Book Reviews, Review

“Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

1. Plot

The novel, “Nineteen Minutes,” by Jodi Picoult, is about the people involved and affected by a school shooting, the events that lead up to it, and the events that happen after it. The plot is very complex, as it is not in sequential or chronological order. Sometimes a chapter starts out in the present and in the middle of a chapter, it jumps to the past and then back to the present again. The book jumps around to and from the past and the present. Sometimes a chapter starts out in the present and in the middle of a chapter, it jumps to the past and then back to the present again. This technique is effective in showing how events that happened in the past can cause different outcomes in the future.

The novel starts out by describing a normal day in the life of multiple characters living in Sterling, Massachusetts- Alex Cormier (a judge), her daughter (Josie), Patrick Ducharme (a detective), Lacy Houghton (a midwife), her son (Peter Houghton), and a random student at Sterling High (Zoe Patterson). Within the middle of the first chapter, the author thrusts the reader into the event of the shooting and leads the reader through what is happening through the eyes of Patrick Ducharme. As the chaos unfolds and everyone is running out of the school, Patrick pushes his way through multilpe injured and dead bodies and screaming students into a locker room where he spots the shooter, Peter Houghton, on the ground and ready to kill himself. Patrick manages to apprehend Peter and the police arrest him. Patrick bends down to observe the only two other bodies in the locker room. One of the bodies is a popular hockey jock, Matt Royston, and the other body is Matt’s girlfriend, Josie Cormier. He notices that one of the bodies move. Josie Cormier, who passed out and can’t remember any of the events that happened in the locker room, is carried out of the school by Patrick.

The next chapter describes back-story of Lacy Houghton, a kind and caring midwife, and her family (her husband Lewis, her toddler Joey, and her newborn baby Peter). She meets and befriends then-public defender, Alex Cormier, through helping Alex with carrying her unwanted baby. Alex was impregnated and tossed aside by her older married professor, Logan Rourke. At first, Alex doesn’t want anything to do with her baby, but after great consideration and consultation from Lacy, she decides to keep her baby and the chapter ends with her giving birth to her daughter, Josie.

The third chapter jumps back to the events that happen directly after the shooting. Patrick tries to stay composed as he directs the medics, EMTs, and policemen on what to do concerning the shooting. The perspective of the novel switches to Alex, who learns about the shooting at her daughter’s high school, and leaves her courtroom to go to the school. The perspective switches to John Eberhard, a victim of the shooting, who struggles to get help, but falls two stories out of a window to his death. The book switches to attorney general, Diana Leven, as she assesses the crime scene and tries to deal with the media. The novel switches to the perspective of Lacy Houghton, the mother of Peter Houghton, as she desperately tries to locate her son, and painfully finds out that her son was the shooter. The novel switches to the perspective of Patrick as he interrogates Peter Houghton. He doesn’t get any answers from Peter with his questions, but as Patrick leaves he hears Peter whisper, “They started it,” (55).  Patrick goes back to the crime scene, where he finds out that one of the victims, Matt Royston, is the only victim shot twice, and that Peter Houghton had the makings of a pipe bomb in his car. Lacy Houghton goes home to search her son’s room and to try and get rid of the evidence that might hurt him, finding fertilizer and pipes in his closet. She is too late to get rid of the evidence as the police knock on her door, having a search warrant to search the premises. Jordan McAfee, an attorney, receives a call from Lewis Houghton, Peter’s father, and decides to defend Peter in the case. The chapter ends with Patrick visiting the hospital to see the girl he saved, Josie, and finds out that Alex (the judge) is her mother.

The next chapter describes the relationship between Josie and Peter when they were children. It is immediately addressed that on the first day of kindergarten, Peter gets bullied by having his lunch and lunch box thrown out of the bus by a group of older students. Luckily, Josie, his then-best friend, offers him consolation. He gets scorned by his mother for “losing” his lunch box, and then responds with “I’m not Joey,” when compared by his parents to his older, All-American brother. Alex picks her daughter up after finding out that she beat up another kid for bullying Peter. Alex reprimands her daughter for being violent, but applauds her for standing up for her friend. Lacy talks to Peter’s teacher after finding out that he is being bullied and discovers that his teacher isn’t really handling the problem effectively. The teacher encourages Peter to stand up and retaliate for himself and encourages Lacy to teach her son to do the same. Lacy, though she doesn’t want to, tells Peter that if he doesn’t stand up for himself, then he can’t play with Josie anymore. Alex, in the meantime, works to become a judge and goes through an application process. After being chosen to be the county judge, Alex finds it hard to adjust to being a judge in and out of the courtroom, always having to act superior and socially acceptable. The chapter ends with Lewis Houghton, Peter’s father, teaching Peter about guns and how to handle them.

The next chapter is about the day after the shooting. Peter is in jail. Jordan McAfee meets his client in the jail cell, only to find that Peter is unresponsive and only asks “How many did I get?” Lacy and Lewis try to figure out what has happened in their lives and are interrogated by the police. Josie gets released from the hospital and finds out that her boyfriend, Matt, is dead and about the other victims of the shootings. Alex tries to bond with her daughter, but it is revealed that their relationship is strenuous. Patrick visits testing labs and looks over the evidence gathered about Peter and the shooting. He finds out that Peter had four guns, two shotguns that weren’t used, and two pistols (one of them was only shot once, the other one was used for the rest of the shootings). He also finds a Sterling Middle School yearbook with multiple faces circled in black marker. Only one face is crossed out with the words, “Let live,” underneath it-Josie Cormier.

