http://www.sina.com.cn 2008年01月22日 14:05
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is one of the most acclaimed novels of the twentieth century. It is a black comedy about life in the military during World War II. It features bombardier John Yossarian, who is trying to survive the military’s inexhaustible supply of bureaucracy and who is frantically trying to do anything to avoid killing and being killed. Heller was able to use his own experiences in the Air Force during World War II to create this character and the novel.
Even though Catch-22 eventually became known as a great novel, it was not originally considered one. When it was first published in 1961, the reviews were tepid and the sales were lackluster. It was not well received at this point at least in part because it presented such a cowardly protagonist at a time when World War II veterans were being lauded for their selfless courage.
Within a few years of the release of the book, as an unpopular war in Southeast Asia was heating up, Heller’s Catch-22 found a new audience eager to enjoy the exploits of Heller’s war-averse protagonist. It was within the framework of this era that Catch-22 was newly discovered, newly examined, and newly credited as one of the century’s best novels.
Let me talk a bit about the expression catch-22. Do you understand what a catch-22 is? This expression is so well known now that it has entered the American lexicon: well, a catch-22 is a situation that is unresolvable, one where there is no good choice, not best path to take.
In Heller’s novel, the catch-22 is a very specific catch in a very specific situation. The situation in which the protagonist found himself was that he wanted to get out of combat by declaring himself insane. So you see that in this situation, there was a very specific catch. In American culture now, though, this expression is used more generally. It refers to any situation where there’s a catch, where there’s no solution, where there’s no way out.
One more bit of information about the expression catch-22, about the number 22 in the expression. This number doesn’t have any real meaning; it just signifies one in a long line of catches. Heller really could have used any number; it didn’t have to be 22. When Heller was first writing the book, he used the number 14; the book was originally titled Catch-14. Then, in the production process, the number was changed to 18, so the title was Catch-18. But then there was a problem with the number 18 because there was another book with 18 in the title, so Heller’s title became Catch-22.