- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
CHAPTER 42 - YOSSARIAN
(AnyBooksFree) CHAPTER 42 - YOSSARIAN
'Colonel Korn says,' said Major Danby to Yossarian with a prissy, gratified smile,
'that the deal is still on. Everything is working out fine.'
'No it isn't.'
'Oh, yes, indeed,' Major Danby insisted benevolently. 'In fact, everything is much
better. It was really a stroke of luck that you were almost murdered by that girl.
Now the deal can go through perfectly.'
'I'm not making any deals with Colonel Korn.'
Major Danby's effervescent optimism vanished instantly, and he broke out all at once
into a bubbling sweat. 'But you do have a deal with him, don't you?' he asked in
'Don't you have an agreement?'
'I'm breaking the agreement.'
'But you shook hands on it, didn't you? You gave him your word as a gentleman.'
'I'm breaking my word.'
'Oh, dear,' sighed Major Danby, and began dabbing ineffectually at his careworn
brow with a folded white handkerchief. 'But why, Yossarian? It's a very good deal
they're offering you.'
'It's a lousy deal, Danby. It's an odious deal.'
'Oh, dear,' Major Danby fretted, running his bare hand over his dark, wiry hair,
which was already soaked with perspiration to the tops of the thick, close-cropped
waves. 'Oh dear.'
'Danby, don't you think it's odious?'
Major Danby pondered a moment. 'Yes, I suppose it is odious,' he conceded with
reluctance. His globular, exophthalmic eyes were quite distraught. 'But why did you
make such a deal if you didn't like it?'
'I did it in a moment of weakness,' Yossarian wisecracked with glum irony.
'I was trying to save my life.'
'Don't you want to save your life now?'
'That's why I won't let them make me fly more missions.'
'Then let them send you home and you'll be in no more danger.'
'Let them send me home because I flew more than fifty missions,' Yossarian said,
'and not because I was stabbed by that girl, or because I've turned into such a
stubborn son of a bitch.'
Major Danby shook his head emphatically in sincere and bespectacled vexation.
'They'd have to send nearly every man home if they did that. Most of the men have
more than fifty missions. Colonel Cathcart couldn't possibly requisition so many
inexperienced replacement crews at one time without causing an investigation.
He's caught in his own trap.'
'That's his problem.'
'No, no, no, Yossarian,' Major Danby disagreed solicitously. 'It's your problem.
Because if you don't go through with the deal, they're going to institute courtmartial proceedings as soon as you sign out of the hospital.'
Yossarian thumbed his nose at Major Danby and laughed with smug elation.
'The hell they will! Don't lie to me, Danby. They wouldn't even try.'
'But why wouldn't they?' inquired Major Danby, blinking with astonishment.
'Because I've really got them over a barrel now. There's an official report that says
I was stabbed by a Nazi assassin trying to kill them. They'd certainly look silly trying
to court-martial me after that.'
'But, Yossarian!' Major Danby exclaimed. 'There's another official report that says
you were stabbed by an innocent girl in the course of extensive black-market
operations involving acts of sabotage and the sale of military secrets to the enemy.'
Yossarian was taken back severely with surprise and disappointment.
'Another official report?'
'Yossarian, they can prepare as many official reports as they want and choose
whichever ones they need on any given occasion. Didn't you know that?'
'Oh, dear,' Yossarian murmured in heavy dejection, the blood draining from his face.
Major Danby pressed forward avidly with a look of vulturous well-meaning.
'Yossarian, do what they want and let them send you home.
It's best for everyone that way.'
'It's best for Cathcart, Korn and me, not for everyone.'
'For everyone,' Major Danby insisted. 'It will solve the whole problem.'
'Is it best for the men in the group who will have to keep flying more missions?'
Major Danby flinched and turned his face away uncomfortably for a second.
'Yossarian,' he replied, 'it will help nobody if you force Colonel Cathcart to courtmartial you and prove you guilty of all the crimes with which you'll be charged.
You will go to prison for a long time, and your whole life will be ruined.'
Yossarian listened to him with a growing feeling of concern.
'What crimes will they charge me with?'
'Incompetence over Ferrara, insubordination, refusal to engage the enemy in combat
when ordered to do so, and desertion.'
Yossarian sucked his cheeks in soberly. 'They could charge me with all that, could
they? They gave me a medal for Ferrara. How could they charge me with
'Aarfy will swear that you and McWatt lied in your official report.'
'I'll bet the bastard would!'
'They will also find you guilty,' Major Danby recited, 'of rape, extensive blackmarket operations, acts of sabotage and the sale of military secrets to the enemy.'