The arraignment about the Peter Houghton case happens, and Peter and Jordan plead not-guilty to all of the charges. Josie attempts suicide by almost swallowing multiple sleeping pills, but doesn’t go through with it. Matt Royston’s funeral is held and Josie breaks down in the front of the altar when she is asked to speak, repeating “I’m sorry,” to the congregation. Peter deals with being held in a cell with maximum security. Patrick goes to the Cormiers’ house to interrogate Josie about how she knew Peter. She responds that Peter stood out in school that Matt and other people bullied him, and that she and him weren’t friends. Lacy visits Peter in jail and finds that he is changed and not the son she knows, but she isn’t going to let go of him.

Patrick watches a video of what Peter did in the cafeteria during the shooting: blinding shooting into the cafeteria, walking past dead bodies, taking the time to eat a bowl of cereal, and then standing back up to walk out of the cafeteria and going on to shooting more people. Patrick also finds out that during the shooting, Peter hacked into the school program and had every computer say, “Ready or not, here I come,” on the screen. Jordan spends more time with Peter, learning that Peter feels no remorse for what he has done and considers himself the victim.

The next chapter goes back into the past where Josie and Peter were still friends. Josie saves Peter yet again after being socially harassed. Josie and Peter watch the events of 9/11 on TV, and their mothers pick them up from school. A few days later, Peter is harassed again by the more popular kids on his soccer team, especially Matt Royston, and is called homosexual. He becomes friends with one of the other non-popular kids, Deek Markowitz, through them being bench-warmers on the school’s soccer team. Peter’s mom publicly humiliates Peter by asking the coach to put Peter in the next game, causing the other kids to make fun of him, but Derek consoles him. Josie becomes friends with one of the popular girls, Courtney Ignacio, through a school assignment. Joey, Peter’s then-alive older brother, is shown to be smarter, more popular, and more athletically skilled than Peter. Peter is compared to Joey and Joey takes part in bullying his younger brother. Peter, wanting to feel accepted, publicly humiliates a girl in his class, Dolores Keating. He sees that she has her first period, and begins to taunt her, being followed by the other students, and is temporarily accepted as being one of them. When Dolores comes back to school, everyone in her class plans to drop a tampon one by one on her desk to taunt her even further. All of the popular kids (Drew, Matt, Courtney) drop a tampon onto her desk, but when it gets to Peter’s turn, he refuses to bully her, tries to defend her, and is harassed by the other students. Josie, still having a tampon in her hand, joins the popular kids by “accidentally” dropping the tampon in her hand onto Dolores’ desk. When Peter confronts Josie about her changing personality, she chooses to drop Peter from her life and walks away.

The novel jumps to the present, where it has been a week since the shooting. Josie and Lacy are emotionally unstable, both of them losing a loved one. Other citizens of Sterling harass Jordan McAfee for defending Peter. Alex tries to bond with Josie, even though most of her attempts are futile and strained. Jordan McAfee’s wife, Selena, who is his detective, interrogates Lacy Houghton. It is revealed that she and her husband used to compare Peter to Joey and that Joey died in a car accident a year ago. It is also revealed that Lacy allowed her sons to have privacy because she didn’t like searching through their things and finding things she didn’t want to see. She found drugs, a spoon, and a needle in Joey’s room after he died.

Josie has to go back to school, which has relocated to a temporary middle school. She finds it hard to adjust back to what was “normal” and to be with her old friends without being reminded of her dead friends. Jordan talks to Peter again, and finds out that Peter hated his older brother because Joey never stood up for him, Joey participated in the bullying against Peter, Peter was always being compared to Joey, and that Joey had told everyone that Peter was adopted to avoid being accused of being related to each other. Jordan, with the help of his wife, decide to try and apply the “battered woman syndrome” to Peter, saying that he was mentally unstable the day he had shot everyone because of all of the bullying he endured.

The novel goes back to a year before the shooting happened. Peter and Josie take a job at the same copying store. They become close to each other again, but Josie always seems to remain slightly distant because of her social status. Peter shows a graph of “Popularity” for his math class, and unknowingly humiliates Josie. Though publicly embarrassed, Matt Royston stands up for her and they become a couple, saving her from social turmoil. Peter is ignored by Josie, which leads him to set the garbage bin outside on fire to see if Josie would save him. Peter is fired from his job, and asks Josie to help him get his job back. Matt catches Peter talking to Josie and beats him up. Josie prevents Matt from beating Peter up badly, but when she tries to get Matt to stop picking on people, he gets angry and tells her to choose between him and the losers

Peter creates a videogame about hunting people. He uses his yearbook and circles the faces of people he wants to base the “prey” characters off of in his videogame. Josie searches to meet her father, only to find out that he doesn’t want her in his life and bribes her with money to go away. In her grief and wanting to be loved, she lets Matt coax her into having sex with him. She and Matt go to a party, and Matt gets angry when she embarrasses him in front of his friends. As they are about to leave, he roughly grabs her and tells her to never make him look like an idiot again, and then tells her he loves her. Peter, having a trouble identifying what his sexuality is, goes to a gay pow-wow party at a club. He gets sexually advanced upon by an older gay man, but is saved by his closeted gay teacher, Mr. McCabe (also a victim in the shooting). Mr. McCabe tells Peter that if he ever needs to talk to anyone, he would be there for him.

