Joseph Heller
Contributed by Sherie Debus
Chapters 38-42

Summary Chapter 38: Kid Sister

In order to avoid anyone being able to sneak up on him, Yossarian marches around backwards. He refuse to go on any additional combat missions. When Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn told about Yossarian’s defiance, they opt to take pity on him because of Nately’s death. They send Yossarian to Rome for some rest. While in Rome, he tells Nately’s prostitute about the death. She is so upset that she tries to kill Yossarian with a potato peeler. Her little sisters shows up and tries to stab him. Yossarian is covered with wounds and goes to get cleaned up at a Red Cross building. When he comes out, Nately’s prostitute is waiting for him. She wants to ambush him. She tries to stab him yet again. She follows him as he walks, including back to Pianosa. He gets revenge by bringing her by plane to a distant spot. He drops her from the plane in a parachute. Yossarian continues to walk backwards. The story about him refusing to go on any more combat missions spreads. Men start to come up to him at night to ask if the story is true. They say that they hope they can get away with it, too. Yossarian’s superior officers are worried. They offer to give him only non-dangerous missions if he will consent to fly. Captain Black one day informs him that the military police (M.P.’s) have forced Nately’s whore and her little sister out of their apartment. Yossarian feels concerned about them.

Summary Chapter 39: The Eternal City

Yossarian and Milo travel to Rome. Milo is disappointed in Yossarian for refusing to go on any more combat missions. Having been bombed, Rome lies in ruins. The apartment complex which housed the prostitutes is rubble. Yossarian comes across the old woman who resided in the building. Sobbing, she informs Yossarian that the sole right that the soldiers had to force the girls away was the right provided by Catch-22, which declares that “they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.” Yossarian inquires if they had a written copy of Catch-22 and if they had let her see it. She says that Catch-22 indicates that they have no obligation to show her Catch-22. Yossarian is aware that Catch-22 does not exist. However, this fact is irrelevant. This is because everyone believes that it exists. That’s all that matters. Milo says that he will assist Yossarian in finding the little sister. However, he gets distracted when he finds out about the large profits that are to be made in trafficking illegal tobacco. He sneaks away. Yossarian wanders the dark streets. The night is horrific with terrible sights: men beat children and dogs, a woman is raped, a soldier convulses violently, and the sidewalk is covered with broken human teeth. He goes back to his apartment to discover that Aarfy has raped and murdered a maid. The M.P.’s come in. They offer their apologies to Aarfy for the intrusion. They put Yossarian under arrest for not having a pass to be in Rome.

Summary Chapter 40: Catch-22

In Pianosa, Colonel Korn and Colonel Cathcart wish to send Yossarian home. However, they are prevented from doing this by Catch-22. They make Yossarian an offer: They will allow him to be grounded and send him home if he will consent to like them. He will be promoted and made a major. The only thing he will need to do in return is support the two colonels. Yossarian knows that this would constitute a terrible betrayal of his squadron’s man, as they will still need to fly eighty missions. However, he convinces himself to accept the deal anyway. The idea of going home makes him very happy. As Yossarian leaves Colonel Cathcart’s office, Nately’s whore shows up. She is disguised as a private and stabs him. He loses consciousness.   

Summary Chapter 41: Snowden

Some doctors argue over Yossarian in the hospital. In the meantime, the fat and angry colonel, the one who interrogated the chaplain, interrogates him. The doctors finally knock him out and operate. When he awakens, the hazily perceives being visited by the chaplain and Aarfy. He informs the chaplain about the deal he made with Korn and Cathcart. He then tells him that he isn’t going to go through with it. He has a vague memory of a hostile, even perhaps supernatural men jeering at him. This figure said “We’ve got your pal” soon after his operation. He tells the chaplain that the “pal” must have been one of the friends who lost their lives in the war. He recognizes that the only friend he still has living is Hungry Joe. However, the chaplain informs him that Hungry Joe has passed away. It happened in his sleep. Huple’s cat was on his face.

