzes the squadron. One day he accidentally flies in too low, and slices Kid Sampson in half with his propellor; he then commits suicide by flying his plane into a mountain.
Major - The supremely mediocre squadron commander. Born Major Major
Major, he is promoted to major on his first day in the army by a mischievous computer. Major Major is painfully awkward, and will only see people in his office when he isn't there.
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