Catch-22; Excerpts and Assignments 2


Nately, another character in the novel, has a conversation with an old man who lives at a bordello in Rome. His outrageous opinions are typical of the novel’s philosophy.
They talk about several things, but also about whether or not it is useless to sacrifice one’s life for one’s country. The old man claims it is…

Read the excerpts below and answer the questions:

Nately was instantly up in arms again. ‘There is nothing so absurd about risking your life for your country!’ he declared.
‘Isn’t there?’ asked the old man. ‘What is a country. A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can’t all be worth dying for?’
‘Anything worth living for,’ said Nately, ‘is worth dying for.’
‘And anything worth dying for,’ answered the sacrilegious old man, ‘is certainly worth living for. You know, you’re such a pure and naive young man that I almost feel sorry for you. How old are you? twenty-five? Twenty-six?’
‘Nineteen,’ said Nately. ‘I’ll be twenty in January.’
‘If you live.’ The old man shook his head, wearing, for a moment, the same touchy, meditating frown of the fretful and disapproving old woman. ‘They are going to kill you if you don’t watch out, and I can see now that you are not going to watch out. Why don’t you use some sense and try to be more like me? You might live to be a hundred and seven, too.’
‘Because it’s better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees,’ Nately retorted with triumphant and lofty conviction. ‘I guess you’ve heard that saying before.’
‘Yes, I certainly have,’ mused the treacherous old man, smiling again. ‘But I’m afraid you have it backward. It is better to live on one’s feet than to die on one’s knees. That is the way the saying goes.’
‘Are you sure?’ Nately asked with sober confusion. ‘It seems to make more sense my way.’
‘No, it makes more sense my way. Ask your friends.’
Nately turned to ask his friends and discovered they had gone.


Copy-paste these questions to a Word document and answer them:

  1. What’s the point of the old man telling Nately about his age?
  2. What is the essential difference between Nately’s saying ‘Because … knees’ and the old man’s ‘It … knees?’
  3. There’s a lot of hidden symbology in Catch-22. Can you find any in Nately’s friends being gone at the end of his quarrel with the old man?

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