Using his unique style and structure, Joseph Heller masterfully manages to interlay humor and terror, comedy and tragedy, and reveals in the process the perversions of the human character and of society gone mad. Thefirst stroke of Heller’s deft touch is his presentation of outrageous characters, acting outrageously. From thefirst chapter, we are presented with a slew of unbelievable characters whose actions and ideologies are uproariously funny, and horrifically disturbing. In fact, the manner in which the reader recognizes the character’s dual nature will serve as thefirst example of Heller’s amalgamation of comedy and tragedy.
Dunbar’s theory of life isfirst received with a burst of laughter from the audience. Life is short, and Dunbar wishes to extend it as much as possible. If time flies when one is having fun, then conversely, time must slow when one is bored. Dunbar endeavors to make his life as boring as possible, thus increasing the length of its passing.
Indeed, it is understandable why such an attitude should elicit a laugh, but the further implications are horrific. Society’s emphasis on life over meaning comes as a shocking revelation to the audience. Heller further reinforces that idea with characters such as Doc Daneeka, who values self-preservation and money over responsibility and friendship, and Milo who values self-improvement and fortune over the lives of thousands of others. The motif that follows gives us characters that are, above all else, more interested in self (Cathcart, Mrs. Daneeka, Duckett, the Old Man, Peckem, etc.
). Though they are initially humorous, their nature is ultimately revealed to be false and horrific, arousing disgust and pity, a brilliant combination of comedy and tragedy. The perversion of society is revealed further in a second major type of character, the deluded. Though most serve largely as foils to Yossarian and his philosophy, much can still be made of their condition. Clevinge..