Peter gets a job at the library at school. One day, when he is transporting books in the elevator, Josie, having broken her foot, takes the elevator with him. The elevator breaks, and they are forced to spend time together for a few hours. They bond again, talking about why Josie chooses to act the way she does. Peter finds out that Josie broke her foot by Matt pushing her when they were having a fight. Through a dare, Josie and Peter kiss. Through this, Peter understands that he isn’t gay; he just never found the right girl (Josie). The elevator doors open and Matt carries Josie away. Peter goes home and finds out Joey dies.

The next chapter is about Peter’s trial. Peter is convicted of 10 first-degree murders, and eighteen attempted-murders. Judge Cormier decides to take the case, even though she has some tie to it through her daughter. Patrick and Alex get closer through the case. Derek, Peter’s friend, tells the detectives that Josie and Peter used to be best friends. Lacy finds out that her husband has been visiting the graveyard every time he was supposed to visit his son in jail. They are at different ends about Peter; Lacy wants to love and try to hold onto Peter while Lewis doesn’t blame any of the parents who hate Peter, and wants to let go of him. Jordan talks to Peter about why he decided to shoot all of the people, and Peter said that they were all in the way of shooting the one person he wanted to kill the most- himself. Jordan consults with a famous psychologist, Mr. King, about whether or not the can apply “battered woman syndrome” to Peter. King says that a lot of the symptoms Peter had followed the “battered woman syndrome”. Patrick and Alex happen to see each other at a Chinese restaurant and get closer. Alex decides, with Patrick’s help, to withdraw herself from being the judge of the case. Jordan McCafee, not wanting Alex to be a part of the case, puts Josie on the witness list, not knowing that she was planning to withdraw herself from the case. As Alex and Josie bond, Alex and Patrick become romantically involved as well.

The novel goes back to the month before the shooting. Josie and Matt have sex without a condom. Peter asks his mother for help on how to tell someone (Josie) that he loves her. Lacy tells him to just outright tell the person he loves. Peter writes Josie an e-mail pouring out his feelings for her. He sends it just as Courtney Ignacio opens up Josie’s e-mail. Courtney forwards the e-mail to everyone in the school, but Josie doesn’t know. Josie finds out that her period is late. Josie is forced to realize that her “friends” are only her friends if she ridicules other people, not other people ridiculing her. Courtney tells Peter that Josie is over Matt and wants to be with Peter. Peter goes up to the popular table, and Josie’s “friends” make fun of Peter and his letter. Matt pulls Peter’s pants and underwear down in front of the whole cafeteria. Josie feels horrible, but allows everything around her to happen. The next day, Josie pretends to be sick and searches up ways to terminate pregnancies, and gets a positive pregnancy test. Peter finds guns in his neighbor’s (who was en ex-cop) house. Josie tells Matt she’s pregnant, and then is relieved when she miscarries by following one of the abortion methods she read on the Internet. She tells Matt she miscarries, and he is overjoyed.

The next chapter jumps back to the present. Lacy tries to hold onto Peter. Josie visits the graveyard and has a “conversation” with Matt’s grave. Patrick was sent by Josie’s mother to watch her, and he consoles her and tells her that she isn’t alone because she has her mom with her. Peter’s trial starts. A slideshow of all of the bodies found in the school are shown, and Peter feels remorseful. Josie sees Peter’s mother at the trial, but isn’t mean to her and instead tells Lacy that Peter is her friend. Dr. King, the psychologist, tells the jury that Peter had “battered wife syndrome” and post-traumatic stress disorder, which led him to shoot people without realizing what he was doing. Peter asks to give a testimony in the court, and Jordan reluctantly allows it. Jordan rehearses Peter’s responses, but when Peter gets up to the courtroom, he makes a mistake and points himself out as the bad guy. As Jordan McAfee struggles to recoil and recover the case, he decides to try to interrogate Josie one more time about the case. During the interrogation, Josie sees Selena, Jordan’s wife, drop their son’s baby bag, which makes Josie remember all of the events that happen in the locker room when Matt dies. She tells Jordan that Matt tried to shoot Peter first, and then Peter shot Matt.

The events of the shooting day are revealed. Peter wakes up, drops his glasses onto the keyboard of his computer, and a screen pops up of the message that was spammed out to everyone in the school. He breaks apart at that point. He goes to school and detonates a bomb in Matt Royston’s car in the parking lot, distracting students as we walks into the school with his guns. He passed Zoe Patterson and shot her. He shot Alyssa Carr in the hallway and went into the cafeteria and shot Angela Phlug, Maddie Shaw, Courtney Ignacio, Haley Weaver, Brady Pryce, Natalie Zlenko, Emma Alexis, Jada Knight, and Richard Hicks. He sits down and eats a bowl of Rice Krispies. After finishing his bowl of cereal, he gets back up and leaves the cafeteria, shooting Jared Weiner, Whit Obermeyer, Grace Murtaugh, and Lucia Ritolli. He goes into the boys’ bathroom and shoots Steven Babourias, Min Horuka, and Topher McPhee. He goes into the girls’ bathroom and shoots Kaitlyn Harvey.  He goes upstairs and shoots Ed McCabe, John Eberhard, and Trey MacKenzie. When he gets in the gym he shoots Austin Prokiov, Coach Dusty Spears, Noah James, Justin Friedman, and Drew Girard. Finally, Peter goes into the locker room.

When Josie goes up to testify, she is asked to “tell the truth” and everything will be fine. The next part of the chapter relives the events that happened in the locker room. Matt shoved Josie roughly behind a wooden bench. Peter opens the locker room doors, and Josie screams, causing Peter to drop his bag full of the guns. One of the guns slides over to Josie’s foot, and she picks it up. Peter tells Josie to not do anything and let him shoot Matt. Matt tells Josie to “Fucking shoot [Peter]…Are you fucking stupid?” and Peter tells Matt to not talk to Josie like that. Matt tells Josie again to shoot, and she shoots Matt in the stomach. Sobbing, she turns to Peter, and asks him to help her. Peter shoots Matt in the head, and whispers, “’Don’t tell,’: I won’t share your secrets, if you don’t share mine.”

