Time: defined as a precise instant, minute, hour, day, year, or as every moment there has ever been or ever will be. Time is linear, one minute right after the other, not in any other order but as it falls. A journey is something that happens over a certain amount of time, with generally quite a distance traveled. Yet, in Heller’s novel, Catch-22, we see a man’s journey jump through time, into the past, into other’s experiences, and it all ties to his own victorious completion. Several characters in Yossarian’s life help him to be a hero.
The message that Snowden conveys to Yossarian is one that inspires his transformation; one that will start him out on his journey throughout a non-linear world. Yossarian first exclaims his vision when he is having a conversation with his friend Clevinger who swears Yossarian is crazy. “They are trying to kill me,’ Yossarian told him No one’s trying to kill you,’ Clevinger cried. Then why are they all shooting at me? ‘”(11) Clevinger has rationalized the war which makes it possible for him to go out when called to fight and kill, but Yossarian has clarity, he knows that the enemy is trying to kill him.
True, the enemy is trying to kill everyone else; the fact that it is his life makes it more personal. This first step of Yossarian’s initiates the beginning of his journey. Now he is able to see what has happened and what is going to happen and evaluate it with a full understanding. This clarity helps him to escape the great enigmatic shadow that dwells over him. Remembering what has happened and seeing it in a clear light is Yossarian’s greatest tool to solve his riddle. Along with vision, Yossarian also recognizes that he has a persona, a mask.
During Snowden’s burial, he is up in a chestnut tree naked, striped of his shell. Now because he is rid of the society built mask, he is able to recognize the tree as both the “Tree of Life,” and as the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. ” Much like the story in Genesis, the naked man is soon visited by a serpent carrying the “fruit. ” The serpent is in the shape of Milo Minderbinder, one of Yossarian’s friends, and the “fruit” is a chocolate covered cotton ball. His knowledge tells him that the fruit will make him sick, and when he asks Milo if he got sick when he ate the fruit, his intuition is confirmed.
Yossarian recognizes the “fruit” for what it really is. He sees that it is like war; covered in sweet delicious glorified goop, yet when it is devoured it is disgusting and deadly. It is a protective rationalization, an argument to protect irrational actions. He also sees the connections between the fruit, the fall, and what is subsequent. The tragedy; work, pain, war, distrust, enmity, and death. And the fortune; life, the journey, selfhood, freewill, hubris, and salvation. Snowden’s death is brought up several times in the novel, though it is not complete in content.
We see how often Yossarian thinks of Snowden, the young man he never really knew, but learned more from than anyone else he had ever known. Snowden had a secret that Yossarian has to figure out, that he has to understand, that is his journey. This important scene, which actually is completely described in the end of the novel, helps us to understand what started Yossarian on his journey. This is the climax, the readers moment of complete comprehension. But, before we can move on to this great segment of Yossarian’s journey, we must first look at his decent into the underworld. As he walks down the stairs into Rome he is cursing Catch-22.
This signifies his decent into hell. Every soon-to-be hero on a journey must at one point go into hell, and Rome just happens to be hell for Yossarian. While in Rome he is witnessing horrible acts of cruelty, and he is coming to the realization that he can’t do anything about it. More like he won’t. He sees a child being beaten in the midst of a crowd, yet no one says anything to stop the child’s agony. He sees that people are cowards, and that others have it worse than he does and can’t do anything about it. He is finally able to look beyond his own misfortunes and recognize another’s.
He is able to see the irony in the world. Just about the time he starts to realize these things it starts to rain. This rain falling on his head and soaking him through is cleansing: it is as if he is being baptized. This baptismal is yet one more thing to help him figure out Snowden’s secret. Another moment of clarity; completely unselfish, and without any dishonesty. What he sees is real life, not a temporary war between countries, but a war between people. Now that Yossarian is clean the serpent will take another form and try to tempt him. This is the final temptation, his test of worthiness.
In order for one to finish the journey and become a hero, they must be strong and resist. His test is not of strength, but of morality; was he going to do what was right, or what was easier? Whatever Yossarian decides to do is proof whether he really wants to complete his journey or not. This time the serpent was in the shape of Colonial Korn and Colonial Cathcart. The temptation, to go home. The only catch, Catch-22 of coarse. He would have to make the colonials look good so they could be promoted. Once home he would have to pretend like he was real pals with the men, then Yossarian would be able to live in a life of luxury.
He wouldn’t have to worry about money ever again, he would just have to lie to do it. This is a hard decision for him to make, because if he refuses to do what the colonials have proposed, then he is going to be court-martialed. The way that Colonial Korn put it was “It really is odious and certainly will offend your conscience. But you’ll agree to it quickly enough. You’ll agree to it because it will send you home safe and sound in two weeks, and because you have no choice. It’s that or a court-martial. Take it or leave it. ”(426) Yossarian agrees, but after a great deal of trouble he is able to do a serious amount of thinking.
After receiving some help from his Chaplain, one of Yossarian’s best friends, he is able to escape the horrific deal. He is able to overcome temptation. The chaplain is able to help Yossarian understand that being a hero is a choice, and once the journeyer stops lying to him/herself, then he/she can be successful. The whole incident that starts the journey happens before all of this, yet is told in the very end of the novel. Snowden’s death is the thing that sends Yossarian on a hero’s quest, and is the thing that ultimately saves him. While on a mission, one of the men start screaming help him, help him!
Yossarian goes to help a young man that has been shot in the leg. He is racing against the clock to get his open thigh covered and stop the bleeding. When he goes to give Snowden morphine, he finds a note and a bottle of aspirin from Milo, who had sold the morphine for some profit. Once he has done all he thinks he can do Snowden points to his side, where it has also been blown off and his insides spill out all over. Snowden had spilled a secret to Yossarian all right. This experience, coming face to face with death, realizing it’s reality is the most important step in the journey.
Without facing death, and seeing it for what it really is, it is almost impossible to embrace life. Without having to confront the end, how could one even begin? This is the thing that strikes Yossarian. This is the beginning of his non-linear journey. “Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. . . Ripeness was all. ” (442) What Snowden teaches Yossarian is that without being alive, without a spirit in the body, the body is nothing.
Snowden’s secret is the thing that saves Yossarian’s life and makes him a hero. Without this tragic death, the slimy serpent, the argumentative friend, and a trip into hell, Yossarian would have rotted away in his own incompetence just like the rest of the soldiers. A premature death would have been inevitable. But, through the non-linear world, Yossarian is able to journey, recalling different moments in time and putting them together like a puzzle.. Each piece fitting to make complete sense and the completion of his heroic mission; to live!