American Literature books summary
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Captain Black is pleased to hear the news that Colonel Cathcart has
volunteered the men for the lethally dangerous mission of bombing Bologna.
Captain Black thinks the men are bastards, and gloats about their terrifying, violent task. Captain Black is extremely ambitious, and hoped to be promoted to squadron commander; when Major Major was picked over him, he lapsed into a deep depression, which the Bologna mission lifts him out of. Captain Black first tried to get revenge on Major Major by initiating the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade, when he forced all the men to swear elaborate oaths of loyalty before doing basic things like eating meals. He refused to let Major Major sign a loyalty oath, and hoped thereby to make him appear disloyal. The Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a major event in the camp, until the fearsome Major ----- de Coverley put a stop to it by hollering "Give me eat!" in the mess hall without signing an oath.
It rains interminably before the Bologna mission, and the bombing run
is delayed by the rain. The men all hope it will never stop raining, and
when it does, Yossarian moves the bomb line on the map so that the
commanding officers will think Bologna has already been captured. Then the
rain starts again. In the meantime, Ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen tries to sell
Yossarian a cigarette lighter, thus going into competition with Milo as a black market trader. He is aghast that Milo has cornered the entire world market for Egyptian cotton but is unable to unload any of it. The men are terrified and miserable over Bologna. Clevenger and Yossarian argue about whether it is Yossarian's duty to bomb Bologna, and by the middle of the second week of waiting, everyone in the squadron looks like Hungry Joe. One night Yossarian, Nately, and Dunbar go for a drunken drive with Chief White
Halfoat; they crash the jeep, and realize it has stopped raining. Back in the tents, Hungry Joe is trying to shoot Huple's cat, which has been giving him nightmares, and the men force Hungry Joe to fight the cat fairly. The cat runs away, and Hungry Joe is the self-satisfied winner; then he goes back to sleep and has another nightmare about the cat.
Major ----- de Coverley is a daunting, majestic man with a lion's mane
of white hair, an eagle's gaze, and a transparent eyepatch. Everyone is
afraid of him, and no one will talk to him. His sole duties include
travelling to major cities captured by the Americans and renting rooms for
his men to take rest leaves in; he spends the rest of his time playing
horseshoes. He is so good at his room- renting duties that he always
manages to be photographed with the first wave of American troops moving
into a city, a fact which perplexes both the enemy and the American
commanders. Major ----- de Coverley is a force of nature, but when
Yossarian moved the bomb line, he was fooled and traveled to enemy- controlled Bologna; he still has not returned. Once, Milo approached him on the horseshoe range and convinced him to authorize Milo to import eggs with
Air Force planes. This elated the men, except for Colonel Cathcart, whose spur-of-the-moment attempt to promote Major Major failed, unlike his attempt to give Yossarian a medal some time earlier, which succeeded. Back when Yossarian was brave, he circled over a target twice in order to hit it; on the second overpass, Mudd was killed by shrapnel. The authorities didn't know how to rebuke Yossarian for his foolhardiness, so they decided to stave off criticism by giving him a medal.
The squadron finally receives the go-ahead to bomb Bologna, and by this time Yossarian doesn't feel like going over the target even once. He pretends that his plane's intercom system is broken and orders his men to turn back. They land at the deserted airfield just before dawn, feeling strangely morose; Yossarian takes a nap on the beach and wakes up when the planes fly back. Not a single plane has been hit. Yossarian thinks that there must have been too many clouds for the men to bomb the city, and that they will have to make another attempt, but he is wrong. There was no antiaircraft fire, and the city was bombed with no losses to the Americans.
Captain Pilchard and Captain Wren ineffectually reprimand Yossarian and
his crew for turning back, then inform the men that they will have to bomb
Bologna again, as they missed the ammunition dumps the first time.
Yossarian confidently flies in, assuming there will be no antiaircraft fire, and is stunned when shrapnel begins firing up toward him through the skies. He furiously directs McWatt through evasive maneuvers, and fights with the strangely cheerful Aarfy until the bombs are dropped; Yossarian doesn't die, and the plane lands safely. He heads immediately for emergency rest leave in Rome, where he meets Luciana the same night.
Luciana is a beautiful Italian girl Yossarian meets at a bar in Rome.
After he buys her dinner and dances with her, she agrees to sleep with him, but not right then--she will come to his room the next morning. She does, then angrily refuses to sleep with Yossarian until she cleans his room--she disgustedly calls him a pig. Finally, she lets him sleep with her.