'How will they prove any of that? I never did a single one of those things.'
'But they have witnesses who will swear you did. They can get all the witnesses they
need simply by persuading them that destroying you is for the good of the country.
And in a way, it *would* be for the good of the country.'
'In what way?' Yossarian demanded,
rising up slowly on one elbow with bridling hostility.
Major Danby drew back a bit and began mopping his forehead again. 'Well,
Yossarian,' he began with an apologetic stammer, 'it would not help the war effort to
bring Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn into disrepute now. Let's face it, Yossarian -
in spite of everything, the group does have a very good record. If you were courtmartialed and found innocent, other men would probably refuse to fly missions, too.
Colonel Cathcart would be in disgrace, and the military efficiency of the unit might
be destroyed. So in that way it *would* be for the good of the country to have you
found guilty and put in prison, even though you are innocent.'
'What a sweet way you have of putting things!'
Yossarian snapped with caustic resentment.
Major Danby turned red and squirmed and squinted uneasily. 'Please don't blame me,'
he pleaded with a look of anxious integrity. 'You know it's not my fault.
All I'm doing is trying to look at things objectively and arrive at a solution
to a very difficult situation.'
'I didn't create the situation.'
'But you can resolve it. And what else can you do?
You don't want to fly more missions.'
'I can run away.'
'Desert. Take off I can turn my back on the whole damned mess and start running.'
Major Danby was shocked. 'Where to? Where could you go?'
'I could get to Rome easily enough. And I could hide myself there.'
'And live in danger every minute of your life that they would find you? No, no, no, no,
Yossarian. That would be a disastrous and ignoble thing to do. Running away from
problems never solved them. Please believe me. I am only trying to help you.'
'That's what that kind detective said before he decided to jab his thumb into my
wound,' Yossarian retorted sarcastically.
'I am not a detective,' Major Danby replied with indignation, his cheeks flushing
again. 'I'm a university professor with a highly developed sense of right and wrong,
and I wouldn't try to deceive you. I wouldn't lie to anyone.'
'What would you do if one of the men in the group asked you about this
'I would lie to him.'
Yossarian laughed mockingly, and Major Danby, despite his blushing discomfort,
leaned back with relief, as though welcoming the respite Yossarian's changing mood
promised. Yossarian gazed at him with a mixture of reserved pity and contempt. He
sat up in bed with his back resting against the headboard, lit a cigarette, smiled
slightly with wry amusement, and stared with whimsical sympathy at the vivid, popeyed horror that had implanted itself permanently on Major Danby's face the day of
the mission to Avignon, when General Dreedle had ordered him taken outside and
shot. The startled wrinkles would always remain, like deep black scars, and Yossarian
felt sorry for the gentle, moral, middle-aged idealist, as he felt sorry for so many
people whose shortcomings were not large and whose troubles were light.
With deliberate amiability he said, 'Danby, how can you work along with people like
Cathcart and Korn? Doesn't it turn your stomach?'
Major Danby seemed surprised by Yossarian's question. 'I do it to help my country,'
he replied, as though the answer should have been obvious. 'Colonel Cathcart and
Colonel Korn are my superiors, and obeying their orders is the only contribution I can
make to the war effort. I work along with them because it's my duty.
And also,' he added in a much lower voice, dropping his eyes,
'because I am not a very aggressive person.'
'Your country doesn't need your help any more,' Yossarian reasoned with antagonism.
'So all you're doing is helping them.'
'I try not to think of that,' Major Danby admitted frankly. 'But I try to concentrate
on only the big result and to forget that they are succeeding, too. I try to pretend
that they are not significant.'
'That's my trouble, you know,' Yossarian mused sympathetically, folding his arms.
'Between me and every ideal I always find Scheisskopfs, Peckems, Korns and
Cathcarts. And that sort of changes the ideal.'
'You must try not to think of them,' Major Danby advised affirmatively. 'And you
must never let them change your values. Ideals are good, but people are sometimes
not so good. You must try to look up at the big picture.'
Yossarian rejected the advice with a skeptical shake of his head. 'When I look up, I
see people cashing in. I don't see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in
on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.'
'But you must try not to think of that, too,' Major Danby insisted.
'And you must try not to let it upset you.'
'Oh, it doesn't really upset me. What does upset me, though, is that they think I'm a
sucker. They think that they're smart, and that the rest of us are dumb. And, you
know, Danby, the thought occurs to me right now, for the first time,
that maybe they're right.'
'But you must try not to think of that too,' argued Major Danby.
'You must think only of the welfare of your country and the dignity of man.'