The courtroom erupts in chaos and Patrick arrives a few minutes later with the evidence that show that Matt couldn’t have fired at Peter; Josie was telling the truth about her firing the gun at Matt. When Jordan confronts Peter about Josie’s statement, he says that, “You don’t break a promise to a friend.” Peter is convicted of eight first-degree murders and two second-degree murders.

After the trial, Lacy gets rid of Peter’s stuff. A month after the trial, Peter commits suicide by stuffing a sock down his throat. Sometime after the trial, Alex and Patrick are together and expecting their first child. They walk through the halls of the new Sterling High, a school with better security and memorials for the dead or injured students. Peter is dead and Josie was charged as an accessory to second-degree murder and accepted a plea for manslaughter with five years served. The novel ends with Patrick and Alex walking through the corridors of the hallways.


2. Point of View/Perspective

The point of view of the novel is in third person, following multiple people that are involved and affected by the shootings. Lacy Houghton, Patrick Ducharme, Peter Houghton, Lewis Houghton, Alex Cormier, Courtney Ignacio, Josie Cormier, Zoe Patterson, Jordan McAfee, and Diana Leven are the people from which the novel is told. Most of the novel is told through Alex, Patrick, Lacy, Peter, and Josie’s point of view. The third-person perspective of multiple people is affective in showing how one event can be experienced and dealt with through multiple people. It gives the novel a certain amount of depth, because you are able to experience from a bunch of people’s perspectives instead of just following one character that might not relate to you that well. It feels more real having many people react to one event, because usually when a story is told, it is told through one person’s perspective and the characters that affect the main character never have a chance to say how they feel about the situation. An example of the multiple perspectives in the novel is near the beginning, when Alex Cormier and Lacy Houghton are interacting with each other and the things they do after they’ve interacted. Lacy meets Alex, and decides to “keep an eye on her” because she is a new mother who doesn’t want her baby. After Alex meets Lacy, she is at first reluctant to get to know her because Lacy was just so positive.


 3. Protagonist

It is hard to pin-point the protagonist of the novel because there are so many conflicts within the novel and so many complex characters introduced in the plot. The characters with the most conflicts and the most interaction with the other characters would be Josie Cormier and Peter Houghton. They were best friends when they were little through their mothers. When they were little they even said that they were going to get married and often played house with each other during kindergarten break time. Then, as they grew up, they drifted away when Josie decided to become popular. They become close again through work, and then Peter’s inability to be “normal” causes Josie to shy away from him. They become close again through spending time together in a locked elevator, but Josie slips back into her mask of popularity and doesn’t pay attention to Peter. When Peter confesses his love to Josie, she feels bad, but is too caught up with her image to show that she cares about Peter. Peter writes “Let live” underneath Josie’s picture after changing how he feels about her. When Peter is convicted, Peter asks how Josie is. Josie asks how Peter looks during the trial. The truth comes out that Peter and Josie were in cahoots with Matt Royston’s death.

Josie struggled to fit in and pretend to be someone else. She was in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Matt Royston, and got impregnated by him and then had a miscarriage. Her mother isn’t particularly close to her, and she is confused about how she feels about her mom’s lover, Patrick. Josie also has a father who doesn’t want her to be a part of his life.

Peter was bullied throughout his entire school life. His best friend Josie was ripped away from him because of social pressure. He was constantly being called homosexual and other mean names by many of his peers, including his own older brother. He had access to guns and played and listened to violent media. He was being constantly compared to his brother, Joey. He was in love with a girl he could never have, and could never quite fit in because he did things that weren’t socially acceptable. He is described by his mother as “tender, almost to the point of being raw. It took someone like Josie…to protect him” (78).


4. Setting

The setting takes place between sometime in the early 1990’s (when the children were born/babies) and March 6, 2008 (453). It takes place in Grafton County, Sterling, New Hampshire (5, 9). There are multiple small settings within the bigger settings- classrooms, a club, the Cormier house, a Chinese restaurant, a high school, the Houghton house, a cemetery, a jail, Sterling High School, the Courtroom, a middle school, etc. The contrast between the settings of the earlier events and the later events are that the earlier events usually happen to occur in very common places that most small towns (like Vancouver, Washington, for example) have. The events that are normal and slightly positive mostly occur in the daylight in places like the kindergarten that Josie and Peter played in and the Chinese restaurant that Alex and Patrick talked in. The events that are negative or life-changing seem to occur during the night and in places that are usually associated with negative things like when Lewis and Lacy were torn between what they wanted to do about their son in the raining cemetery, or the events that happen in the cell where Peter is held. The fact that there are so many different “normal” settings of the novel show how the events of the novel can happen anywhere, including somewhere that is “normal”. The different “normal” settings also make the novel seem more realistic, because when I imagine a local grocery store or a copying store, I know what to imagine or think about because I have been in places like that.


