Readers desensitized to the indifference and brutality of society as chronicled every evening on television may not find Catch-22 as horrifying as did readers in 1961. The novel’s presentation of vulgar, inhumane events is always couched in absurdity. The humor lies in pokes at the “system”; the horror stems from the realization that the search for individualism may be futile.
If readers find Catch-22 offensive or disturbing, it is more likely a result of the book’s irreverence than its violence. Heller does not regard patriotism, duty to God and country, or allegiance to noble principles as worthy goals. He concludes, existentially, that society provides a shallow and often evil structure for living. Heller is not an anarchist, advocating the overthrow of society, but is a messenger of despair.