Comparative Analysis with Research
Joseph Heller’s Catch–22
Direction: Develop a comparative analysis in which you evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of Mike Nichols 1970 film adaptation of Joseph Heller’s 1955 novel, Catch–22. Include outside sources to respond to whichever combination of topics you choose to write about in your essay.
List of potential topics:
a) Tone: Heller’s novel employs what is sometimes referred to as “black humor, a kind of gallows humor that is dark, ironic, comical, and cynical and that allows both the author and his readers to emotionally distance themselves from the horrors and terror of war through laughter or some weirdly inappropriate behavior or comment. Question: How does Heller employ this “black humor” in his novel and how effective is Nichol’s incorporation of this sort of humor in his film adaptation. Does the humor come across differently in the two versions of the story? If so, how so? Is one version more effective in your estimation, and why? What have critics said about “black humor” in the novel? Did film critics like Nichols’ use of humor in the film?
b) Characterization: How does Heller use narration and dialogue to put flesh on his characters and develop them into uniquely distinct human beings? How effective is Nichols in directing his cast and bring Heller’s characters to life? How would you compare some of the key characters from novel to film? Did you prefer the novelistic versions or their filmic counterparts? What did film critics say about the comic portrayals under Nichols’ direction?
c) Plot and structure. Any translation of a novel to film usually requires significant changes, many having to do with the limited running time of a feature film. Sometimes the order and sequencing of events must be rethought, and characters can be altered, or dropped altogether. Since Heller’s novel is already somewhat nonlinear, utilizing flashbacks and forwards, and circular patterns of action and dialogue, how would evaluate what you think Heller was trying to do with this narrative structure and how effective do you think Nichols was in importing this structure into the film?
Thematic analysis: What would you determine to be Heller’s major themes in his novel and how does he develop them? Catch–22 has been considered an anti-war novel. Thematically, what do you think Heller is trying to say about war and how effective is Nichols in translating Heller’s theme and vision of the world in his film adaptation? Did film critics feel Nichols successfully translated Heller’s vision and theme into the film?
The title of Heller’s novel, Catch–22, has become a popular expression to describe life’s ironic double-blinds, situations in which one’s actions are stymied by two opposing forces that render one helpless. Psychologically, Heller’s work has been linked to the anti-psychiatry movement whose core concept, popularized by the writing of R.D. Lating, is that “insanity is a sane response to an insane world,” or that to survive the missed messages of a schizophrenic culture, one has to become “stark raving sane.” Using textual evidence from both the novel and film, how does each work represent the psychological effects of war on Yossarian, the novel’s protagonis? How is psychology employed in the story as a critique of society and the difficulty of maintaining a rational and sane existence in the world? What have critics written on this topic?
What do we know about the conditions facing bombardiers in WWII? What historical parallels can be found between the escalating number of missions Yossarian and his fellow servicemen must fly and the situation facing troops in Iraq? Yossarian is upset that he cannot be treated for his emotional problems due to the war because he is trapped in a Catch–22. What do we know about the history of post traumatic stress syndrome as a result of military combat and to what extent do similar conditions exist for those servicemen dealing with the psychological aftermath of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Wars often make great profit for some while proving costly to the lives of those who fight them. How odes Heller develop the theme of profiteering on war in the novel? Are there class issues involved? Does Heller’s use of humor and irony seem to be a critique of the not so hidden agenda of those who profit during wartime? Are there any parallels to the administration of the Iraq war? Did reviewers take exception with the politics of the novel and the film?
How are women depicted in the novel and the film? Do these depictions suggest gender stereotyping? As presented in this story, how is human sexuality and intimacy impacted by the conditions of war?
Catch–22 is one in a long line of wartime narratives that date back to the Homeric tales, the Iliad and the Odysse, to the more recent poems and novels of the past and present century. How does Heller’s novel compare and contrast with other such works? What have critics said about this novel in relationship to literary works that explore the conditions and effects of war on those who must fight them?
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