SUPER YOSSARIAN MAN
THAT'S ONE GOOD ASSYRIAN, MAN
In Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, Yossarian, a disgruntled defender of this country, becomes a daring new type of hero, one without capes and signature cereals. Yossarian discovers that he is in danger of being killed because he is fighting a war he doesn't believe in. Instead of giving in to his problems or accepting a dirty deal and compromising his morals, Yossarian takes the only other action that will release him from the war; he runs away to Sweden. Heller uses a plot scheme much like other, more traditional heroic tales in an untraditional way. Yossarian is portrayed as the scourge of the evil figures in the book, those who are in command of the enlisted men, which illustrates the idea of good versus evil or hero versus villain. He is made out to be the kind of hero who defends "the little guy," such as when he is approached by many fellow squadron members who see him as the only figure representing them. Like many heros, in the end Yossarian must overcome a moral dilemma. Heller uses Yossarian to introduce a new type of hero, one that isn't larger than life but just one of the common people who rises to the occasion, and yet fulfills the classical elements of heroism: having an archenemy, standing for the weak, and overcoming a problem that tests his morals.
Throughout the book, Yossarian is constantly thwarting, or being thwarted by his superiors. The superior officers are painted by Heller as villains. Cathcart ceaselessly increases the number of missions the enlisted men must fly, and, because of this, many men die having completed more missions than other squadrons require. Cathcart believes he is "still in grave peril....his broad, meaty, towering frame tingled from head to toe at the thought that Yossarian...was destined to serve as his nemesis." - p. 220 Yossarian continually hurts Colonel Cathcart's reputation, and thus, his chances for promotion. Yossarian receives an award naked, he makes trouble over flying more missions, he moves the bomb line, delays destroying the bridge at Ferrara, and eventually passes over that target twice, and, in so doing, loses a plane. Each of these moments is a great "black eye" for Cathcart. Cathcart's mission in life is to become a higher ranking superior; Yossarian, as the most visible threat to the villain Cathcart's dreams, becomes the hero that prevents him from doing so.
Like all great heroic figures, Yossarian must fight for the less powerful. As soon as it becomes common knowledge that Yossarian refuses to fly more missions, men in his squadron start appearing out of bushes to see how he is doing. "‘Say, if they do let you get away with it, they'll have to let the rest of us get away with it, won't they?...I hope you do get away with it,'" - p. 411 says Appleby to Yossarian. The men in his squadron see him as their only hope for leaving the war, the only person standing up to the system. The fact that he is the only one representing the concerns of these powerless people makes him a hero.
Yossarian's final heroic act occurs when he is given the choice between taking the easy way out of the war or doing it the hard way. His superior officers, bane of his life, offer him a deal in which he can go home but in which he has to lie about his experiences while in the army. The only other choice they give him is to be court-martialed. At first, going home a hero sounds great to Yossarian, but soon he realizes that he had "'friends who were killed in this war. I can't make a deal now.'" - p. 457 His conscience gets the best of him and he realizes he cannot desert his friends and the memories of those friends he has lost during the campaigns of his enemies, his superiors. Yossarian's only choice becomes to run away, unable to further help his friends by staying and facing court-martial if he openly speaks the truth about his superior officers. This decision makes Yossarian a heroic character, a man who refuses to compromise the men around him or his own morals.
A hero is not one who looks best in spandex, who jumps tall buildings in a single bound when he could just fly over them, or even who has the best bad-boy image; heroism is defined by a mark of character that goes much deeper. In Catch-22 Heller presents Yossarian as a hero by using classical heroic elements: an archnemesis who wishes to thwart the hero, a heroic defense of the weak, and a moral dilemma, which gives the hero a foundation in being human.