Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, was a tremendously well-recieved book when it first came out in 1961, but it was not without its share of negative reviews. Many critics found Heller's unique writing style to be humourous and meaningful, but others found the themes of the novel to be immoral, and the ending of the book to be inadequate.

“Catch-22 (1961) has probably contributed more than any other work to the literary apprehension of war during the last two decades. The interpenetration between literary form and the movements of history is clearly shown in the commercial success of Heller's labyrinthine novel: the symbolism of war as a labyrinth has now become firmly established" (Walsh 200). When Heller first published Catch-22, it was very well-recieved by many literary critics. Despite the book's tendency to describe events in a non-cronological fashion, some thought that "beneath the apparent chaos of the story line exists a coherent sequence of events" (Potts 19). Heller's irregular structuring of plot events better illustrates change of the main character Yossarian and it makes for a more exciting climax towards the end. Many critics also enjoyed Heller's conbination of humor and satire as they "recognized the novel's links with war humor and black humor, but the blend of farce, fierce violence, sharp satire, and the avant-garde method of the plot set Catch-22 apart" (Potts 7). Heller's strong message against war supercedes the silliness which was characteristic of the book. His use of humor is merely a tool in which to make his messages appeal to a large audience.

The coining of the term "Catch-22" by Heller's was also revered by many of the book's critics. "Catch-22 is probably the most encyclopedic in the number of issues it touches on; in so completely capturing the frustration of the individual up against powerful and faceless bureaucracies, it gave the American language a new term in "Catch-22," which has come to refer to any situation encompassing paradoxical choices, usually imposed from above" (Potts 8). The most prominent example of a Catch-22 in the novel was the military policy that a pilot who reports that he is insane can be sent home but if he says he is insane, then he cannot be and must fly more missions (Heller 46). The main overarching commentary used in the Catch-22s is to show how flawed and backwards the bureaucratic military system is. Yossarian's reasoning in response to these problems often seem far-fetched but the logic used actually makes sense despite it's quirkiness while many soldiers around him and the military system make no sense. Heller uses this cleverness to highlight the fact that things are accepted in this world which are very flawed and that it takes something outrageous and thought-provoking in order to make people challenge them. The term of "Catch-22" has, over the years, separated itself from the book and its critique of the military to become a larger part of American culture.


Catch-22 also has recieved quite a few negative reviews, from reviewers who saw the book as too radical in its criticisms of the military and society. With these negative reviews the messages and themes in Catch-22 are perceived as "immoral in the way of so much contemporary fiction and drama in being inclusively, almost absent-mindedly, anti-institutional" (Smith) . "Catch-22 is immoral because it follows a fashion in spitting indiscriminately at business and the professions, at respectability, at ideals, at all visible tokens of superiority" (Smith).

There are also major criticisms of the ending of Catch-22, as many see Yossarians sudden change as too convienient. “The end of the book represents an expansion of the area in which they can louse us up. The choice of the hero, pointedly a man of no nationaly, is to escape. However, the crucial jump from the military absurditities and savageries to the final civilian sequence is a failure. The idiom and method remain the same. The cumulitive effect of the book is one of the artful dodger suddenly released; but the release seems mechanical and the finale arbitrary” (Cockburn 179). The ending of Catch-22 can be seen as an exmaple of "Deus Ex Machina", where the book was suddenly and illogically resolved just so it could end. Reviewers thought “its ending was seen as problematic, a kind of cop-out to get Yossarian out of the war and end the novel--no matter what” (Burkholder).

The critics of Catch-22 were also often dissapointed with the characters in the novel, as they were seen as too flat. Many of the numerous characters in the book that are supposed to differ greatly from one another inadvertently end up conveying the same tone and ill-bent logic. Some go as far to say that "There are no characters. The puppets are given funny names and features, but cannot be visualized or distinguished from one another except by association with their prototypes" (Smith).

Joseph Heller's most revered novels, Catch-22, recieved exremely mixed literary criticism. Some reviewers were thoroughly amused with the use of black humor throughout the book, and the book's criticism of modern bureaucracy. The negative critics found that the themes of the book to be immoral, and that ending was an example of "Deus Ex Machina". Despite all of the positive and negative critisicm Catch-22 recieved, the constant discussion helped give it a permanent place in history and American culture.