Afterward, Yossarian falls in love with her and asks her to marry him; she says she can't marry him because he's crazy, and he's crazy because he wants to marry her, because no one in their right mind would marry a girl who wasn't a virgin. She tells him about a scar she got when the Americans bombed her town. Suddenly, Hungry Joe rushes in with his camera, and
Yossarian and Luciana have to get dressed. Laughing, they go outside, where they part ways. Luciana gives Yossarian her number, telling him she expects that he will tear it up as soon as she leaves, self-impressed that such a pretty girl would sleep with him for free. He asks her why on Earth he would do such a thing. As soon as she leaves, Yossarian, self-impressed that such a pretty girl would sleep with him for free, tears up her number.
Almost immediately, he regrets it, and, after learning that Colonel
Cathcart has raised the number of missions to forty, he makes the anguished decision to go straight to the hospital.
Things are better at the hospital, Yossarian decides, than they are on a bomb run with Snowden dying in the back whispering "I'm cold." At the hospital, Death is orderly and polite, and there is no inexplicable violence. Dunbar is in the hospital with Yossarian, and they are both perplexed by the soldier in white, a man completely covered in plaster bandages. The men in the hospital discuss the injustice of mortality--some men are killed and some aren't, some men get sick and some don't, with no reference to who deserves what. Some time earlier Clevinger saw justice in it, but Yossarian was too busy keeping track of all the forces trying to kill him to listen. Later, he and Hungry Joe collect lists of fatal diseases with which they worry Doc Daneeka, who is the only person who can ground Yossarian, according to Major Major. Doc Daneeka tells Yossarian to fly his fifty-five missions, and he'll think about helping him.
The first time Yossarian ever goes to the hospital, he is still a private. He feigns an abdominal pain, then mimics the mysterious ailment of the soldier who saw everything twice. He spends Thanksgiving in the hospital, and vows to spend all future Thanksgivings there; but he spends the next Thanksgiving in bed with Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife, arguing about God. Once Yossarian is "cured" of seeing everything twice, he is asked to pretend to be a dying soldier for a mother and father who have traveled to see their son, who died that morning. Yossarian allows them to bandage his face, and pretends to be the soldier.
The ambitious Colonel Cathcart browbeats the chaplain, demanding prayer
before each bombing run, then abandons the idea when he realizes that the
Saturday Evening Post, where he got the idea, probably wouldn't give him any publicity for it. The chaplain timidly mentions that some of the men have complained about Colonel Cathcart's habit of raising the number of missions required every few weeks, but Colonel Cathcart ignores him. On his way home, the chaplain meets Colonel Korn, Colonel Cathcart's wily, cynical sidekick, who mocks Colonel Cathcart in front of the chaplain and is highly suspicious of the plum tomato Colonel Cathcart gave the chaplain. At his tent in the woods, the chaplain encounters the hostile Corporal Whitcomb, his atheist assistant, who resents him deeply for holding back his career.
Corporal Whitcomb tells the chaplain that a C.I.D. man suspects him of signing Washington Irving's name to official papers, and of stealing plum tomatoes. The poor chaplain is very unhappy, helpless to improve anyone's life.
Colonel Cathcart is preoccupied with the problem of Yossarian, who has
become a real black eye for him, most recently by complaining about the
number of missions, but previously by appearing naked at his own medal
ceremony shortly after Snowden's death. Colonel Cathcart wishes he knew how
to solve the problem and impress General Dreedle, his commanding officer.
General Dreedle doesn't care what his men do, as long as they remain reliable military quantities. He travels everywhere with a buxom nurse, and worries mostly about Colonel Moodus, his despised son in law, whom he occasionally asks Chief White Halfoat to punch in the nose. Once Colonel
Korn tried to undercut Colonel Cathcart by giving a flamboyant briefing to impress General Dreedle; General Dreedle told Colonel Cathcart that Colonel
Korn made him sick.
Yossarian loses his nerve on the mission that follows Colonel Korn's
extravagant briefing, the mission where Snowden is killed and spattered all
over Yossarian's uniform when Dobbs goes crazy and seizes the plane's
controls from Huple. As he dies, Snowden pleads with Yossarian to help him;
he says he is cold. Dobbs is a terrible pilot and a wreck of a man, and he
later tells Yossarian he plans to kill Colonel Cathcart before he raises
the mission total again; he asks Yossarian to give him the go-ahead, but
Yossarian is unable to do so, so Dobbs abandons his plan. Yossarian thinks that Dobbs is almost as bad as Orr, with whom Yossarian and Milo recently took a trip to stock up on supplies. As they travel, Orr and Yossarian gradually realize the extent of Milo's control over the black market and vast international influence: he is the mayor of Palermo, the Assistant
Governor-General of Malta, the Vice-Shah of Oran, the Caliph of Baghdad, the Imam of Damascus, the Sheik of Araby, and is worshipped as a god in parts of Africa. Each region has embraced him because he revitalized their economy with his syndicate, in which everybody has a share. Nevertheless, throughout their trip, Orr and Yossarian are forced to sleep in the plane while Milo enjoys lavish palaces, and they are finally awakened in the middle of the night so that Milo can rush his shipment of red bananas to their next stop.
