Summary — Chapter 1: The Texan
Hoping to avoid the violence involved in World War II, an American solider called Yossarian has presented himself to an Italian military hospital, claiming that he has pain in his liver. It seems that the doctors are unable to show that he is well, so they allow him to stay. They are confused, however, because his condition does not appear to be worsening or improving. The hospital patients are made to censor letters that travel between the soldiers and people they correspond with at home. Yossarian interferes with the letters to play games with the people in authority. He deletes words using arbitrary criteria and signs letters as “Washington Irving.” He is in the hospital ward with his friend Dunbar. Dunbar is bandaged and entirely immobile. He is referred to as “the soldier in white.” There are two nurses who seem to hate Yossarian.
One day, a likable Texan is brought into the ward as a patient. This man tries to persuade the patients that “decent folk” should have some extra votes. The other patients find the Texan’s patriotism irritating. A chaplain arrives to visit Yossarian, who enjoys his company. However, within ten days of the Texan coming into the hospital, nearly everyone, Yossarian included, finds themselves so annoyed by the Texan that they decide to flee the ward. They go back to active duty.
Summary — Chapter 2: Clevinger
When Yossarian leaves the hospital, he feels that he is the only person worried about the pointless war in which millions of young men are being bombed by other young men. He recalls having an argument about the character of the war with Clevinger, an officer in his group. Yossarian had declared that everyone wanted to kill him, while Clevinger asserted that no one was personally attempting to kill Yossarian. Yossarian had cast aside the arguments Clevinger posed about countries and honor. To Yossarian, the only significant fact was that people continued to shoot at him.
Yossarian sees Orr, his roommate. He discovers that Clevinger remains missing. He recalls the most recent time he and Clevinger referred to each other as crazy. It was during an evening at the officers’ club when Yossarian made the announcement that he was superhuman because no one had been able to kill him yet. Yossarian finds everyone suspicious when he leaves the hospital. He enjoys a delicious meal in the gourmet mess hall. After that, he talks to Doc Daneeka, who angers Yossarian by relating to him that Colonel Cathcart has increased the number of missions in which a soldier must participate before he may be discharged from forty-five to fifty. Yossarian had flown forty-four missions before this change was made.
Summary — Chapter 3: Havermeyer
Orr shares with Yossarian a nonsensical tale about how he enjoyed stuffing crab apples within his cheeks when he was younger. Yossarian recalls a time in Rome during which a prostitute beat Orr in the head with her shoe. Yossarian calls attention to Orr’s size. Even Huple, a young boy who resides near Hungry Joe’s tent, is larger than him. Hungry Joe experiences nightmares every time he isn’t scheduled to fly on a mission the following day. When this happens, his loud screaming keeps everyone in the camp awake. Hungry Joe’s tent is in close proximity to a road where the men occasionally pick up girls and bring them to an area with tall grass found opposite from an open-air movie theater.
P.P. Peckem, an ambitious general, has sent a U.S.O. (United Service Organizations) troupe to visit the theater that afternoon. P.P. Peckem hopes to take over command of Yossarian’s unit, which is currently being overseen by General Deedle. Colonel Cargill, who is General Peckem’s troubleshooter, was once a marketing executive paid by firms on Wall Street to deliberately fail in marketing in order to facilitate tax losses. Cargill does something very similar now as a colonel. His most notable failure is in the area of fostering enthusiasm among the men. Some of the men have done their fifty missions and eagerly hope that they will get their orders to return home before Colonel Cathcart increases the number of missions again.
Doc Daneeka refuses to ground Yossarian even though he feels ill. The doctor tells Yossarian that he should seek to emulate Havermeyer, a courageous bombardier, and try to make the best of the reality he finds himself in. Yossarian, however, believes that his fear is healthy. The narrator calls attention to the fact that Havermeyer enjoys shooting mice in the dark of night and that one occasion he awakened Hungry Joe with a shot that forced him to go into a slit trench. These slit trenches were quite mysterious in that they had suddenly appeared before the tent each morning after the bombing of the squadron by mess officer Milo Minderbinder.
Summary — Chapter 4: Doc Daneeka
The narrator says that Hungry Joe is crazy. This is why Yossarian is attempting to give some advice. Hungry Joe refuses to listen, though. This is because he thinks that Yossarian is the one who is crazy. In turn, Doc Daneeka informs Yossarian that his own problems are more severe than those of Hungry Joe because the war has caused an interruption in his medical practice, from which he generally makes a lot of money.
Yossarian recalls attempting to disrupt the educational meeting that took place in Captain Black’s intelligence tent. He did this by posing questions that were impossible to answer. This led Group Headquarters to institute a rule that the sole people who were allowed to ask questions were the people who never did. This rule comes from Lieutenant Colonel Korn and Colonel Cathcart. Both of these colonels also provided approval for the building of a skeet-shooting range at which Yossarian never ends up hitting anything. Dunbar, however, shoots skeets on a frequent basis because he dislikes it. Dunbar thinks that when he takes part in activities that are uncomfortable or boring, time goes by more slowly and in this way he make this life longer. He talks about this theory with Clevinger. In the meantime, ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen has set off a panic among the officers in Rome. He has done this by phoning them and saying only the words, “T.S. Eliot.” While he means for these words to be a response to a general memo that the colonel send stating that it would be difficult to name a poet who makes money, General Peckem thinks that the words are really a coded message that he doesn’t understand. This makes him terribly anxious.
Summary — Chapter 5: Chief White Halfoat
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety . . . was the process of a rational mind.
Doc Daneeka and a Native American called Chief White Halfoat, who is an alcoholic, share a tent. In this tent, Doc Daneeka tells Yossarian about the corrupt medical practice he has in Staten Island. He tells him a story about a sexually inept newlywed couple who once came into his office. Chief White Halfoat comes in. Chief White Halfoat comes in, informing Yossarian that Doc Daneeka is insane. Halfoat then tells the story of his own family. As every place where he and his family have settled ended up being on top of a large oil supply, major oil companies began to follow them. They thought of them as “human divining rods.” The oil companies then threw them off the land. This led to the family having a rather nomadic life.
Yossarian again begs Doc Daneeka for permission to be grounded. He asks whether he would be grounded if he were pronounced to be crazy. Don Daneeka indicates that he would. Yossarian claims that he is, in fact, crazy. Doc Daneeka then talks about Catch-22, a regulation decreeing that, for a pilot to be grounded by reason of insanity, he must ask to be grounded. However, if a plot asks to be grounded, they will automatically be said to be sane, as sane people would never wish to fly bombing missions. Yossarian is impressed and takes Doc Daneeka at his word. This is similar to how he took Orr’s word about the flies that were in Appleby’s eyes. Orr had stated there are flies in Appleby’s eyes, and although Yossarian was perplexed about what Orr meant, he believed him. He did because Orr had never before lied to him.
Yossarian starts thinking about the bombing missions and the extent to which he detests his position in the nose of the plane. In this position, he is kept away from the escape hatch. In order to get to it, he has to get through a tiny passage that he is only just able to fit through. He is always terrified on bombing missions. He begs McWatt, the pilot, the try to avoid antiaircraft fire. He recalls a specific mission when, as the squadron was in the mist of taking evasive action, the co-pilot called Dobbs went crazy. He began shouting, “Help him.” With the plane then spinning out of control, Yossarian thought that he was going to die. The narrator is enigmatic when he declares that there was a person called Snowden dying in the back of the plane.