Joseph Heller
Contributed by Sherie Debus
Chapters 27-31

Summary Chapter 27: Nurse Duckett

The following morning, Yossarian puts his hand up Nurse Duckett’s skirt as she is smoothing the sheets at the bottom of his bed. She screams and hurries away. Dunbar then touches her bosom from behind. She is rescued by an angry doctor. Yossarian attempts to plead insanity. He claims that he has a recurring dream. It is about a fish. He is given an appointment with the hospital psychiatrist, Major Sanderson. However, Sanderson is more interested in talking about his own problems than any issue of Yossarian’s. Friends come to see Yossarian in hospital. Again, Dobbs offers to do away with Colonel Cathcart. Yossarian says that he believes that people are trying to kill him. He says that he has not adjusted to the reality of the war. Major Sanderson thinks that Yossarian is truly crazy and ought to be sent home. However, there is a mistake caused by the identity confusion created by Yossarian and Dunbar earlier in their hospital stay. A. Fortiori is the one who is sent home. Yossarian is angry. When he goes to see Doc Daneeka, he finds that Daneeka refuses to ground Yossarian for reason of insanity. He asks the rhetorical question of who would be left to fight if all the insane men were sent home.

Summary Chapter 28: Dobbs

When visiting Dobbs, he tells him he can proceed with killing Colonel Cathcart. However, Dobbs has now completed his sixty missions and awaits being sent home. He doesn’t have a reason to kill Colonel Cathcart anymore. Yossarian argues that Colonel Cathcart will increase the number of required missions again. Dobbs declares that he will wait to see what happens but that maybe Orr would help Yossarian with killing the colonel. While Yossarian was in the hospital, Orr crashed his plane once again. He was found in the ocean. As Milo had taken out the tanks of carbon dioxide to use in producing ice cream sodas, none of the life jackets were functioning. Orr is now tinkering with a stove. He wants to build it in the tent that he and Yossarian share. He says that Yossarian should try to fly a mission with him. This would be for practice in case he ever finds himself having to make a crash landing. Yossarian thinks moodily about the second mission of Bologna of which he has heard rumors. Orr is irritating him by making noise. Yossarian finds it relaxing to imagine murdering him. The two men discuss women. Orr declares that they dislike Yossarian. Yossarian says that they are crazy. Orr informs Yossarian that he is aware that Yossarian has requested not to fly with him. He offers to let Yossarian know why a naked girl was smacking him with her shoe. This happened in Rome, outside Nately’s prostitute’s sister’s room. Laughing, Yossarian says he doesn’t want to know. Orr’s plane again crashes into the water the next time he flies a mission. On this occasion, his survival raft floats in the opposite direction of the others. He disappears.

Summary Chapter 29: Peckem

Scheisskopf is now a colonel, and General Peckem has transferred him to his staff. The men are dismayed by this news. Peckem thinks this was a good move. He believes that it will boost his strength in comparison to General Dreedle, his rival. Colonel Scheisskopf is disappointed to find out that he is unable to have his wife accompany him and that he will not be able to have conduct parades in the afternoon. Scheisskopf soon irritates colleagues in Group Headquarters. Peckem brings him along on an inspection of Colonel Catchart’s squadron briefing. While at the preliminary briefing, the men are upset to find out that they must bomb an innocent village, making it rubble. They don’t realize that the sole purpose of the mission is to get excellent aerial photography to impress General Peckem. Peckem and Scheisskopf arrive. Cathcart becomes annoyed when he finds that another colonel has appeared to be his rival. He delivers the briefing personally. While he isn’t very confident and feels nervous, he manages to get through it. He feels proud that he was able to do the job under pressure.

Summary Chapter 30: Dunbar

While on the bombing run, Yossarian experiences a flashback. It is of the mission during which Snowden passed away. This makes him panic. McWatt begins doing daredevil stunts. This makes him angry and he threatens to murder McWatt if he fails to follow orders. He is concerned that McWatt might hold a grudge. However, once the mission is done, McWatt appears to only care about Yossarian’s death. Yossarian has started seeing Nurse Duckett. He makes love with her on the beach. They like to sit and look at the ocean. While they do this, Yossarian ponders all the people who have died while underwater. This includes Clevinger and Orr. On one occasion, McWatt is in his plane, buzzing the beach. It is meant to be a joke. He inadvertently flies too low. The propeller cuts Kid Sampson in half. The body splatters all over the sand. Everyone is preoccupied with this disaster at the base. In the meantime, McWatt fails to land his plane but rather just flies higher. Yossarian sprints down the runway. He yells at McWatt to land. He knows what McWatt intends to do, though. McWatt flies into the side of a mountain and dies. Colonel Cathcart is so distressed by this that he increases the number of required missions to sixty-five.