One evening Nately finds his whore in Rome again after a long search.
He tries to convince Yossarian and Aarfy to take two of her friends for thirty dollars each. Aarfy objects that he has never had to pay for sex.
Nately's whore is sick of Nately, and begins to swear at him; then Hungry
Joe arrives, and the group abandons Aarfy and goes to the apartment building where the girls live. Here they find a seemingly endless flow of naked young women; Hungry Joe is torn between taking in the scene and rushing back for his camera. Nately argues with an old man who lives at the building about nationalism and moral duty--the old man claims Italy is doing better than America in the war because it has already been occupied, so Italian boys are no longer being killed. He gleefully admits to swearing loyalty to whatever nation happens to be in power. The patriotic, idealistic Nately cannot believe his ears, and argues somewhat haltingly for America's international supremacy and the values it represents. But he is troubled because, though they are absolutely nothing alike, the old man reminds him of his father.
By April, Milo's influence is massive. The mess officer controls the
international black market, plays a major role in the world economy, and
uses Air Force planes from countries all over the world to carry shipments
of his supplies; the planes are repainted with an "M & M Enterprises" logo, but Milo continues to insist that everybody has a share in his syndicate.
Milo contracts with the Germans to bomb the Americans, and with the
Americans to shoot down German planes. German anti-aircraft guns contracted by Milo even shot down Mudd, the dead man in Yossarian's tent, for which
Yossarian holds a grudge against Milo. Milo wants Yossarian's help concocting a solution for unloading his massive holdings of Egyptian cotton, which he cannot sell and which threatens to ruin his entire operation. One evening after dinner, Milo's planes begin to bomb Milo's own camp: He has landed another contract with the Germans, and dozens of men are wounded and killed during the attack. Almost everyone wants to end M &
M Enterprises right then, but Milo shows them how much money they have all made, and the survivors almost all forgive him. While Yossarian sits naked in a tree watching Snowden's funeral, Milo seeks him out to talk to him about the cotton; he gives Yossarian some chocolate-covered cotton and tries to convince him it is really candy. Yossarian tells Milo to ask the government to buy his cotton, and Milo is struck by the intelligence behind the idea.
The chaplain is troubled. No one seems to treat him as a regular human
being; everyone is uncomfortable in his presence, he is intimidated by the
soldiers--especially Colonel Cathcart--and he is generally ineffectual as a
religious leader. He grows increasingly miserable, and is sustained solely
by the thought of the religious visions he has seen since his arrival, such
as the vision of the naked man in the tree at Snowden's funeral. Of course, the naked man was Yossarian. He dreams of his wife and children dying
horribly in his absence. He tries to see Major Major about the number of
missions the men are asked to fly, but, like everyone else, finds that
Major Major will not allow him into his office except when he is out. On the way to see Major Major a second time, the chaplain encounters Flume,
Chief White Halfoat's old roommate who is so afraid of having his throat slit while he sleeps that he has taken to living in the forest. The chaplain then learns that Corporal Whitcomb has been promoted to sergeant by Colonel Cathcart for an idea that the colonel believes will land him in the Saturday Evening Post. The chaplain tries to mingle with the men at the officers' club, but Colonel Cathcart periodically throws him out. The chaplain takes to doubting everything, even God.
The night Nately falls in love with his whore, she sits naked from the
waist down in a room full of enlisted men playing blackjack. She is already
sick of Nately, and tries to interest one of the enlisted men, but none of
them notice her. Nately follows her out, then to the officers' apartments
in Rome, where she tries the same trick on Nately's friends. Aarfy calls
her a slut, and Nately is deeply offended. Aarfy is the navigator of the
flight on which Yossarian is finally hit by flak; he is wounded in the leg
and taken to the hospital, where he and Dunbar change identities by
ordering lower-ranking men to trade beds with them. Dunbar pretends to be
A. Fortiori. Finally they are caught by Nurse Cramer and Nurse Duckett, who takes Yossarian by the ear and puts him back to bed.
The next morning, while Nurse Duckett is smoothing the sheets at the
foot of his bed, Yossarian thrusts his hand up her skirt. She shrieks and
rushes away, and Dunbar grabs her bosom from behind. When she is finally
rescued by a furious doctor, Yossarian tries to plead insanity--he says he
has a recurring dream about a fish--so he is assigned an appointment with
Major Sanderson, the hospital psychiatrist. Sanderson is more interested in discussing his own problems than his patient's. Yossarian's friends visit him in the hospital--Dobbs offers again to kill Colonel Cathcart--and finally, after Yossarian admits that he thinks people are trying to kill him and that he has not adjusted to the war, Major Sanderson decides that
Yossarian really is crazy and decides to send him home. But because of the identity mixup perpetrated by Yossarian and Dunbar earlier in their hospital stay, there is a mistake, and A. Fortiori is sent home instead.