5. Theme

One of the major themes addressed in this novel is the idea of fitting in. Almost every single character in the novel experiences some conflict with fitting in. Alex Cormier, for example, has to constantly act like a judge, even when she is in private, because anyone could be watching her or judging how she acts. This is shown by the event where Josie accuses her mother of using her “Judge Voice” and switching it between the way she talks to Josie and the way she talks to the waiter (152). Peter Houghton experiences being a social outcast no matter what he does. An example of Peter trying to fit in is when he began to taunt a girl who had her period, and then later trying to stop the taunts and trying to stand up for her, causing him to be knocked down again. Josie has to sacrifice who she is and has to be a part of an abusive relationship in order to be accepted as someone else (someone popular). She is constantly struggling to figure out if she is truly happy being accepted, or if she is truly happy being herself. Peter’s older brother, Joey, has to sacrifice the relationship he has with his brother in order to be popular and maintain his social status. Zoe Patterson’s short part in the novel talks about how she was thinking about her braces and what would happen if she tried to kiss a boy with braces. She goes on to talk about how humiliating it would be if their braces got stuck together, and how she could probably temporarily join a convent because of her ugly-looking braces (19, 20). Even the math teacher, Ed McCabe, talks about fitting in. He was a closeted gay man with a gay lover. He didn’t want the students or the faculty to know about his sexual orientation because he knew what they would say about him and he was scared about what would happen.

The author addresses the issue of ‘fitting in’ in an interview located at the very back of the book:

“Q: In the acknowledgements, you write: ‘To the thousands of kids out there who are a little bit different, a little bit scared, a little bit un-popular: this one’s for you.’ What might readers, particularly young readers, take from this book and apply to their own lives?

A: If I could say one thing to the legions of teens out there who wake up every morning and wish they didn’t have to go to school, it would be this – and I’m saying it as both a mom and writer: Stay the course. You will find someone like you; you will fit in one day. And know that even the cool kids, the popular kids, worry that someone might find out their secret: that they worry about fitting in, just like you do.”


6. Title

The title, “Nineteen Minutes,” is addressed within the novel. On page 5, there is a short excerpt describing what someone could do in nineteen minutes:

“In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five.

Nineteen minutes is how long it took the Tennessee Titans to sell out of tickets to the play-odds. It’s the length of a sitcom, minus the commercials. It’s the driving distance from the Vermont border to the town of Sterling, New Hampshire.

In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story toa child or have your oil changed. You can walk a mile. You can sew a hem.

In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off of it.

In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge.”

There is another excerpt in the novel addressing the title on page 363:

“’This entire spree lasted nineteen minutes in the life of Peter Houghton, but the evidence will show that its effects will last forever…the deaths of nineteen others at Sterling High School…as Peter Houghton knows…in nineteen minutes, you can bring the world to a screeching halt.’”

I think that the title, “Nineteen Minutes” is appropriate for the novel because the issue of time is constantly addressed in the novel (the chapters usually address what time it is-the past of the present-and what is happening during that time) and because the number 19 is a significant number in the novel. It took nineteen minutes for Peter Houghton to go on his shooting rampage, killing or wounding nineteen people at Sterling High School. The novel ends when Josie is nineteen.


7. Personal Recommendation

Personally, I think that this book would be a great asset to the AP Curriculum. Granted, it has some suggestive themes (drinking, unprotected sex, revenge, murder, etc.), but it deals with each conflict so beautifully and complexly that it would be great to study how the author views each conflict that is brought up in the book. There are some great points in the book about the universal themes of ‘fitting in’, masks and different personalities, the justice system, different mental diseases, the domino affect, and how a few acts of treating others negatively can cause a great outcome. Almost every single character in the book is relatable and feels real, and they are each complex and have their own personality traits and backgrounds to them. The conflicts are woven in with each other so brilliantly that all of the little things that could be over-looked in the book add up to the final conflict and connect to everything else that happens. The plot structure is pretty confusing at first, but it is easy to get immediately intrigued by the book and it hooks you i

Book Reviews, Review

“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller


I had to do a book report last year, and the book I chose to do was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. It was an interesting and REALLY confusing read. After (literally) reading it over 4 times, I finally understood what everything meant. Here is my report from last year:

P.S.- Please do not copy and paste my work if you are currently doing this book for a report. It isn’t beneficial for me, and it certainly won’t be beneficial for you when you get caught.

CATCH-22 BY JOSPEH HELLER

Plot
“Catch-22,” is not organized in a chronological sequence of events. Heller writes the majority of the novel out of order, switching from past to present and moving through time and other events in a seemingly unsystematic assortment. The plot can be analyzed in two different ways; by sequence of events according to time or by sequence of events according to each chapter/character. In this essay, the plot is analyzed according to what happens in each chapter, as opposed to trying to find the linear sequence of events in time.

If divided up into four sections, the plot according to the chapters is a bit easier to make sense of. From chapters 1-18, the novel explains who is who and the idiocy and illogicality of the military, capitalism, and bureaucracy, having more of a humorous, absurd tone. The first part also explains how everyone sane and logical is illogical and punished in Yossarian’s world, and everyone who acts illogically and without reasoning gets rewarded for it and is considered sane. The second fourth of the novel, chapters 19-26, goes deeper into how futile the situation they are in and how illogical everyone’s actions are. Everyone is calling everyone else crazy, and nobody knows what to do in order to achieve their own personal goal, causing the tone of the second part of the novel to be more confused and more desperate to find a resolution. By the third section of the novel, Chapters 27-34, most of the characters have reached the goal that they wanted, only to be thwarted by things completely out of their control (death is a prevalent theme in this section). The third section has a tone of hopelessness and futility. The last section, 35-40, is where Yossarian desperately tries to find a way out as his friends die around him. Here, he sees the true atrocities of war. Near the end of the novel, he realizes the full extent of humanity’s evilness and has the epiphany that Catch-22 which “says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing,” is not real. He walks away from the war in order to preserve what is right and what is in the best interest of the people he cares about (including himself).

