The novel, Catch-22, was first published in 1961 by Joseph Heller. The novel tells the story of Captain Joseph Yossarian and his attempt to avoid serving in World War II by pleading insanity. However, Yossarian is thwarted by the doctorâ€™s argument that if he were truly mad then he would endanger his life and seek to fight more missions. On the other hand, if he were sane, then he would be capable to following orders to fight more missions. Thus the phrase â€œcatch-22â€ came to mean â€œa proviso that trips one up no matter which way one turns.â€.
Joseph Heller was born on May 1, 1923 to Russian immigrant parents and from an early age aspired to be a writer. When Heller was just five years old, his father died at work. Heller, his brother, and their mother had to fend for themselves, which may have given him a cynical, street-wise humor that marks much of his writings. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a bombardier in Italy and France and flew sixty missions. His experiences and memories during this war became the basis for his first novel, Catch-22. He was then discharged from the Air Force in 1945, married Shirley Held, and then pursued English at New York University. Afterwards, Heller earned is M.A. at Columbia University in 1949 and for the next two years he studied at the University of Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar. In 1950, he became a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. He later went on to work as advertising copywriter for Time magazine (1952-1956) and Look (1956-1958) as well as a promotion manager for McCallâ€™s (1958-1961).
When his novel was first published, it was not an immediate success. Many various magazines, including The Atlantic and The New Yorker, dismissed the book and did not even put it on their best-seller lists. The book was even banned and challenged in some places in the United States.