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Symbolism, Tone And Writing Style In Catch 22

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Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch 22” is a story that follows Yossarian, a bombardier stationed on the island Pianosa, by the Italian coast in the Mediterranean. His goal being to finally be discharged from combat. While following Yossarain’s plight we are shown details through Heller’s different literary devices. Usage of symbolism, tone, and writing style are prominent features in his text, which enables him to mimic human interaction while critiquing society. His writing style, however, is what sets his story apart. His ability to connect symbols and remind readers of different exaggerations create the backbone of the book. He does this in order to maintain relevancy between jokes and points that Yossarian makes. A recurring motif being the phrase Catch 22, “‘what?’ Yossarian froze in his tracks with fear and alarm and felt his whole body begin to tingle. ‘What did you say?’ ‘Catch 22” the old woman repeated”(407). By maintaining the usage of different phrases he allows the text to better reflect emotions that the characters feel.

What makes the book so enjoyable is Hellers unique writing style that looks to include crude humor. The quick lines that are incorporated and jokes that are shot back and forth between characters exemplify this, “The one I picked out for you was married for a short time to an elderly schoolteacher who slept with her only on Sundays, so she’s really almost as good as new” (234). Usage of these jokes while farcical is the reason why Heller relies on the heavy use of repetition. Without this, many of the jokes in the book would fall short.

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Heller frequently repeats literary gadgets – catchphrases, words, references to events, and important scenes as well. Frequently referring to these events allows Heller to emphasize the paradoxical nature of Yossarian’s situation. His inability to be discharged being a prominent element that is recycled ”And what happens to the men after Stubbs does ground them?’ Doc Daneeka retorted with a sneer. ‘They go right back on combat status” (174). By utilizing this repetition we learn something deeper about the protagonist’s situation – its consequences on his mentality and those around him.

These repeated events while a key part of Heller’s storytelling process, also act as touchstones throughout the book that readers may refer to. Having points that allude towards references lets Heller expand his book and focus on characterization. Analyzing each character through Yossarian’s eyes enables us to see Heller’s influence on how everyone in the book develops. This development being overshadowed by the theme that Heller establishes, the inevitability of death.

The title of the book “Catch 22” is developed into a phrase that symbolizes “a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape.” Heller by utilizing repetition, cements the term as something that represents Yossarians repeated failure in solving his predicament. Yossarian’s one goal—to stay alive or die trying—is ultimately based his belief that he must eventually fail.

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Symbolism, Tone And Writing Style In Catch 22. (2021, September 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
“Symbolism, Tone And Writing Style In Catch 22.” Edubirdie, 21 Sept. 2021,
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