Below are some discussion questions prepared by Pam B. Cole a Professor of English Education & Literacy at Kennesaw State University. Use these as a guide to help further your understanding of this nation-wide sensation.
1. A complex, chaotic structure makes the novel difficult to follow. How might this structure parallel, represent, and/or elevate themes in the story? How does Heller piece together the chronology of events?
2. Heller’s dialogue style is reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” comic routine of the 1940s. How does Heller use this back-and-forth disorderly logic to develop character?
3. Chapters tend to be named for individuals in the story; however, titles are deceptive because they tend to be about other characters. Why might Heller have named chapters after one character but have written them about another?
4. Yossarian shares a tent with a “dead man.” What role does this mysterious character play?
5. Chief White Halfoat is illiterate, yet he is assigned to military intelligence. Identify and discuss other examples of Heller’s cynicism toward the government and/or other institutions.
6. Choose a poignant passage/scene. How does Heller make this passage/scene work (e.g., how does he evoke emotion in the reader)?
7. Of the multiple characters in the story, which are you drawn to the most? Why? Are there any completely moral characters in the story? Explain.
8. Major Major is described as “the most mediocre of men.” What do the events in his past and present life tell us about humanity and destiny?
9. Both Captain Wren and Captain Piltchard are described as “mild” and “soft-spoken” officers, and they love the war. Why might their personalities be fitting for someone who loves the war?
10. Yossarian returns to the hospital several times. What role do the hospital settings play in the story? In what way might the hospital settings foil the bombing/war scenes? In what way might they be reflective times for Yossarian? For other characters?
11. Compare and contrast Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn. Are they both hypocrites? Why or why not?
12. Circumstances surrounding Snowden’s death are revealed slowly. What does his death mean to Yossarian? To others?
13. Discuss the significance of déjà vu in the story and how it relates to religious faith.
14. While much of the novel is military satire, the story does delve into the private sector. How might Mrs. Daneeka be a satirical character?
15. One of the ironies of the story occurs at the end in which Yossarian has an opportunity to go home a hero. In essence, he has the system in a Catch-22. Explain.
16. Discuss whether the ending of Catch-22 is uplifting or downbeat. Is it a victory or a defeat?
17. Most of the characters in Catch-22 are over-the-top in the sense that, in many ways, they are caricatures of themselves. What must Heller have known about humanity to make them all so recognizable?
18. What do you believe is Heller’s view of a capitalistic society?
19. Is Catch-22 a comic novel or a story of morality? Explain.
20. What does Catch-22 say about war?
21. Discuss the literary significance of Catch-22 and its relevance in the twenty-first century.
22. How does Catch-22 compare to other war stories you have read? How does it compare to other satires?
23. How might Catch-22 be described as an allegory?
24. Discuss how the novel can be described as a struggle between the individual and an institution.
25. Discuss the meaning of sanity as it applies to the story.