Summary Chapter 31: Mrs. Daneeka

Colonel Cathcart finds out that Doc Daneeka also lost his life in the crash. In response, he increases the number of required missions to seventy. Doc Daneeka was not really killed, though. However, the records show that the doctor was with McWatt in the plane. The records were altered by Yossarian, who was bribed to do so by Doc Daneeka, who hates to fly. He wanted to have some extra recorded flight time). Doc Daneeka is shocked when he learns that he is believed to be dead. His wife in America receives a letter notifying her of her husband’s supposed death. She is devastated. She is cheered up, though, when she finds out that she will receive several monthly payments from a variety of military departments for the remainder of her life, and that she will get large insurance payments form Daneeka’s insurance company. She finds that friends’ husbands are suddenly flirting with her. She dyes her hair.

Doc Daneeka is ostracized by the men in Pianosa. They put the blame on him for the increased number of required missions. He is no longer able to practice medicine. He recognizes that he really is dead in a way. He writes a letter to his wife, pleading with her to tell authorities that he is alive. She thinks about this. However, when she gets a form letter from Colonel Cathcart expressing his feelings of regret over Daneeka’s death, she and her children move to Lansing, Michigan. She does not leave a forwarding address.


We see a surrealism that becomes increasingly macabre in this part of the novel. Its climax is in the death of Kid Sampson and McWatt’s suicide. The bizarre psychological examinations and identity games at the hospital give the author the chance to parody the topic of modern psychotherapy. He does this in a sharply clever way. One of the novel’s most humorous characterizations is seen in Major Sanderson’s insistence on talking about his own late puberty. This also gives some extra weight to the concept of insanity that we see in many parts of the novel. The men are continually accursing one another of being insane. Yossarian even thinks of insanity as a sort of desirable trait, as he thinks it could help him get out of war. Or if would do, if it was not for Catch-22.

As we already know, this novel does not appear to follow a chronological pattern. This is because it is comprised mainly of episodes that are flashbacks, memories, or character descriptions. They mostly have very little hard connection to what the current moment exactly is. However, the climax we see in these three chapters shows that the book overall still does have a rather conventional narrative structure. We see that the flashbacks and memories that comprise the first two-thirds of the novel precede the frustration and fatigue with war that make up the background for these chapters’ events. The war moves from a surreal series of events with the sort of absurdity that can be parodied to a reality that is clearly serious and significantly burdens Yossarian and his squadron. Additionally, these chapters’ events (especially the two deaths) move the narrative from the preceding sections’ biting parody to a type of dark humor that is almost serious. The burdens of war are causing Yossarian’s psyche to be increasingly strained. This is clear in the scene in which he thinks about killing Orr and is relaxed by the idea. This idea lets him put up with roommate’s annoying talking.

The disappearance and presumed death of Orr arrive as a bit of a shock. Indeed, among the most striking aspects of Catch-22 is the manner in which Heller is able to surprise us every time there is the death of one of Yossarian’s friends. Partly, this aspect is a positive characteristic of the book’s chronology. As there is a great deal of moving forward and backward in time, it is rendered easy to ponder the characters’ lives as existing in a kind of vacuum, with neither a beginning nor end. Obviously, this is not the case. The men’s deaths function as memorable reminders that even in this novel, time does move forward and that human beings are fragile. Yossarian does not need this reminder. He is haunted by Snowden’s death and experiences a moment of rage against McWatt so intense that he wants to kill him. This happens soon after having a flashback of Snowden’s death. The intense desire to live that Yossarian feels is what makes him appear heroic even at times when he is cowardly. When he strangles McWatt and shouts at him to pull up, it appears only right that McWatt should obey.

The chapter focusing on Doc Daneeka’s death is absurd in nature. It represents what might be the most extreme point of confusion caused by bureaucracy in the whole novel. Paperwork features the power to make a man still living to be officially dead. The bureaucracy would prefer to lose the man than actually attempt to deal with the forms. It is painful to see Mrs. Daneeka go along with the red-tape murder of her husband when she opts to accept the insurance payments as being a more reliable authority than a letter from her husband saying he is alive. Doc Daneeka therefore understands that he is for all intents and purposes, dead. He realizes that death has become a matter of paperwork instead of biology. The powerlessness of the soldiers over their own lives extends even to the matter of death. Death can come upon them not only by the firing of a gun but possibly by the erroneous stamping of a paper.

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