2Catch-22 Caught in the System The major theme of Catch-22 is the individual vs. the system. Heller creates a setting in which the characters represent either exploiter or exploited. The struggle of characters to maintain their individuality is a thread which holds the novel together.
To the military system, soldiers are not people; they’re just uniforms and numbers. Oddly, “enemies” are found fighting alongside each other. The catch itself is representative of what oppresses the soldiers who are fighting to escape the war. The catch is used as justification for every violation of human rights. The catch means whatever “they”(the system) want it to.
Characters are persuaded to believe in the system rather than oppose it. As Yossarian discovers, Catch-22 did not exist…but it made no difference.
What did matter, is that everyone thought it did, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up(419). The only possible way to affect the system is to cease to serve it, Yossarian discovers. As stated by Vance Ramsey, “people react to meaninglessness by renouncing their humanity, becoming cogs in the machine”(178). On a consistent basis, each chapter of Catch-22 depicts a scenario of the individual vs. the system. According to one critic,”Each chapter carries a single character a step nearer madness or death or both,”(Frank 81).
Walsh clarifies, “In the world of Catch-22, it is all too easy to become the man in white a reference to a wounded hospitalized man, a mass of bandages with a mouth hole, a tube for —- a name and a military rank”(203). The individual vs. the system and the loss of individuality are reoccurring themes in Heller’s Catch-22.
The reoccurrence of these ideas is an important thread that binds this novel together.