Catch-22 has become a common phrase now, and it is used to describe contradictory situations where the solution takes you back in another way to the original problem.
The phrase has its origin in this book. Set in the time of the Second World War, the story of Catch-22 is centered around characters stationed in an island in the Mediterranean Sea. The island of Pianosa is home to the 256th squadron, which includes the central character, Captain John Yossarian.
The story is told from a third-person perspective, and so it moves from one person to the next, providing different view points according to each person’s character.
Captain Yossarian is a young man who believes very practically that his life is important and the results of a war do not matter to a man who is dead. He tries his best to keep from going on flying missions by faking illness. But his efforts are countered by Colonel Cathcart. He constantly increases the number missions an airman must fly to complete his service.
Yossarian desperately tries to avoid flying more missions because, as he puts it, when he flies to drop bombs on people, so many people he has not even met are trying to kill him.
Catch-22 is a hilariously funny satire about war, the higher command in the military and bureaucracy in general. The books title, Catch-22, is a clause in the military rules. Yossarian sees it with reference to his friend Orr. The rule is self-contradictory and leads to a circular logic that cannot provide a solution.
The rule states that if a person continues to fly on dangerous missions, he is insane and can be relieved of duty. On this premise, Orr is crazy; so he can get grounded. But, there is a catch: the rule also says that a concern for personal safety when faced with dangers that are real and immediate was a reflection of a sane mind. So, if Orr asked to be relieved, he would no longer be considered crazy, and hence will have to continue flying more missions.
Joseph Heller (May 1, 1923 – December 12, 1999) was an American satirical novelist, short story writer, and playwright. The title of one of his works, Catch-22, entered the English lexicon, to refer to a vicious circle, involving an absurd, no-win, contradictory choice, particularly in situations in which the desired outcome of the choice is a bureaucratic or legal impossibility; regardless of the chosen option, therefore, a paradoxically negative outcome is a certainty. Although he is remembered primarily for Catch-22, his other works center on the lives of various members of the middle class and remain examples of modern satire.