Both Heller and Owen write of wars won but in many ways a loss. Their presentation of war has both similarities and differences. They both convey their truth behind war, that behind the glorification it is nothing but destruction and senseless killings. In ways their technique in which they present war often differs, one being an influential novel based on black comedy whereas the other powerful poetry sourced from the darkest times. They share many themes based around the darkness of mankind. One of these themes being dehumanisation emerges through their literature. Men are broken down and dehumanised in the military machine.
In Catch-22 after the death of Snowden, Yossarian refuses to wear his uniform, an example of him stepping out of the military machine and refusing to reform. In this sense war is presented as a weapon and the soldiers are simply the bullets; propelled out to kill whomever they may hit and disposable and replaceable. Although the image of Yossarian shows the humanity of him, without the uniform and his flesh exposed he is a man again, a reminder that the soldiers are men. Something many people forget when the facts and figures for dead/wounded/missing in action come in.
Yossarian refusing to wear clothes and baring his humanity also portrays his vulnerability and mortality. Like Snowden’s secret said, ‘man was matter…drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he will burn. Bury him and he’ll rot like other kinds of garbage. The spirit is gone man is garbage. ’ ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ by Owen also depicts dehumanisation in war. They have been stripped of the humanity and any resemblance that their hearts once contained emotions. They know death only and are practically inhuman, but they have been trained that way, they are our own creation.
In order for them to fight our war they have to have dropped all human emotion including fear. They ‘have dropped off fear’ and to Owen this is a relief, he feels elated and euphoric by the freedom, ‘my spirit surging. ’ However the fact that men are dehumanised is our fault. They are our creation and for that they owe us nothing and we owe them everything. The title for this poem means ‘Explanation for my poetry’ so this poem could be a way of Owen reminding himself that he is still human and he still feels, also the fact that he feels he should explain his poetry to the reader is ironic as he says in the poem he owes them nothing.
In Catch-22, on the other hand, when men are dehumanised and lose their fear they are driven mad. The only men who continue to fly are those with no fear and those with no fear are the crazy ones, who are the ones able to be grounded. Orr for example has no fear, he crashes planes repeatedly and yet contuse to fly more and more missions, all men believe him to be crazy but Orr is the one who manages to escape the war. Orr is seen as crazy and therefore does not have to fly more missions but he continues to fly them.
However he is not in fact crazy and the reason he flies more and continues to crash is all part of him plan. Therefore Orr could be seen as one of the sanest men. The brutality of Aarfy also shows how men are dehumanised and turned into immoral, corrupt and wicked men. In Rome Aarfy rapes and murders the maid and throws her out on the street like garbage. In ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ men have been made into murderers that feel nothing, taught ‘not to feel sickness or remorse for murder. ’ Therefore Heller and Owen show war as a place in which the soldiers are simply tools for the destruction of mankind.
Heller and Owen struggle to find something to believe in whether it be a country, a god or a reason. Lack of faith is a prominent part to both Heller and Owen’s work. The protagonist of Catch 22, Yossarian, is desperately trying to get out of war for he has no cause to stay and give his life. Yossarian questions everything around him, the system, the war, and the people. For example when he is questioned as to what if everyone thought the same as him and didn’t want to be in war he replied, ‘I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. The Chaplain is also a representation of a lack of belief. The irony of an Anabaptist who begins to question his own faith is humorous but also depicts a tragic note about how destructive war is, the senseless nature and futility of it all that destroys hope even in a man who believes in something greater, or who thought he did. The Chaplain having now witnessed the unnecessary devastation of war now struggles to believe so strongly in a higher power. Doubts haunted him and ‘gnawed at the chaplain and when he was being questioned he lied about an illness. The Chaplain had sinned, and it was good. ’ This is an ironic as the chaplain was now losing his faith and hardly believed in a God and now it is further emphasised by ‘and it was good. This refers to his sin but in the bible God looked around at the world and men he had created ‘and it was good. ’ This is a contrast to the chaplain and shows our world as one that we created, with the darkness, sins and atrocities that to us is so natural. Owen uses religion and faith in his poems in a powerful way yet one that contrasts to Heller. There are religious undertones in many of Owen’s poems.
Heaven and hell are often used to depict the hell of war. In ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ Owen describes war as hell creating a strong image and representation of what he and many others have witnessed. He continues to write as though he is addressing the reader with commandments. ‘You shall not hear their mirth: You shall not come to think them well content. ’ Owen commands the reader to respect and adore the soldiers dying for our country as they are worthy of that and more, and we are not worthy of them sacrificing their lives for the country.