Yossarian later awakens to discover a hostile-looking man wearing a hospital gown who is leering at him. The man is saying, “We’ve got your pal.” Yossarian asks who the pal is. The man says that he will find out. Yossarian lunges in his direction. The man easily moves away and disappears. Yossarian experiences a flashback to Snowden’s death. He relives it acutely and feels emotional pain. Snowden is smiling at him weakly, saying “I’m cold.” Yossarian attempts to mend the wound in his leg, reassuring him. He thinks that he will be okay. Yossarian finally opens up the flak suit that Snowden is wearing. Snowden’s insides come out, getting all over him. Yossarian recalls the secret he saw in the entrails: “The spirit gone, man is garbage.” He ponders that man is matter. He thinks that without the spirit, man is destined to rot like garbage.

Summary Chapter 42: Yossarian

While in the hospital, Yossarian tries to make Major Danby understand why he will no longer go through with the deal he made with Korn and Cathcart. He refuses to sell himself short in this way. He will not betray his dead friends’ memories. Yossarian informs Danby that he plans to flee. Dancy, however, communicates that there is no hope. Yossarian has to agree. The chaplain comes in with new: Orr has washed ashore. He is in Sweden. Yossarian recognizes that Orr must have intended to escape all along. He feels joyful as he realizes that there is hope despite what anyone else says. He asks the chaplain to get his clothes and resolves to desert the army and flee to Sweden. It is there he feels he will be able to save himself from war and its madness. When he goes outside, Nately’s whore tries to kill him again. He runs away.


This part of the novel places Yossarian in the book’s most surreal atmosphere of darkness. We see the night in Rome after Nately’s whore’s disappearance. This is the scene filled with the greatest amount of despair in the book. Yossarian comes across countless examples of neglect, abuse, and oppression. The culmination of the scene is Aarfy’s rape and murder of a maid. This finally explodes the issue of moral absolutes in times of war. Disgusted and outraged, Yossarian knows the most inviolable moral absolute—the law that one must never kill another human being. He is then arrested himself for the meaningless offence of existing in Rome without a pass. Aarfy, meanwhile, gets an apology from the police. One of the requirements of war is to kill other people. As is pointed out by the old woman who calls attention to the dominance of Catch-22 this reality calls into question every other moral and natural law.

The death of Snowden has been alluded to throughout the book. However, it is only in the novel’s second-to-last chapter that we are permitted to view the entire scene. As it is situated near the end of the book and is so obviously a vital event, Snowden’s death has the role of the novel’s technical climax even though it occurred prior to many of the story’s other events. The way the scene of Snowden’s death progresses has similarities to Yossarian’s progression throughout the story. Yossarian at first believes that he is able to control death and that he will be able to stop the bleeding of Snowden’s leg and save the man’s life. Later, he discovers that death is completely out of his control. The “secret” that he becomes privy to here is that human beings are made of inanimate matter. It is impossible for humans to restore life to the body of another human once life has been taken by drowning, disease, or flak.

Yossarian comes to realize that the wish to live is the most significant quality of human beings. However, the desire to live is not merely the wish to survive at all costs: Yossarian feels unable to live in a hypocritical way or as a salve. It is a result of this that he opts to take on significant personal danger by trying to flee the military instead of accepting the safe deal that would be a betrayal of the other men. Yossarian selects to simply seize his life back in his own hands. He clearly rejects Catch-22’s mentality, running for freedom. His inspiration for this decision is the rather strange story of Orr, who escaped to Sweden.

When we see Nately’s whore in this part of the novel, her appearance functions as a strange type of moral point of reference. While Yossarian bears no responsibility for Nately’s death, Nately’s whore clearly blamed Yossarian. Yossarian also blamed himself in a way. He does so at least to feel responsible for the woman and her little sister. However, as long as he refuses to go along with the orders of the military authorities, he is able to get away from Nately’s whore when she tries to kill him. It is only when he agrees to go along with the deal with Korn and Cathcart that she is able to stab and significantly injure him. This indicates that his decision to go along with the bureaucrats comprises the metaphorical demise of Yossarian. At the end of the book, when Yossarian escapes, the presence of the whore is a strangely welcome one. Yossarian is successful in escaping from her. This demonstrates that he is now taking the right course in refusing to go along with the deal.

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