Although seen on the surface as a mere comedy about the destructiveness of war; Catch-22 becomes more than what is seen on the cover. Through Catch-22 Joseph Heller permeates the idea that there is no single definitive truth, that the world is the form of a continual clash of truths. Heller permeates his ideas of existentialism throughout the novel. Each character lives within his/her own world where each creates their individual ideas of right and wrong. Through this no single truth remains a constant. The principal behind existentialism states that oneself is the only definitive reference to what may be perceived of the world.
The only truths that remain become those created by the individual. Each character within Catch-22 lives within the world perceived by their mind, the ideas of right and wrong perpetuated by the individual. From the start this idea is clearly evident. The novel begins with the main character Yossarian faking an injury within a military hospital to keep from flying another mission. Unlike others within the hospital who get back to the fight as soon as they can, Yossarian prolongs his stay as long as possible.
These men have differing views of the war. The other soldiers view it as a fight for their country and honor whereas Yossarian personalizes the war. Yossarian says that everyone is trying to kill him. The other men fight for the honor they believe in while Yossarian runs from the personal destruction he perceives. For Yossarian the truth of war becomes the death of all including himself. No man becomes able to relate or work in accordance with each other, destroying any and all absolute truths, leaving only the mans truth.
Each man becomes blind to the views of other men. Colonel Cathcart, the general, continues to increase the number of missions necessary to get out of the army. In his eyes he sees this as a perfectly acceptable sacrifice to increase his rank. Within his mind the drive to increase his rank becomes his absolute truth. Although this drive is Colonel Cathcart s truth, his actions have a drastically different implication within the world and truths perceived by the soldiers. In contrary, the soldier s truth becomes the fight to escape.
Even relationships between soldiers become paradoxical conflicts between their individual truths; each man having an exponentially different perspective of their world. The contradictory truth that is Catch-22 comes to define every man in their conflict with each other, an eternal catch-22. Time comes to play a role within the existentialist confines of Catch-22 as well. The stories within the book transverse through time in a random chronological order with few clues as to where time may lie within that moment. It becomes easy for the reader to see the characters as existing in a vortex.
There is no start or finish, only a jumbled mess of meaning. There is no definitive moment, just as there is no definitive truth to these men s lives. Only a vortex of conflicting truths remains, scattering in the wind. The title, Catch-22 alone creates a mentality of a conflicting incomprehensible universe. There is no way of beating or even understanding, for that matter, the meaning of the catch. The design turns in on itself and in the end one-truth remains, that there is no single truth belonging to all men, only the jumble of conflicting truths that create this world, as we know it.