Joseph Heller’s World War II novel Catch-22 is a great example of satire. Joseph Heller had flown bomber missions in WWII, just like his main character Captain John Yossarian, and was tortured by the experience. He found the wartime bureaucracy and logic to be incredibly hypocritical. The most famous example of satire in the book comes from the title, the concept of the Catch 22. This is one of those bureaucratic nightmares in which something can only be done when the thing that precludes it from happening happens. Yossarian eventually discovers that the catch doesn’t even exist, but because everything thinks it does it still has the same effect. And, unfortunately, because it doesn’t exist it can’t be repealed. This is a good metaphor for the entire lack of logic in bureaucracy.
Could not Twain and Austen be seen as such an odd couple? I believe Jane Austen would have enjoyed Mark Twain’s pair of stories called “The Good Little Boy” and “The Bad Little Boy.” Overturning moralistic Sunday school stories, Twain’s superhumanly, ridiculously good little boy meets with a miserable death, while his bad little boy winds up rich and with a seat in the legislature. Austen had commented in a letter, “Pictures of perfection . . .make me sick and wicked.” Overturning conduct books advising girls to be pious, submissive, and ladylike, Austen wrote sketches as a teenager in which heroines get drunk, steal, lie, commit murder, and raise armies, enjoying themselves. Even in her mature works, she presented protagonists devoid of traditionally “heroic” qualities. Note her opening to Northanger Abbey:
The children in the novel maintain an elaborate miniature economy in which they constantly trade amongst themselves treasures that would be junk to adults. These exchanges replicate the commercial relationships in which the children will have to engage when they get older. Many of the complications that money creates appear in their exchanges. Tom swindles his friends out of all their favorite objects through a kind of false advertising when he sells them the opportunity to whitewash the fence. He then uses his newly acquired wealth to buy power and prestige at Sunday school—rewards that should be earned rather than bought. When Tom and Joe fight over the tick in class, we see a case in which a disagreement leads the boys, who have been sharing quite civilly, to revert to a quarrel over ownership.