By being the tent companion of the lead protagonist Yossarian, the character of Orr is crucial to the narrative of the novel. Orr is a bomber pilot, who undertakes highly risky bombing operations for his squadron. In his personal exchanges, he comes across as light-hearted, comical and even at times eccentric. And his habitual crash landings even suggest a self-destructive streak. But, in spite of these immediate impressions, Orr turns out to be a shrewd and ingenuous individual who successfully manages to resolve the Catch-22 conundrum, while others in his squadron were still oppressed by it. This essay will explore Orr’s significance to the wider themes and motifs of the novel.
As the hostilities in the Second World War were at a peak, the soldiers start to feel psychologically and physically weary and contemplate the situation they find themselves in. The term Catch-22 refers to this sense of entrapment felt by many members of the United States military at the time, who are sane enough to see the absurdity of putting their lives at risk, while insane enough to continue participating in it. The Catch-22 situation arises when a soldier, in a moment of sanity and lucidity, sees the futility of war; but realizes that the only way he can escape from its viciousness is by claiming insanity. In other words, it is a circular argument wherein the premise is taken as proof of argument. The military officers use this paradoxical rule to keep control over their squadron members, lest they will begin to assert their will. The character of Orr should be studied in light of this most prominent theme in the novel. In the initial stages of the novel Orr comes across as an incompetent pilot, whose plane inevitably gets shot, forcing him to crash land on each occasion. But, as the war wears on and the Catch-22 puzzle overwhelms the members of the squadron, it is Orr who succeeds in escaping to Sweden, a neutral country where peace prevailed. In this respect, the sub-plot involving Orr is comprised of more heroism and courage than that of Yossarian.
Author Joseph Heller, by way of depicting the personal qualities of Orr, gives away hints related to his impending escape. For example, there are references in the novel to Orr’s aptitude for mechanics and his skilful dexterity, as when he tailors the tent in such a way as to make it comfortable. When analyzing the novel in retrospect, we see how this talent comes handy in his escape expedition to Sweden. The incident involving the prostitute in Rome is another case in point. While it may appear peripheral to the basic narrative, a careful examination of it can reveal insights into the future. The fact that Orr gets battered up by a prostitute and ends up with a concussed head might seem consistent with his eccentric behavior. But, beneath the apparent folly of this incident lies the fact that it enabled him to stay away from battle for twelve days. Toward the closing of the novel, Yossarian comes to realization that this incident was an attempt by Orr to release him from the Catch-22 spiral that he found himself in. The author makes allusion to the effect that Orr might have actually paid the prostitute to indispose him for combat, although the damage she inflicted on his head was not severe enough for him to stay away from the war for long. Moreover, the author is making a statement of subtle irony trough this episode involving Orr – that in war, a frivolous mishap in a whore house can liberate a soldier from the hostilities of war, while more sober and sound reasons of conscience do not. In this respect, the little incidents and events surrounding the character of Orr reflect more profound themes and moral dilemmas built into the novel.
Hence, in the final analysis, by juxtaposing the horrors of war with humorous episodes, the author presents a unique perspective on the nature of war. While the central focus of the plot is Yossarian and his moral dilemmas, it is the example of Orr’s escape to Sweden that stands out as mort memorable. Evading the injustices of authoritarian systems like the military can be a daunting task, involving risk to life and liberty. Yet, by virtue of his ability to out think his commanding officers and by being willing to put his life at risk, Orr was able to achieve his freedom. While Yossarian remains a symbol of impotence in the face of authority and duty, Orr represents a refreshing rebelliousness that has its own moral merits. Of all the themes woven into the novel, including Pity, camaraderie, confusion, hope, greed, guilt, etc, the example of Orr represents that of ‘Hope’. The central themes and symbolisms of this Joseph Heller’s classic expose on the contradictions, ironies and injustices of war, is made all the more convincing through the character of Orr.
Heller, Joseph., Catch-22, Published by Knopf in 1995, ISBN 0679437223, 780679437222, 624 pages