Furiously, Yossarian goes to see Doc Daneeka, but Doc Daneeka will not ground Yossarian for reasons of insanity. Who else but a crazy man, he asks, would go out to fight?
Yossarian goes to see Dobbs, and tells him to go ahead and kill Colonel
Cathcart. But Dobbs has finished his sixty missions, and is waiting to be sent home; he no longer needs to kill Colonel Cathcart. When Yossarian says that Colonel Cathcart will simply raise the number of missions again, Dobbs says he'll wait and see, but that perhaps Orr would help Yossarian kill the colonel. Orr crashed his plane again while Yossarian was in the hospital and was fished out of the ocean--none of the life jackets in his plane worked, because Milo took out the carbon dioxide tanks to use for making ice-cream sodas. Now, Orr is tinkering with the stove he is trying to build in his and Yossarian's tent; he suggests that Yossarian should try flying a mission with him for practice in case he ever has to make a crash landing.
Yossarian broods about the rumored second mission to Bologna. Orr is making noise and irritating him, and Yossarian imagines killing him, which
Yossarian finds a relaxing thought. They talk about women--Orr says they don't like Yossarian, and Yossarian replies that they're crazy. Orr tells
Yossarian that he knows Yossarian has asked not to fly with him, and offers to tell Yossarian the story of why that naked girl was hitting him with her shoe outside Nately's whore's kid sister's room in Rome. Yossarian laughingly declines, and the next time Orr goes up he again crashes his plane into the ocean. This time, his survival raft drifts away from the others and disappears.
The men are dismayed when they learn that General Peckem has had
Scheisskopf, now a colonel, transferred onto his staff. Peckem is pleased because he thinks the move will increase his strength compared to that of his rival General Dreedle. Colonel Scheisskopf is dismayed by the news that he will no longer be able to conduct parades every afternoon. Scheisskopf immediately irritates his colleagues in Group Headquarters, and Peckem takes him along for an inspection of Colonel Cathcart's squadron briefing.
At the preliminary briefing, the men are displeased to learn they will be bombing an undefended village into rubble simply so that Colonel Cathcart can impress General Peckem with the clean aerial photography their bomb patterns will allow. When Peckem and Scheisskopf arrive, Cathcart is angry that another colonel has appeared to rival him. He gives the briefing himself, and though he feels shaky and unconfident, he makes it through, and congratulates himself on a job well done under pressure.
On the bombing run, Yossarian flashes back to the mission when Snowden
died, and he snaps. During evasive action, he threatens to kill McWatt if
he doesn't follow orders. He is worried that McWatt will hold a grudge, but
after the mission McWatt only seems concerned about Yossarian. Yossarian
has begun seeing Nurse Duckett, and he enjoys making love to her on the
beach. Sometimes, while they sit looking at the ocean, Yossarian thinks
about all the people who have died underwater, including Orr and Clevinger.
One day, McWatt is buzzing the beach in his plane as a joke, when a gust of wind causes the plane to drop for a split second--just long enough for the propellor to slice Kid Sampson in half. Kid Samson's body splatters all over the beach. Back at the base, everyone is occupied with the disaster;
McWatt will not land his plane, but keeps flying higher and higher.
Yossarian runs down the runway yelling at McWatt to come down, but he knows what McWatt is going to do, and McWatt does it, crashing his plane into the side of a mountain, killing himself. Colonel Cathcart is so upset that he raises the number of missions to sixty-five.
When Colonel Cathcart learns that Doc Daneeka was also killed in the
crash, he raises the number of missions to seventy. Actually, Doc Daneeka
was not killed in the crash, but the records--which Doc Daneeka, hating to
fly, bribed Yossarian to alter--maintain that the doctor was in the plane
with McWatt, collecting some flight time. Doc Daneeka is startled to hear
that he is dead, but Doc Daneeka's wife in America, who receives a letter
to that effect from the military, is shattered. Heroically, she finds the
strength to carry on, and is cheered to learn that she will be receiving a
number of monthly payments from various military departments for the rest
of her life, as well as sizable life insurance payments from her husband's
insurance company. Husbands of her friends begin to flirt with her, and she
dies her hair. In Pianosa, Doc Daneeka finds himself ostracized by the men, who blame him for the raise in the number of missions they are required to
fly. He is no longer allowed to practice medicine and realizes that, in one
sense, he really is dead. He sends a passionate letter to his wife begging
her to alert the authorities that he is still alive. She considers the
possibility, but after receiving a form letter from Colonel Cathcart
expressing regret over her husband's death, she moves her children to
Lansing, Michigan and leaves no forwarding address.
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