'Yeah,' said Yossarian.
'I mean it, Yossarian. This is not World War One. You must never forget that we're
at war with aggressors who would not let either one of us live if they won.'
'I know that,' Yossarian replied tersely, with a sudden surge of scowling annoyance.
'Christ, Danby, I earned that medal I got, no matter what their reasons were for
giving it to me. I've flown seventy goddam combat missions. Don't talk to me about
fighting to save my country. I've been fighting all along to save my country. Now I'm
going to fight a little to save myself.
The country's not in danger any more, but I am.'
'The war's not over yet. The Germans are driving toward Antwerp.'
'The Germans will be beaten in a few months. And Japan will be beaten a few months
after that. If I were to give up my life now, it wouldn't be for my country. It would
be for Cathcart and Korn. So I'm turning my bombsight in for the duration.
From now on I'm thinking only of me.'
Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile,
'But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.'
'Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn't I?' Yossarian
sat up straighter with a quizzical expression. 'You know, I have a queer feeling that
I've been through this exact conversation before with someone. It's just like the
chaplain's sensation of having experienced everything twice.'
'The chaplain wants you to let them send you home,' Major Danby remarked.
'The chaplain can jump in the lake.'
'Oh, dear.' Major Danby sighed, shaking his head in regretful disappointment.
'He's afraid he might have influenced you.'
'He didn't influence me. You know what I might do? I might stay right here in this
hospital bed and vegetate. I could vegetate very comfortably right here and let
other people make the decisions.'
'You must make decisions,' Major Danby disagreed.
'A person can't live like a vegetable.'
A distant warm look entered Major Danby's eyes.
'It must be nice to live like a vegetable,' he conceded wistfully.
'It's lousy,' answered Yossarian.
'No, it must be very pleasant to be free from all this doubt and pressure,' insisted
Major Danby. 'I think I'd like to live like a vegetable and make no important
'What kind of vegetable, Danby?'
'A cucumber or a carrot.'
'What kind of cucumber? A good one or a bad one?'
'Oh, a good one, of course.'
'They'd cut you off in your prime and slice you up for a salad.'
Major Danby's face fell. 'A poor one, then.'
'They'd let you rot and use you for fertilizer to help the good ones grow.'
'I guess I don't want to live like a vegetable, then,'
said Major Danby with a smile of sad resignation.
'Danby, must I really let them send me home?' Yossarian inquired of him seriously.
Major Danby shrugged. 'It's a way to save yourself.'
'It's a way to lose myself, Danby. You ought to know that.'
'You could have lots of things you want.'
'I don't want lots of things I want,' Yossarian replied, and then beat his fist down
against the mattress in an outburst of rage and frustration.
'Goddammit, Danby! I've got friends who were killed in this war.
I can't make a deal now. Getting stabbed by that bitch was
the best thing that ever happened to me.'
'Would you rather go to jail?'
'Would you let them send you home?'
'Of course I would!' Major Danby declared with conviction. 'Certainly I would,' he
added a few moments later, in a less positive manner. 'Yes, I suppose I would let
them send me home if I were in your place,' he decided uncomfortably, after lapsing
into troubled contemplation. Then he threw his face sideways disgustedly in a
gesture of violent distress and blurted out, 'Oh, yes, of course I'd let them send me
home! But I'm such a terrible coward I couldn't really be in your place.'
'But suppose you weren't a coward?' Yossarian demanded, studying him closely.
'Suppose you did have the courage to defy somebody?'
'Then I *wouldn't* let them send me home,' Major Danby vowed emphatically with
vigorous joy and enthusiasm. 'But I certainly wouldn't let them court-martial me.'
'Would you fly more missions?'
'No, of course not. That would be total capitulation. And I might be killed.'
'Then you'd run away?'
Major Danby started to retort with proud spirit and came to an abrupt stop, his halfopened jaw swinging closed dumbly. He pursed his lips in a tired pout. 'I guess there
just wouldn't be any hope for me, then, would there?'
His forehead and protuberant white eyeballs were soon glistening nervously again. He
crossed his limp wrists in his lap and hardly seemed to be breathing as he sat with his
gaze drooping toward the floor in acquiescent defeat. Dark, steep shadows slanted in
from the window. Yossarian watched him solemnly, and neither of the two men
stirred at the rattling noise of a speeding vehicle skidding to a stop outside and the
sound of racing footsteps pounding toward the building in haste.
'Yes, there's hope for you,' Yossarian remembered with a sluggish flow of
inspiration. 'Milo might help you. He's bigger than Colonel Cathcart,
and he owes me a few favors.'
