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Catch-22 : black comedy or satire ?

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  1. Black humor
  2. Theater of the absurd
  3. Tragicomic aspect
  4. Satirism

Catch-22, often considered as one of the literary masterpieces of the twentieth century, is also often analyzed as being either satirical, or characteristic of the theater of the absurd, or even both. At first sight, this appears to be totally irrelevant, given the subtle but still significant differences between satire and black humor. Indeed, even though both are aimed at criticizing the absurdity of life and at drawing an acerb portrait of society and mankind, satire differs from black humor in that it does so with the intention of triggering a fundamental change. Hence, whilst the theater of the absurd develops a hopeless, disillusioned vision of the world, satire is full of hope, and is aimed at moving from this regrettable society to an idealized world, relieved of its imperfections. However, a deep study of the novel inexorably raises important questions. It seems true that Catch-22 contains elements of both the theater of the absurd and that of traditional satire.

[...] As a consequence, the novel seems to be suddenly tipped up from black comedy to satire. Indeed, whereas black humor is tinged with fatalism and underlying despair, satire is full of hope. Both are aimed at denouncing the world's absurdities, but satire's raison d'être is precisely to change the denunciated ugly reality of human society in order to attain an ideal. Unlike black comedy, satire considers the existence of a way out; and Catch-22's final revelation is that it does too. [...]


[...] Furthermore, some absurd situations described in Catch-22 are all the more comical that they deal with unhappy events, and this is the key characteristic of black humor. Kid Sampson's death, for instance, is eminently ludicrous in the way that it is described: having been sliced in two, Kid Sampson left his legs, separated from the rest of the body, ?standing stock-still on the raft for what seemed a full minute or (Heller 338). Likewise, When Doc Daneeka was erroneously reported dead by Sergeant Towser, he didn't manage to prove it wrong (that is to say by proving that he was alive!) in the eyes of the administration, even though he was well and truly present in the squadron This had huge consequences, since Mrs Daneeka after being informed of her husband's so-called received a significant financial retribution that made her feel ?simply delighted with the way things were turning (Heller 343) and that eventually led her to move ?with her children to Lansing, Michigan, [without leaving any] forwarding address? (Heller 344). [...]


[...] On the one hand, Catch-22 epitomizes a fatalist, almost desperate denunciation of the dark absurdity of human society. This shows through a variety of elements throughout the novel. A tremendously bitter portrait of human flaws appears, for example, at the occasion of Yossarian's return to the hospital, at the beginning of Chapter 17: People gave up the ghost with delicacy and taste inside the hospital. There was none of that crude, ugly ostentation about dying that was so common outside the hospital. [...]

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