An air pilot named Yossarian and his squadron navigate life in the army during World War II. Despite their attempts to stay alive, the army’s “Catch-22” rule continues to put them in danger.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
The informational text “Introduction to World War II” discusses the causes of World War II, as well as its progression and conclusion.
Introduce this text before students begin the novel. Catch-22 deals with the lives of soldiers in World War II. This article details both the negative and positive consequences America faced in the war. Ask students to compare the advantages and disadvantages of entering the war. Why did Americans finally decide to enter the war?
In Mark Twain's "The War Prayer," a stranger visits a congregation praying for victory in war. In front of the entire congregation, this stranger outlines the cost on human life that this victory would entail. "The War Prayer" is Twain's scathing indictment on war and blind patriotism.
Introduce this text after Chapter 19, when Colonel Cathcart asks the Chaplain about prayers before battles, only to be informed that it might lead to worse performance. Have students consider the motivations of the colonel and the motivations of the people in The War Prayer. What is the irony of praying for success in battle? Is it possible for religion to be compatible with war?
“How American Industry Won World War II,” offers insight into a lesser-known facet of the Allies’ victory in the second World War: the supremely important role played by American industry.
Introduce this text after Chapter 24. Milo’s enterprise has grown to the point where the planes he sold to the Germans bomb his own camp. Have students consider the parallels between M & M Enterprises and American industry in World War II. In what ways does capitalism take advantage of war? What is the cost of exploiting this opportunity?
In May 1962, General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) delivered this address to cadets at West point. A five-star general, MacArthur played a prominent role in the Pacific theater campaign during World War II, and from 1919-1922 served as the Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Introduce this text after Chapter 32, in which inexperienced young soldiers arrive at Yossarian’s tent and eventually cause him to flee. Ask students to analyze MacArthur’s speech on war and the role of a soldier. How does the novel challenge MacArthur’s ideas of “duty, honor, and country?” Is it reasonable for soldiers like Yossarian to follow the same values as elite officers?
Born and raised in Iraq, Dunya Mikhail (1965—) has written much about the wars she lived through in her home country, until she was forced to flee the country in 1996 after threats and harrassment from the government. This satirical poem praises the diligence of war and its effects, from "provid[ing] food for flies" to "invigorat[ing] the coffin makers."
Introduce this text after Chapter 39. Yossarian believes that Catch-22 doesn’t exist, but because everyone believes it does, it is used to justify any action. Ask students to discuss the use of irony in the poem and in the novel. Consider the differences between humorous irony and tragic irony. How has the use of irony transformed over the course of the novel? How has the meaning of Catch-22 evolved over the course of the novel?