Air Force captain Yossarian malingers in a military hospital in Pianosa, Italy. He and his friend Dunbar goad and mock a Texan who thinks only certain types of people should vote. Yossarian is required to censor mail to and from the enlisted men, does so in bizarre ways, and signs his work “Washington Irving”, which results in an investigation.
Why Yossarian might be hard to identify with: He’s refusing to fight Hitler, which is different from trying to get out of Vietnam. He says he’s madly in love with the chaplain, but we sense that Yossarian is not really capable of real friendship. He’s dead inside. He writes sadistic letters to his loved ones at home. He falsely accuses the Texan of murder. We already get a sense here in these early pages that his attitude toward women is terrible.
- Dozens of ironies make the world real to us. He signs the letters “Washington Irving” out of boredom, then a C.I.D. man checks into the hospital to investigate, but they can tell he’s an investigator because he finds censoring letters too boring and refuses to do it. Then we they all decide to check out of the hospital so they don’t have to be around the Texan anymore, only the C.I.D. man remains behind because he’s caught pneumonia in the hospital.
- And of course, looking past these ten pages, we’ll find out about Catch-22: You can get out of the army if you’re crazy, but if you’re trying to get out of the army, that proves you’re sane.
- Everybody wants to kill him. We don’t really get a sense of it yet in this first chapter, but he’s almost killed by enemy flack every time he goes on a bombing raid (a fellow flier will painfully die is his arms in a scene we get flashes of over the course of the book) and the glory-seeking Colonel keeps promising they can go home after a few more missions and then endlessly raising the number of missions.
- We also eventually find out that the men are killing each other in various ways, so Yossarian is in constant danger. One by one, all of his friends will die, in increasingly absurd and meaningless ways.
- He hates the Texan’s bigotry, so we can tell he’s basically a good person, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.
- He’s funny. He and Dunbar mock the Texan together with good “Yes and” comic timing. The many bizarre ways he comes up with to censor the letters are increasingly funny, and a parody of writing instruction.