Point of View/Perspective

“Catch-22” is solely told in the third person omniscient, an all-knowing narrator who tells and goes into detail of the stories of almost every single character that is mentioned in the novel. The narrator focuses on a lot of characters’ independent stories, but always finds a way to connect it back to the protagonist, Yossarian. The dialogue between characters and the omniscient narration is often confusing and hard to follow. The narration in some chapters can provide a lot of insight into how the characters are thinking at that very moment. A good example of the narrator’s description of what is going on can be shown in the conversation between Milo and Yossarian in Chapter 7 about Yossarian’s fruit. When read without the omniscient narrator’s explanation of how the characters are feeling and thinking at that moment, the dialogue would present itself in a way that would simply suggest that Yossarian has no idea what he’s talking about, and Milo is asking questions that have no reasoning behind it. By adding the descriptions of how the characters are feeling in the conversation, the narrator shows that Milo shows deep discomfort and some physical pain in learning that all of the fruit Yossarian has is essentially going to waste by Yossarian giving it away, but trusts Yossarian completely with every secret except where he hides his money, and that Yossarian cares about his friends who needs the fruit more, but is slightly “distrustful” at the fact that he seems so “indignant” in how he acts and seems (64). Sometimes, however, the omniscient narrator provides examples and details in the novel that don’t really have anything to do with what the characters just finished talking about, straying away from the sequence of events going on. An example of this would be in the beginning of Chapter 8 when Lieutenant Scheisskopf is saying he isn’t going to punish anyone for doing something, and then the narrator goes in-depth about who he was (which does provide some useful insight as to what type of person the Lt. is), but then goes into detail about the Lt.’s wife and how she slept with a lot of people, and then about how the Lt. liked parades (68-71).
The confusing changes in perspective from character to character and strange dialogue and narrative descriptions emphasizes the novel as a whole. It emphasizes the underlying message of Catch-22 being a satire of a bureaucracy, where nothing really makes sense, but because everyone fervently believes it makes sense, it makes sense. The characters that the omniscient narrator tells the stories of are connected to each other by this theme of absurd logic. In having slightly haphazard and changing points of views, the Heller further emphasizes how all the characters in the novel have been sucked in and trapped by a world that doesn’t make sense and is constantly being proved illogical.
Protagonist The protagonist of, “Catch-22” is John Yossarian, a captain in the 256th Bombardment Squadron of the Army Air Corps, which is revealed in the very beginning of the novel. John’s sole goal in this novel is to stay alive. This goal is supported by his other major goal in life, which is to go home (so he doesn’t have to fight and die in the war). His extreme want to leave the war and live forces him to do some questionable things and to try and take every route possible for him to not risk his life, as shown in the following passage, “…Yossarian was a lead bombardier who had been demoted because he no longer gave a damn whether he missed or not. He had decided to live forever o die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive” (29). He frequently goes to the hospital for randomly made-up diseases and ailments so that he does not have to fly on missions, and sometimes makes himself sick or tries to be in the worst health possible so he doesn’t have to fly any missions and can go home for not being useful to the military.For example, throughout the novel, Yossarian says that he is insane in order to get grounded from duty, as shown on Chapter 27, pages 293-298, when he claims that he is insane and dreams of holding a live fish in his hands, and then suggests, “perhaps I ought to be grounded and returned to the states (298)”. None of his superiors are able to ground him on insanity because of Catch-22, however, which stated, “…that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind…[if one was crazy he] could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. [Someone] would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to” (46). Therefore, Yossarian is in the maddening position where he can’t escape his situation no matter where he turns.Yossarian is also one of the only characters in the novel who realize the futility and absurdity of war, seeing that the point in living is not to kill or die for the sake of killing, but to live. His will to live is perpetuated by his constant want to fall in love with as many women as possible and to go home. His somewhat strange, straightforward logic and reasoning actually makes sense to the reader, whereas in Yossarian’s world of bureaucracy and confusion, other people find his logic to be crazy. This is explicitly and somewhat sarcastically shown in the text where it describes the reaction of some of the men about how Yossarian was openly defying his orders and the war because he has the right to do so, “The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them” (405).Other characters acknowledge that his way of thinking is “crazy” compared to everyone else’s way of thinking, as shown in Clevinger’s description of what is wrong with Yossarian: “an unreasonable belief that everybody around him was crazy, a homicidal impulse to machine-gun strangers, retrospective falsification, an unfounded suspicion that people hated him and were conspiring to kill him” (20). A number of characters, however agree that he is in fact sane because he thinks differently than other people (who are crazy), as described by Dr. Stubbs in Chapter 10, “’Yossarian? Who the hell is Yossarian? What the hell kind of a name is Yossarian, anyway?…That crazy bastard.’ ‘He’s not so crazy,” Dunbar said. “He swears he’s not going to fly to Bologna.’ That’s just what I mean,” Dr. Stubbs answered. ‘That crazy bastard may be the only sane one left’” (110).Yossarian’s thinking in terms of the war is a direct result of a traumatic event that he went through when he was just starting out in the war. On one of his flights, a man named Snowden lay dying in the back of his plane. When Yossarian landed, he began to cutt the off Snowden’s clothes to try and help heal his body. After cutting open his clothes, Snowden’s entrails spilled onto Yossarian, covering him in blood and revealing to him a message about humanity and life, which was to (basically) not take life for granted, because at any point in time, someone might die. Eventually, fed up with the complications of war but not wanting to betray his fellow soldiers and friends, he tries to escape and run away from the war altogether by escaping to Sweden.