Major Danby shook his head and answered tonelessly. 'Milo and Colonel Cathcart are
pals now. He made Colonel Cathcart a vice-president and promised him an important
job after the war.'
'Then ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen will help us,' Yossarian exclaimed.
'He hates them both, and this will infuriate him.'
Major Danby shook his head bleakly again. 'Milo and ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen merged
last week. They're all partners now in M & M Enterprises.'
'Then there is no hope for us, is there?'
'No hope at all, is there?'
'No, no hope at all,' Major Danby conceded. He looked up after a while with a halfformed notion. 'Wouldn't it be nice if they could disappear us the way they
disappeared the others and relieve us of all these crushing burdens?'
Yossarian said no. Major Danby agreed with a melancholy nod, lowering his eyes again,
and there was no hope at all for either of them until footsteps exploded in the
corridor suddenly and the chaplain, shouting at the top of his voice, came bursting
into the room with the electrifying news about Orr, so overcome with hilarious
excitement that he was almost incoherent for a minute or two. Tears of great elation
were sparkling in his eyes, and Yossarian leaped out of bed with an incredulous yelp
when he finally understood.
*'Sweden?'* he cried.
'Orr!' cried the chaplain.
'Orr?' cried Yossarian.
'Sweden!' cried the chaplain, shaking his head up and down with gleeful rapture and
prancing about uncontrollably from spot to spot in a grinning, delicious frenzy.
'It's a miracle, I tell you! A miracle! I believe in God again. I really do. Washed
ashore in Sweden after so many weeks at sea! It's a miracle.'
'Washed ashore, hell!' Yossarian declared, jumping all about also and roaring in
laughing exultation at the walls, the ceiling, the chaplain and Major Danby. 'He didn't
wash ashore in Sweden. He *rowed* there! He *rowed* there, Chaplain, he *rowed*
'He *planned* it that way! He went to Sweden deliberately.'
'Well, I don't care!' the chaplain flung back with undiminished zeal. 'It's still a
miracle, a miracle of human intelligence and human endurance. Look how much he
accomplished!' The chaplain clutched his head with both hands and doubled over in
laughter. 'Can't you just picture him?' he exclaimed with amazement. 'Can't you just
picture him in that yellow raft, paddling through the Straits of Gibraltar at night
with that tiny little blue oar -'
'With that fishing line trailing out behind him, eating raw codfish all the way to
Sweden, and serving himself tea every afternoon -'
'I can just see him!' cried the chaplain, pausing a moment in his celebration to catch
his breath. 'It's a miracle of human perseverance, I tell you. And that's just what
I'm going to do from now on! I'm going to persevere. Yes, I'm going to persevere.'
'He knew what he was doing every step of the way!' Yossarian rejoiced, holding both
fists aloft triumphantly as though hoping to squeeze revelations from them. He spun
to a stop facing Major Danby. 'Danby, you dope! There is hope, after all. Can't you
see? Even Clevinger might be alive somewhere in that cloud of his, hiding inside until
it's safe to come out.'
'What are you talking about?' Major Danby asked in confusion.
'What are you both talking about?'
'Bring me apples, Danby, and chestnuts too. Run, Danby, run. Bring me crab apples and
horse chestnuts before it's too late, and get some for yourself.'
'Horse chestnuts? Crab apples? What in the world for?'
'To pop into our cheeks, of course.' Yossarian threw his arms up into the air in a
gesture of mighty and despairing self-recrimination. 'Oh, why didn't I listen to him?
Why wouldn't I have some faith?'
'Have you gone crazy?' Major Danby demanded with alarm and bewilderment.
'Yossarian, will you please tell me what you are talking about?'
'Danby, Orr planned it that way. Don't you understand - he planned it that way from
the beginning. He even practiced getting shot down. He rehearsed for it on every
mission he flew. And I wouldn't go with him! Oh, why wouldn't I listen? He invited me
along, and I wouldn't go with him! Danby, bring me buck teeth too, and a valve to fix
and a look of stupid innocence that nobody would ever suspect of any cleverness. I'll
need them all. Oh, why wouldn't I listen to him. Now I understand what he was trying
to tell me. I even understand why that girl was hitting him on the head with her
'Why?' inquired the chaplain sharply.
Yossarian whirled and seized the chaplain by the shirt front in an importuning grip.
'Chaplain, help me! Please help me. Get my clothes. And hurry, will you?
I need them right away .'
The chaplain started away alertly. 'Yes, Yossarian, I will. But where are they?
How will I get them?'
'By bullying and browbeating anybody who tries to stop you. Chaplain, get me my
uniform! It's around this hospital somewhere.
