JOSEPH HELLER: A CRITICAL INTRODUCTION
YOUNG, MELANIE MATTHEWS SAPPER
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
This study provides both a general overview and specific analyses of Joseph Heller's major works: Catch-22, Something Happened, Good as Gold and We Bombed in New Haven. The first chapter places Heller's writing in a biographical context, while the last chapter (VI) demonstrates the unity of vision underlying Heller's works by discussing them in terms of a theme they all share: that of the institutional systems of "order" that produce human "chaos"--i.e., the destruction of human life, sanity, and shared values. The intermediate chapters (II through V) analyze how each work develops this theme, examining the conflict between the protagonist and an American locus of power and authority: Yossarian (Catch-22) and Henderson (We Bombed in New Haven) fight to save life and conscience from the military bureaucracy, Slocum (Something Happened) tries to salvage his identity and sanity from the corporate milieu that threatens them, and Gold (Good as Gold) must struggle to save his humanity from the corrupt and dehumanizing political and social establishment of Washington, D.C. This conflict between the individual and society's systems of order forms the heart of Heller's satirical vision. For his deepest concern, articulated through this protagonists' struggles, is the possibility of preserving human values in a world where the few who control its most powerful institutions seem bent upon subverting these values by replacing them with private and self-serving interests. Each of Heller's works exposes a society organized in absurd and destructive ways that promote divisive competition over cooperation and trust, madness and mindless conformity over sanity and individual conscience, and death over life.