Setting
“Catch-22” is set during World War II, and the time period jumps around past and present, staying within the confines of the 1940’s. The locations the book describes are usually associated with the 256th squadron in Pianosa. Looking it up on a map, Pianosa is located a bit off the coast of Italy. The novel also partly takes place at Rome and mentions a lot of locations where Milo Minderbender’s black market trade goes on (from Africa, to Egypt, to New York City). Interestingly enough, though this is a book from the U.S. set during WWII, “Catch-22” does not name the Germans, the Axis Powers, or the Allies as “the enemy”. Instead, the setting shows through the characters’ (esp. Yossarian’s) perspective that everyone is the enemy if everyone is trying to kill them, and whoever is not the enemy isn’t out to get them.

The setting is definitely the backbone for the novel; without “Catch-22” being set in a time period of great anxiety, confusion and war, the novel would not have been as effective in sharing its message about bureaucracy and how corrupt it is. Because the majority of the novel is set in an American-run squadron, a lot of the characters display American patriotism (even though a lot of them don’t know why), so therefore Americans would be more likely to relate to this novel. However, if done correctly, the story could have followed an almost exact sequence of events if it was applied to a differently allied country or in a different time period. The major points of the setting would be to make sure that it was during a major war and that the armies followed a bureaucratic system.

A lot of the locations that are described in the novel are much described in the tantalizing way that bureaucracy and fighting for a war is like. This is definitely shown in the description of Rome before and after the bomb hits and the police storm in to chase the prostitutes out of the apartment, where it was a refuge for the prostitutes and “sweet girls” that lived there. When Yossarian goes to tell Nately’s whore of his death, he finds it in ruins, “Rome was in ruins, he saw, when the plane was down…Nately’s whore’s apartment was a shambles…” (406). We find out shortly after from the old lady who owned the apartment building that police stormed in and chased away the girls for no real reason, claiming they had permission to by the law of Catch-22, which stated, “they have the right to do anything we can’t keep them from doing”. This drastic change in setting helps emphasize the events that are happening in the novel as well as perpetuate the idea that bureaucracy, while it looks fine and good to get into and join (like joining a bureaucratic military system), it will eventually give way to the “real” absurd laws that make it work and imprison those who fell into their trap, leaving the victims worse than where they started out as and not knowing why.

Theme
Arguably, the most major theme in the novel deals with the idea about how life is absurdity and corruption of logic that bureaucracy forces onto the characters. This is permeated throughout the novel by the characters’ experiences and thoughts that reflect on who is sane, what actions are considered sane and why these actions and people are considered sane or insane.

Bureaucracy is defined by dictionary.com as, “government by a rigid hierarchy of officials; group of officials; excessive administrative routine”. The fact that the novel is set during the time of World War II should suggest that bureaucracy in the military is required to maintain order and structure in order to complete the united goal of defeating the enemy. However, Catch-22 shows the reader that the situation that the enlisted men are in because of bureaucracy is absolutely hopeless and manipulatory, as every action the men do are forced upon them by superiors that want to move up or flamboyantly express their rank. Many of the things the men do are either extremely dangerous or serve very little purpose (or both, in some cases), and are usually in done with a vain understanding that the majority of the acts and rules placed by the bureaucracy don’t help the war effort at all.

However, those that are in higher power constantly try to convince the men that what they are doing in the war effort is helping in some way to the military effort. People in command force absurd and illogical rules upon the enlisted men to make them seem more impressive to their superiors. The enlisted men, though try to make sense and logic of their actions or try to be useful and helpful, their wholesome acts and logical thoughts usually results in them being punished for no logical reason, and people are praised for illogical actions.

One example of this is in Chapter 8 when Clevinger is going under his trial for Lieutenant Schiesskopf’s accusation of crimes that he never did. It is revealed before the trial starts that Lieutenant Schiesskopf hates Clevinger for thinking logical thoughts (hinting at the fact that those in power want to remain in power and the only reason why they make sure that everyone else is following irrational orders is to make sure that the people below them will never get anywhere) and wants nothing more from the trial than to get him in trouble, “Clevinger had a mind, and Lieutenant Schisskopf had noticed that people with minds tended to get pretty smart sometimes. Such men were dangerous…The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with” (71).

The trial itself and the dialogue that occurs between all three of the characters is completely absurd and no logical resolution is ever found. The colonel gets off topic easily and is constantly being reminded about what he talking about. Every time Clevinger pleads for innocence, the colonel says that Clevinger is guilty about things that doesn’t make sense, as shown in this passage, “’What did you mean,’ he inquired slowly, ‘when you said we couldn’t punish you?…‘I’m sorry, sir. But I don’t know how to answer it. I never said you couldn’t punish me.’ ‘Now you’re telling me when you did say it. I’m asking you to tell us when you didn’t say it…Didn’t I tell you to keep your stupid mouth shut?’ ‘Yes sir.’ ‘Then keep your stupid mouth shut when I tell you to keep your stupid mouth shut. Do you understand? Will you speak up, please? I couldn’t hear you,’” (76-77).

No matter how hard Clevinger pleads for innocence, he will not get it, and Lieutenant Schiesskopf makes sure of this, “…Lieutenant Schiesskopf was one of the judges…[he] was also the prosecutor… [and] the officer defending [Clevinger] was Lieutenant Schiesskopf” (75-76), and the bumbling, idiotic colonel supports the futility of trying to be rational in an illogical world. Here, Clevinger is almost completely subjected to whatever torture Lieutenant Schiesskopf and those in the room wants to enforce on him, no matter if he’s innocent or not. They exercise their power by making whatever nonsensical rules they want (that often contradict each other) and punishing Clevinger for following and not following those rules.