For once in your life, succeed at something.'
The chaplain straightened his shoulders with determination and tightened his jaw.
'Don't worry, Yossarian. I'll get your uniform. But why was that girl hitting Orr over
the head with her shoe? Please tell me.'
'Because he was paying her to, that's why! But she wouldn't hit him hard enough, so
he had to row to Sweden. Chaplain, find me my uniform so I can get out of here. Ask
Nurse Duckett for it. She'll help you. She'll do anything she can to be rid of me.'
'Where are you going?' Major Danby asked apprehensively when the chaplain had
shot from the room. 'What are you going to do?'
'I'm going to run away,' Yossarian announced in an exuberant, clear voice, already
tearing open the buttons of his pajama tops.
'Oh, no,' Major Danby groaned, and began patting his perspiring face rapidly with the
bare palms of both hands. 'You can't run away. Where can you run to? Where can you
'To Sweden?' Major Danby exclaimed in astonishment.
'You're going to run to Sweden? Are you crazy?'
'Orr did it.'
'Oh, no, no, no, no, no,' Major Danby pleaded.
'No, Yossarian, you'll never get there.
You can't run away to Sweden. You can't even row.'
'But I can get to Rome if you'll keep your mouth shut when you leave here and give
me a chance to catch a ride. Will you do it?'
'But they'll find you,' Major Danby argued desperately, 'and bring you back and
punish you even more severely.'
'They'll have to try like hell to catch me this time.'
'They will try like hell. And even if they don't find you, what kind of way is that to
live? You'll always be alone. No one will ever be on your side, and you'll always live in
danger of betrayal.'
'I live that way now.'
'But you can't just turn your back on all your responsibilities and run away from
them,' Major Danby insisted. 'It's such a negative move. It's escapist.'
Yossarian laughed with buoyant scorn and shook his head. 'I'm not running away from
my responsibilities. I'm running to them. There's nothing negative about running away
to save my life. You know who the escapists are, don't you, Danby? Not me and Orr.'
'Chaplain, please talk to him, will you? He's deserting.
He wants to run away to Sweden.'
'Wonderful!' cheered the chaplain, proudly throwing on the bed a pillowcase full of
Yossarian's clothing. 'Run away to Sweden, Yossarian. And I'll stay here and
persevere. Yes. I'll persevere. I'll nag and badger Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn
every time I see them. I'm not afraid. I'll even pick on General Dreedle.'
'General Dreedle's out,' Yossarian reminded, pulling on his trousers and hastily
stuffing the tails of his shirt inside. 'It's General Peckem now.'
The chaplain's babbling confidence did not falter for an instant. 'Then I'll pick on
General Peckem, and even on General Scheisskopf. And do you know what else I'm
going to do? I'm going to punch Captain Black in the nose the very next time I see
him. Yes, I'm going to punch him in the nose. I'll do it when lots of people are around
so that he may not have a chance to hit me back.'
'Have you both gone crazy?' Major Danby protested, his bulging eyes straining in
their sockets with tortured awe and exasperation. 'Have you both taken leave of
your senses? Yossarian, listen -'
'It's a miracle, I tell you,' the chaplain proclaimed, seizing Major Danby about the
waist and dancing him around with his elbows extended for a waltz. 'A real miracle.
If Orr could row to Sweden, then I can triumph over Colonel Cathcart and Colonel
Korn, if only I persevere.'
'Chaplain, will you please shut up?' Major Danby entreated politely, pulling free and
patting his perspiring brow with a fluttering motion. He bent toward Yossarian, who
was reaching for his shoes. 'What about Colonel -'
'I couldn't care less.'
'But this may actua-'
'To hell with them both!'
'This may actually help them,' Major Danby persisted stubbornly.
'Have you thought of that?'
'Let the bastards thrive, for all I care, since I can't do a thing to stop them but
embarrass them by running away. I've got responsibilities of my own now, Danby.
I've got to get to Sweden.'
'You'll never make it. It's impossible. It's almost a geographical impossibility to get
there from here.'
'Hell, Danby, I know that. But at least I'll be trying. There's a young kid in Rome
whose life I'd like to save if I can find her. I'll take her to Sweden with me if I can
find her, so it isn't all selfish, is it?'
'It's absolutely insane. Your conscience will never let you rest.'
'God bless it.' Yossarian laughed. 'I wouldn't want to live without strong misgivings.
'I'm going to punch Captain Black right in the nose the next time I see him,' gloried
the chaplain, throwing two left jabs in the air and then a clumsy haymaker.
'Just like that.'