Also Yossarian appears to be the ‘Adam’ of the story. At Snowden’s funeral he is in the tree naked. When the secret of Snowden’s is revealed to Yossarian it is like when Adam and Eve realised they were naked and the shame. The tree is even described as the ‘tree of knowledge’. Snowden’s secret has enlightened him to the truth. Sacrifice is a theme shared by Heller and Owen. In Owen’s poem ‘Spring Offensive’ the men have reached ‘the last hill’ reminiscent of that which Jesus was crucified on. Men are being sent to their deaths, ‘knowing their feet had come to the end of the world. This is both apocalyptic and biblical. These men know their fate has come yet they have accepted it, they have reached the end of their lives and soon were against the enemy with ‘soft sudden cups opened in thousands for their blood. ’ This could well be another allusion to Jesus Christ who during his last supper gave his disciples a cup of wine to drink from, representing his blood that would be with them forever, Men have given their lives so that our country could continue to exist. Like God had given his son to be sacrificed to save mankind, men had sacrificed their sons to war.
In Catch 22 sacrifice is also prominent. Snowden’s death is like that of a sacrifice; just another young men killed in action for a war that was no fault of his yet men believed it was worthy of men dying. The death of Snowden is like a sacrifice as he spoke, ‘in a frail and childlike voice,’ and ‘whimpered’ and ‘bleated’. Like a lamb Snowden is a sacrificial object, killed for glorification. Snowden for died America, the lamb for God. The purpose of Snowden I believe is to show the mortality of man. Like his secret, Snowden shows that war is essentially sending a lamb out to slaughter.
When Yossarian exclaims that ‘they’re trying to kill me,’ and ‘they’re shooting at me’, the reasonable justification of this is that they’re shooting at everyone. This is logical yet further shows how men are effectively sent out to die. This is the same sacrifice as the ‘Parable of the old men and the young,’ a poem about a man who would rather sacrifice his son than ‘the Ram of Pride,’ and along with him ‘half the seed of Europe. ’ This didactic poem presents war as an unnecessary slaughter of men for something that is not vital for humanity; not fundamental to the survival of our race, but as inconsequential as Pride.
No nation has fallen due to a lack of pride; no man has died from it. Yet nations and men have fallen during war for their pride. Colonel Cathcart in Catch 22 cares only for his name and reputation; he wants fame and will have his men fly as many missions as possible to make him famous regardless of the amount of men who will die during the missions. He raises the missions and the men who die on them, so be it. He doesn’t care for their safety but just his fame. Heller and Owens style of writing differs. The comedy of Catch 22 is a contrast to Owen’s poetry.
In much of his poetry he romanticises war. ‘Greater Love’ for example is filled with romantic images; ‘Stained stones kissed,’ ‘love pure,’ and ‘red lips’. However there is a juxtaposition between these and gruesome images; ‘Stained stones kissed by the English dead,’ and ‘eyes blinded in my stead. ’ Furthermore the romanticism of the poem continues by glorifying those you die in war and are honourable enough to die for others ‘ hearts made great from war. ‘Greater Love’ comes from the bible, greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15. 3) a message that it is honourable and brave to die at war. However the use of this romantic language is ironic. Owen does not truly believe that it makes a man great to be killed at war. They way he romanticises war, satirises those who say this, to inspire others to join in war. ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is similar to this. It too is a satire of ‘the old lie’ that it is sweet and right to die for your country. This poem also uses irony, a paradox between the title depicting the honour of war and the poem reveals the truth to war, the honest portrayal of the horror and suffering of war. Dulce et Decorum est’ has many grotesque and obscene images; A common trait in much of Owen’s poetry. The poem describes a soldier suffering from an attack of mustard gas. Much of Owen’s poetry is written from the battle field itself, detailing the death and agony of the soldiers. Heller chose a different approach to detailing the truth of the torment of war. The battle of Catch 22 is more of an internal battle within Yossarian willing to do anything to escape from war. Horrific and disturbing scenes are described in Owen’s poetry.