The bureaucratic military’s absurd sense of logic and its effects on the mentality and morality of those affected by it is highlighted in Chapter 39 when Yossarian is wandering through Rome. Yossarian is arrested for being in Rome without a pass while Aarfy, Yossarian’s selfish and horribly cynical navigator, gets an apology from the police for barging in after he raped and murdered a girl. “’I only raped her once,’ he explained…’Aarfy, are you insane?’ Yossarian was almost speechless. ‘You killed a girl. They’re going to put you in jail!’…’She was only a servant girl. I hardly think they’re going to make too much of a fuss over one poor Italian servant girl when so many thousands of lives are being lost every day. Do you?’…They arrested Yossarian for being in Rome without a pass. They apologized to Aarfy for intruding’” (418-419). In this example, morals are nonexistent when put under the ridiculous laws made by a bureaucratic military.

Title The title, “Catch-22” comes up frequently throughout the novel, and is described directly by the dialogue of the characters or narration of the narrator. “Catch-22” is first brought up in Chapter 5 by Doc Daneeka: “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind…[if one was crazy he] could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. [Someone] would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to” (46).

“Catch-22” is mentioned and elaborated throughout the novel through many other characters. The description that sums up the law of “Catch-22” is described by an old lady while talking to Yossarian, “Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing” (408). The reader can then assume that there really is no such thing as the law of “Catch-22”; it is merely an imaginary, paradoxical law made by the bureaucratic military to keep those affected by it helpless and trapped in an illogical reality. They are forced to do whatever someone above them tells them to do, whether or not it makes sense.

Personal Recommendation
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read. The plot structure is confusing if one does not take the time to stop and process the information that they are being given. It is also difficult to remember which character is which, because there are many characters introduced and explained in the novel.

Many philosophical questions stemmed from a lot of the subjects that were in, “Catch-22”. “Catch-22” caused me to question life and what the purpose of rules and manners were. What was the purpose of living when we are all going to die anyway? Is it better for one to extend one’s life by doing activities that were boring and unenjoyable, or is it better for one to spend one’s life shortly by doing activities that were enjoyable and made time pass quicker? What was the purpose of an organized bureaucratic system when everyone in that system is working toward making everyone else work inefficiently? If everyone is insane, wouldn’t everyone also be sane by being similar to each other?I am pretty sure that “Catch-22” is already part of the AP curriculum, and for good reason. “Catch-22” requires a great amount of patience, understanding, and time in order to figure out what is going on.
Book Reviews, Review

The Truths About, “Of Mice and Men,” by John Steinbeck

This is a book report I did a while ago about the “truths” about the book Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

We all know from experience that the truth can hurt. Steinbeck’s book, Of Mice and Men, brings out some of the “truths” about life and people in a very complex, brusque, and in-depth way. His work in Of Mice and Men doesn’t just tell a story; it is an allegory that represents many aspects of human life. In my opinion, the truths that Steinbeck tells of are pointed towards the human condition in general, and not specifically about the problems in America.

             One of the major truths about the human condition that is told in Of Mice and Men is people’s want to conquer loneliness, and the many ways they try to have company. Curley’s wife is a great example of this truth-she sort of represents how far a person can go to gain companionship. She married Curley because she knew it’s either him or nobody (and she felt that he’s better than no one), she dressed the way she did to attract men so she can talk to them, and (even though she didn’t know it) she risked her life just have a conversation with someone. It represents human condition because we all feel lonely at times, and we all try to gain friends because we don’t wish to stand alone.

            Another truth that Steinbeck indicates in his book is abuse. Crooks, the African American stable buck, worked his head off and received little to nothing, and got abused both physically and emotionally throughout his life. Crooks’ abuse represents two things: the unfairness and unluckiness we receive and the prejudice we give other people. Crooks experienced most of his pain and prejudice because of the color of his skin. We, like him, are hurt and insulted throughout our life. We can’t avoid it; it’s inevitable. We might feel hurt, helpless and lonely, just like how Crooks felt. However, his abuse doesn’t just represent our pain, it also represents the pain we give other people. Whether or not we admit it, we have probably hurt, gotten mad, held a grudge, or yelled at a person before. We can sometimes be like Curley or the other prejudice white people in the book, acting mean towards someone or being prejudice because of how they look or do something.

            Despite the fact that there are a lot of painful truths in Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men, deep down beneath all that negativity is a positive “truth”: friendship. George and Lennie had a friendship that reminded me of many things; a master and his dog, a parent and his child, and a big brother and his little brother. Lennie was completely dependent on and faithful to George, and while George seemed to dislike Lennie, George still loved him like family. I think their friendship represents each and every one of our relationships; complicated and different each day, but still worth having. It’s always hard and heart-wrenching when we are forced to end a friendship, like what George had to do with Lennie, but sometimes it is for the best. In conclusion, George and Lennie’s friendship represents the perplexity of all of our many relationships.

            In my opinion, it is hard to say whether the truths in Of Mice and Men show America in a favorable or unfavorable light. I think that most people would probably say that Of Mice and Men portrays America unfavorably, but then again, there are some things that are positive in the book. I guess I can call Of Mice and Men a (mostly bitter) bittersweet reminiscence of how people were back then and of the Great Depression, and a (mostly bitter) bittersweet allegory for how people feel and act now.