'What about the disgrace?' demanded Major Danby.
'What disgrace? I'm more in disgrace now.' Yossarian tied a hard knot in the second
shoelace and sprang to his feet. 'Well, Danby, I'm ready. What do you say?
Will you keep your mouth shut and let me catch a ride?'
Major Danby regarded Yossarian in silence, with a strange, sad smile. He had stopped
sweating and seemed absolutely calm. 'What would you do if I did try to stop you?'
he asked with rueful mockery. 'Beat me up?'
Yossarian reacted to the question with hurt surprise. 'No, of course not.
Why do you say that?'
'I will beat you up,' boasted the chaplain, dancing up very close to Major Danby and
shadowboxing. 'You and Captain Black, and maybe even Corporal Whitcomb.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if I found I didn't have to be afraid
of Corporal Whitcomb any more?'
'Are you going to stop me?' Yossarian asked Major Danby, and gazed at him steadily.
Major Danby skipped away from the chaplain and hesitated a moment longer. 'No, of
course not!' he blurted out, and suddenly was waving both arms toward the door in a
gesture of exuberant urgency. 'Of course I won't stop you. Go, for God sakes, and
hurry! Do you need any money?'
'I have some money.'
'Well, here's some more.' With fervent, excited enthusiasm, Major Danby pressed a
thick wad of Italian currency upon Yossarian and clasped his hand in both his own, as
much to still his own trembling fingers as to give encouragement to Yossarian. 'It
must be nice to be in Sweden now,' he observed yearningly. 'The girls are so sweet.
And the people are so advanced.'
'Goodbye, Yossarian,' the chaplain called. 'And good luck. I'll stay here and
persevere, and we'll meet again when the fighting stops.'
'So long, Chaplain. Thanks, Danby.'
'How do you feel, Yossarian?'
'Fine. No, I'm very frightened.'
'That's good,' said Major Danby. 'It proves you're still alive. It won't be fun.'
Yossarian started out. 'Yes it will.'
'I mean it, Yossarian. You'll have to keep on your toes every minute of every day.
They'll bend heaven and earth to catch you.'
'I'll keep on my toes every minute.'
'You'll have to jump.'
'Jump!' Major Danby cried.
Yossarian jumped. Nately's whore was hiding just outside the door.
The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.
*Joseph Heller's Preface to the 1994 Edition of* Catch-22
In 1961, *The New York Times* was a newspaper with eight columns. And on
November 11 of that year, one day after the official publication date of *Catch-22*,
the page with the book review carried an unusual advertisement that ran from top to
bottom and was five columns wide. To the eye the effect was stupendous. The book
review that day, of a work by somebody else, was squeezed aside to the fold of the
page, as were the crossword puzzle and all else. The ad had this caption: WHAT'S
THE CATCH? And displayed at the top in silhouette was the comic cartoon of a
uniformed figure in flight, glancing off to the side at some unspecified danger with
an expression of panic.
It was an announcement ad for *Catch-22*. Interwoven with the text were mentions
of praise from twenty-one individuals and groups of some public standing, most
connected to literature and the publishing world, who had received the novel before
publication and had already reviewed it or commented about it favorably.
Within days after publication, there was a review in *The Nation* by Nelson Algren
(a client of my own literary agent, who had urged him to read it), who wrote of
*Catch-22* that it 'was the best novel to come out of anywhere in years'. And there
was a review by Studs Terkel in a Chicago daily newspaper that recommended it
about as highly.
So much attention to the work at publication was in large part the result of the
industrious zeal and appreciation of my literary agent, Candida Donadio, and my
editor, Robert Gottlieb, and I embrace the opportunity afforded now to dedicate
this new edition to both of them, as colleagues and allies with talents that were of
The work was not reviewed in the *Times* on publication. However, it was reviewed in
the *Herald Tribune* by Maurice Dolbier, and Mr. Dolbier said of it: 'A wild, moving,
shocking, hilarious, raging, exhilarating, giant roller-coaster of a book.'
That the reviewer for the *Herald Tribune* came to review at all this war novel by
someone unknown was almost entirely the product of coincidence. S. J. Perelman,
much better known and the subject of an interview by Mr. Dolbier, was publishing his
own book at just about that time. His publisher was Simon & Schuster, mine too, and
the editor in charge of his work there was also the same, Bob Gottlieb.
In answer to a question put to him by Dolbier about his own reading, Mr. Perelman
replied that he was very much engrossed in a novel pressed upon him by his editor,
a novel called *Catch-22*.
