Two very different soldiers are improbable comrades-in-arms, according to this perceptive comparative study.
At first glance they couldn’t be more dissimilar: Achilles is the ferocious Greek hero of the Trojan War, obsessed with winning personal glory (not to mention treasure and slaves) with his spear; Yossarian is a reluctant American bomber crewman, a cog in a vast military machine who is helplessly appalled at the carnage of World War II and the absurdist bureaucracy that perpetrates it. But Florida State University classics professor Golden (Understanding the Iliad, 2005, etc.) sees them as akin—two shell-shocked men engaged in a parallel struggle to wrench a “benign and compassionate humanity” from the brutality of war. Drawing on close readings of both texts and commentaries by Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, Golden traces the inner workings of the stories, teasing out the intricate interplay of farce, satire and tragedy in Catch-22 and the role of Homer’s heroic warrior code in salvaging meaning in a world where men are playthings of cruel and fickle gods. From his shrewd analysis of literary mechanics the author advances significant reinterpretations of the protagonists. He sees Yossarian not as a pacifist or a coward, but as a hero who reclaims for himself a mission of redemptive sacrifice out of the war’s mechanized mass slaughter. Achilles, in Golden’s innovative psychoanalytic reading of The Iliad, emerges as a raging narcissist whose violence, callousness and grandiosity isolate him from the human relationships he craves, and who undertakes an arduous journey back to emotional engagement with friend and foe alike. Golden combines impressive erudition with a sharp critical eye and a lucid prose style that laymen will find accessible and engaging. The result is an original and persuasive work of literary scholarship that finds much more than mere war stories in these classics.
A fine reappraisal of two masterpieces that discovers psychological and moral profundities amid the blood and guts.