Catch 22 - EFL ESL lesson material
The reading text below comes from one of the really big books of the twentieth century: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The main characters are in a squadron of the American air force based on an island somewhere in the Mediterranean during the Second World War. Yossarian (like his friend Clevinger) is a pilot but unlike Clevinger he’s not happy with the war.
From this extract you should be able to work out what a catch-22 situation is. You already know the more common meaning of the word “catch” (“I throw the Frisbee and you catch it”) but here it has a different meaning. Try to work out what the catch is. Because it is a little confusing you will probably have to read the passage a couple of times before you get it.
A couple of words: First, flak refers to the bullets and shells fired at aircraft. Second, do you know what it means when American parents say their teenage kids are grounded because of their bad behaviour? What do you think it means when a doctor in the air force grounds a pilot because the guy has gone nuts?
Yossarian wanted out. He knew the war just didn’t make sense. Men went mad and were rewarded with medals. All over the world, boys on every side of the bomb line were laying down their lives for what they had been told was their country, and no one seemed to mind, least of all the boys who were laying down their young lives. There was no end in sight. The only end in sight was Yossarian’s own. Every time he got into his plane to fly a mission people were trying to kill him. He couldn’t see them but he’d seen the flak whizzing up past the plane windows red and hot. One day one of those pieces was going to have his name on it. He knew it. He tried to remind people how crazy it all was, but they thought he was crazy. Even Clevinger, who should have known better. Clevinger had said there were principles at stake, and he believed in them passionately. He was crazy.
As Yossarian saw it, his only hope now was Doc Daneeka. Only he could certify Yossarian unfit for duty and give him his ticket out. He knew they grounded guys who were not right in the head, and hadn’t Clevinger already said he had a problem in that department? Surely the doctor would help. He was his friend, after all.
“You’ve got to ground me, Doc. You’ve got to sign that paper and send me home. I can’t
take it anymore.”
"You're wasting your time," Doc Daneeka was forced to tell him.
"Can't you ground someone's who's crazy?"
"Oh sure, I have to. There's a rule saying I have to ground anyone who's crazy."
"Then ground me. I’m completely nuts. Ask Clevinger. He’ll tell you how crazy I am."
"There’s no point. He’s crazy,” said the Doc quite calmly. “You can’t let crazy people decide whether you are crazy or not.”
"He ain’t crazy. He’s one of the sanest pilots in the squad."
"So he’s obviously out of his head,” said the Doc. “He’s got to be insane to want to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he’s had."
“Well, if he’s nuts why don’t you ground him?”
“He doesn’t ask me. That’s part of the rule: he’s got to ask me otherwise I can’t ground him.”
"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"
"That's all. Let him ask me," said the Doc.
"And then you can ground him?"
"No, then I can't ground him."
"You mean there's a catch?" asked Yossarian, just trying to get things straight.
“Sure there’s a catch,” replied the Doc and it almost seemed as if he had a smile on his face. “Catch 22. If he asks – if he really doesn’t want to fly bombing missions – then he can’t be crazy, can he? Only those who are crazy are grounded.”
Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
"That's some catch," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka replied.
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