Returning to his office, Mr. Dolbier later confessed to me, he found the book already
in a pile with others he had decided he would not have time to study as prospects to
write about. Had it not been for Gottlieb, there would have been no Perelman, and
had it not been for Perelman, there would have been no review by Dolbier.
And had it not been for Dolbier, there might not have been the *Times*. Two weeks
afterward, and probably only because of Mr. Dolbier, the book was described with
approbation in the daily *Times* by the reviewer Orville Prescott, who predicted it
would not be forgotten by those who could take it and called it: 'A dazzling
performance that will outrage nearly as many readers as it delights.'
The rest, one might say is history, but it is a history easily misconstrued.
The novel won no prizes and was not on any bestseller list.
And, as Mr. Prescott foresaw, for just about every good report, there seemed to
appear one that was negative. Looking back at this novel after twenty-five years,
John Aldridge, to my mind the most perceptive and persistent commentator of
American literature over the decades, lauded Robert Brustein for his superbly
intelligent review in *The New Republic*, which contained 'essential arguments that
much of the later criticism has done little to improve on', and Mr. Aldridge
recognised that many in the early audience of *Catch-22* 'liked the book for just
the reasons that caused others to hate it'.
The disparagements were frequently venomous. In the *Sunday Times*, in a notice in
back so slender that the only people seeing it were those awaiting it, the reviewer (a
novelist who also by chance was a client of my own agent, Candida) decided that the
'novel gasps for want of craft and sensibility', 'is repetitious and monotonous',
'fails', 'is an emotional hodgepodge', and was no novel; and in the esteemed *The New
Yorker*, the reviewer, a staff writer who normally writes about jazz, compared the
book unfavorably with a novel of similar setting by Mitchell Goodman and decided
that *Catch-22* 'doesn't even seem to have been written; instead, it gives the
impression of having been shouted onto paper', 'what remains is a debris of sour
jokes', and that in the end Heller 'wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in
it'. (I am tempted now to drown in laughter as I jot this down.)
I do not recall that the novel was included in the several hundred books in the
Christmas roundup of recommended reading of the *Times* that year or in the
several hundred others picked out in the spring for summer reading.
But in late summer of 1962, Raymond Walters, on the bestseller page of the *Sunday
Times*, which then carried regularly the column 'In and Out of Books', reported that
the underground book New Yorkers seemed to be talking about most was *Catch-22*.
(The novel probably was more heavily advertised than any other that year, but it was
still underground.) Not that much later, *Newsweek* carried a story to the same
effect in a space more than a page wide. And late that same summer, I was invited to
my first television interview. The program was the *Today* show, then a variety show
as much as anything else. The interim host was John Chancellor. Mr. Chancellor had
recently returned from his newsman's post in the Kremlin, and he had agreed to
accept the position on condition that he interview only those people he
himself chose to.
After the show, in a bar close by the studio in which I found myself drinking martinis
at an earlier hour than ever in my life, he handed me a packet of stickers he'd had
printed privately. They read: YOSSARIAN LIVES. And he confided he'd been
pasting these stickers secretly on the walls of the corridors and in the executive
rest rooms of the NBC building.
Then came September and the paperback edition and with it, finally, an expansion in
popular appeal that seemed to take the publishers, Dell, by surprise, despite
elaborate promotion and distribution strategies. It seemed for a while that the
people there could not fully bring themselves to believe the sales figures and that
they would never catch up.
Paperback publishers print in the hundreds of thousands. For this, after an initial
release of 300,000 copies, they went back to press five more times between
September and the end of the year, twice each in October and December, and by the
end of 1963, there were eleven printings. In England, under the auspices of the
enterprising young editor, there Tom Maschler, it was that way from the start.
Bestseller lists were new and rudimentary then, but *Catch-22* was quickly at the
head of them.
For me the history of *Catch-22* begins back in 1953, when I started writing it. In
1953, 1 was employed as a copywriter at a small advertising agency in New York, after
two years as an instructor in English composition at Pennsylvania State University,
which was then a college. Early on, in anxious need of an approving opinion, I sent the
opening chapter off to the literary agents I had managed to obtain after publishing a
few short stories in magazines, in *Esquire* and *The Atlantic*. The agents were not
impressed, but a young assistant there, Ms. Candida Donadio, was, and she secured
permission to submit that chapter to a few publications that regularly published
excerpts from 'novels in progress'.
In 1955 the chapter appeared in a paperback quarterly, *New World Writing* (an
anthology that also contained, under a pseudonym, an extract from another novel in
progress - Jack Kerouac's *On the Road*). There came complimentary letters of
interest from a few editors at established book publishers, and I was encouraged to
continue with a work I now saw realistically was going to take me a good many years
longer than I at first had guessed.