The Sentry; a macabre and morbid poem detailing of a soldier wounded and his eyes are described as ‘huge-bulged like squids. ’ His is a vulgar image and throughout the poem graphic and repulsive images are portrayed; ‘bled and spewed’ creates a dark and ghastly view of the death of soldiers that is in no way honourable. The death of Snowden is the truly repulsive scene of Catch-22. However J. Aldridge believes ‘the more sensitive of later critics have demonstrated that the horror has actually been present from the beginning, but its force has been blunted and, in effect, evaded by the comedy. Although not much of the novel is about war itself the horror is still present. Both Heller and Owen present entrapment of war in their writing. They portray was as a Hellish place of which they wish to escape but are imprisoned there until their deaths. Ironic again that the ‘heroes’ of war sent to fight for freedom are the ones imprisoned and executed. Owen’s poem ‘The Sentry’ for example shows the soldiers in a trench with slush that ‘choked up the steps too thick with clay to climb. ’ This gives the effect that the soldiers are trapped in there with no way out, the language creating a scene of death and decay around them.
With thick air and the threat of imminent death hurtling above them as the sound of bullets is ‘hammering down’ Also Death lingers in the trench among them, ‘the smell of men who’d lived there for years,’ remains and as does their curse ‘if not their corpses. ’ The trench is like a grave where the men are doomed to be entrapped forever, their own personal hell. For Yossarian his own Hell materialises in Rome when he is searching for Nately’s whore’s kid sister. He desperately searches the streets of Rome and during his pursuit he uncovers the darkness of mankind.
This is one of the rare chapters of Catch-22 that does not involve humour. He witnesses a child being beaten on the street and later a dog too. He sees a soldier convulsing and dying on the street which is littered with teeth. This hell hole of Yossarian’s is his chance of redemption; if he finds the kid sister he can redeem himself from his wrongs. However for Owen there is no chance of redemption. War to Owen symbolises the death of man, and even if men survive they are still dead as they have been broken down by the military machine. Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ and ‘Spring Offensive’ show an acceptance of fate and death – ‘Knowing their feet had come to the end of the world’ is apocalyptic yet poetic and in the poem the end of the world is not fearsome, in many ways it seems like a relief. Like in ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ the men have lost their fear and it’s a relief, in ‘Spring Offensive’ the first stanza is euphonic and peaceful; ‘they fed, and, lying easy, were at ease’ as though they had reached their final resting place.
Death is imminent and unstoppable at this point yet it’s not frightening and ominous, serenity is shown through the soft sibilance in the 4th line ‘stood still’ and the gentle may breeze that is ‘murmurous’ a deliberately tender and melodious onomatopoeia that portrays tranquillity. But when the poem reaches the fifth stanza the serenity is destroyed, ‘the whole sky burned’. ’ The once ‘blank sky’ was now tainted and transformed into a hellish blaze, the sun no longer the friend but one ‘with whom their love is done. ’ This is a contrast to the beginning of the poem.
The poem seems to depict a falling heaven; a once heavenly place turns into purgatory which then expands into hell. Men are in purgatory from the end of the second stanza they are frozen their ‘soul[s] begird’ where they remain ‘hour after hour’ with their ‘souls hung’, caught there for what seems to be an eternity. Rome is described as the ‘Eternal City’ in Catch-22. Yossarian runs through the streets seeing the same image of cruelty over and over, for him he’s in purgatory and only finding the kid sister can save him.
It seems that there is therefore a Catch in Owen’s war and every war. Men are imprisoned and held captive by war, yet in no way are they chained there, the Catch-22 is present in every war but it is better hidden and less blatant than that in Catch-22. Heller’s novel emphasises what already exists there and has done for many years. Catch-22 is not an imaginary concept for the purpose of Heller’s novel but something that exists way beyond him and he is simply another victim of that Catch 22. Heller later remembered the war as ‘fun in the beginning…
You got the feeling that there was something glorious about it. ’ Like ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ he had too had the same indoctrination that war is honourable and magnificent but we should ignore this ‘old lie’ and realise what the truth is. J. Aldridge – ‘As is the case with many original works of art, ”Catch-22” is a novel that reminds us once again of all that we have taken for granted in our world and should not, the madness we try not to bother to notice, the deceptions and falsehoods we lack the will to try to distinguish from truth. The indoctrination that war is good and it is honourable to die in battle is one that both Heller and Owen have experienced and have chosen to oppose and through their different literary works it is evident that the old lie is one that is told through years and generations so that more men will give their lives for their country. In conclusion there are many similarities to how they present war and both have the same feeling that war is a slaughter of out men and an unnecessary desolation.
Heller and Owen both fought in wars that were seen as victories. But what was victorious about them? The country won their pride as the cost of millions of men losing their loves. A presentation therefore that war is always a loss, war is a no win situation; a catch-22 whereby men are killed for the salvation of man. In Owen’s war if the enemy didn’t shoot him his own side sure would if he tried to escape. As Yossarian says, ‘how many winners are losers, successes failures…brave men cowards? ’