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Heller's CATCH-22

Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrolably. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden's secret. Drop him out a window and he'll fall. Set fires to him and he'll burn, Bury him and he'll rot like other kinds of garbage The spirit't gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden's secret. Ripeness was all.1

Chapter forty-four of Catch-22 represents the climactic convergence of two plot lines which Heller has carefully established in the novel: the humanistic, represented by the dying gunner, Snowden; and the mechanistic, represented by Milo Minderbinder and his corporate extension, M & M Enterprises.

Several critics have noted the way in which Heller has woven through the apparently diffused and random structure of the book a number of linear sequences. One of these is Yossarian's progress toward the discovery of Snowden's eviscerated body and the thematic message which he reads in its entrails. As detailed in a recurring series of flashbacks, Yossarian first hears the wounded man, then works his way back through the plane where he discovers the body. He treats a wound in Snowden's thigh which he mistakenly believes to be his only injury, but then finds that Snowden has been wounded inside his flack suit. When Yossarian pulls the zipper of the suit to investigate, Snowden's insides "slither" to the floor of the plane at Yossarian's feet.

Like any good seer, Yossarian is able to interpret the entrails and read there the secret which Snowden has literally "spilled his guts" to reveal. The message, of course, is that "man is matter" or, put another way, that Man Matters. This is the single incontrovertible statement of life which is raised against the death and dying which permeate the novel.

Another progressive sequence in the novel chronicles the steady rise to power of Milo Minderbinder and the spreading influence of M & M Enterprises. If Snowden represents man as flesh, M & M Enterprises regards man literally as a commodity, to be traded, bargained for, and eventually disposed of in the market of war. Thus, when Yossarian searches the first-aid kit for morphine for the wounded Snowden, he finds that the painkiller has been taken and replaced by ". . . a cleanly lettered note that said: 'What's good for M & M Enterprises is good for the country. Milo Minderbinder.' "2

Therefore, in this climactic chapter, Yossarian reads two messages; one from Milo and one from Snowden. Ironically, both can be reduced to the same set of initials: M & M Enterprises and Man is Matter. By so clearly juxtaposing the two, Heller has created a powerful and dramatic statement of the conflict between the individual and the system which is the message of Catch-22.

--PEYTON GLASS, III, Oklahoma State University
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