In 1957, when I had about 270 pages in typescript, I was employed at *Time*
magazine, writing advertising-sales presentations by day when not furtively putting
thoughts down on paper for my work on the novel at home that evening. And Candida
Donadio was establishing herself as a pre-eminent agent in her own right, with a list
of American authors as clients as impressive as any. We agreed it made sense to
submit the partial manuscript to some publishers, mainly to obtain a practical idea of
the potential for publication of the novel we both thought so much of. She was drawn
toward a new young editor she knew of at Simon & Schuster, one she thought might
prove more receptive to innovation than most. His name was Robert Gottlieb, and she
While Gottlieb busied himself with those pages, I, with a four-week summer vacation
from bountiful *Time* magazine, began rewriting them. Gottlieb and I met for lunch,
mainly for him to gauge my temperament and ascertain how amenable I would be as an
author to work with. After I listened to him allude with tact to certain broad
suggestions he thought he eventually might be compelled to make, I handed him my
new pages with the boastful response that I had already taken care of nearly
all of them.
He surprised me with concern that I might take exception to working with someone
so young - he was twenty-six, I think, and I was thirty-four. I was more greatly
surprised to learn from him later that both he and his closest colleague at Simon &
Schuster, Nina Bourne, were intimidated at first by an air of suspicion I projected
that I did not know I even possessed. I have not been suspicious of him since, and I
doubt very much that Gottlieb, who went on to become the head of Alfred A. Knopf
and then the editor of *The New Yorker* magazine, has ever again been intimidated
And what I still remember most agreeably about him is that he did not ask for an
outline or once seek for even a hint of where this one-third of a novel he'd seen was
going to go. The contract I received called for an advance of fifteen hundred dollars,
half on signing, which I did not need, and the remainder on completion and
Probably, I was his first novelist, but not his first to be published; other authors
with completed manuscripts came to him in the three more years I needed to finish
mine. Probably, I was Candida's earliest client too.
Both were as delighted as I was with the eventual success of *Catch-22*, and the
three of us have been reveling in our recollections of the experience ever since.
On February 28, 1962, the journalist Richard Starnes published a column of
unrestrained praise in his newspaper, *The New York World-Telegram*, that opened
with these words: 'Yossarian will, I think, live a very long time.'
His tribute was unexpected, because Mr. Starnes was a newspaperman in the hardboiled mode whose customary beat was local politics, and the *World-Telegram* was
widely regarded as generally conservative.
To this day I am grateful to Mr. Starnes for his unqualified and unsolicited approval
and bless him for the accuracy of his prediction. Yossarian has indeed lived a long
time. Mr. Starnes has passed on. Many people mentioned in that first advertisement
have died, and most of the rest of us are on the way.
But Yossarian is alive when the novel ends. Because of the motion picture, even close
readers of the novel have a final, lasting image of him at sea, paddling toward
freedom in a yellow inflated lifeboat. In the book he doesn't get that far; but he is
not captured and he isn't dead. At the end of the successor volume I've just
completed, *Closing Time* (that fleeing cartoon figure is again on the book jacket of
the American edition, but wearing a businessman's chapeau and moving with a cane),
he is again still alive, more than forty years older but definitely still there. 'Everyone
has got to go,' his physician friend in that novel reminds him with emphasis.
'Everyone!' But should I ever write another sequel,
he would still be around at the end.
Sooner or later, I must concede, Yossarian, now seventy,
will have to pass away too. But it won't be by my hand.
JOSEPH HELLER, 1994
*East Hampton, New York*
Back to Table of content
- Terry Pratchett
- Darren Shan
- Samantha Young
- Gav Thorpe
- Pamela Palmer
- Gene Wolfe
- F. Paul Wilson
- Amanda Maxlyn
- Jodi Ellen Malpas
- Jill Shalvis
- Susan Hill
- Sherrilyn Kenyon
- Megan Shepherd
- Colleen Gleason
- Kylie Scott
- Courtney Summers
- Elizabeth Kostova
- Yanna Lee
- Tobias S. Buckell
- Jennifer Estep
- Georgia Cates
- Emma Chase
- J.C. Reed
- C.J. Ellisson
- Brent Weeks
- Kendare Blake
- Sam Sykes
- Meg Cabot
- Nicole Peeler
- Philip Athans
- Lauren Kate
- S.D. Perry
- Max Brooks
- Fritz Leiber
- MaryJanice Davidson
- James S.A. Corey
- R.K. Lilley
- Molly McAdams
- Robert McCammon
- Katja Millay