The novel commences with the introduction of the soldier in white. His initial appearance however, is simply viewed as strange: "All they ever really saw of the soldier in white was a frayed black hole over his mouth" (Heller, 10). Despite of the fact that readers immediately learn that the soldier in white is but a minor character, he does play a significant role in the story. In this initial appearance, he is portrayed as rather egocentric but later having a major effect amongst all the others especially Yossarian. The soldier's condition leads to the question of the purpose of such a life. That same issue is raised later when Dr. Strubbs says, "I used to get a big kick out of saving people's lives. Now I wonder what the hell's the point, since they all have to die anyway" (109).
Like any soldier during war, Yossarian constantly struggles with the fragility of life obsessing over the possible ways he could die :"He wondered how often he would ever recognize the first chill, flush, twinge, ache, belch, sneeze, stain, lethargy, vocal slip, loss of balance or lapse of memory that would signal the inevitable beginning of the inevitable end" (173). Both the war and the soldier in white confront Yossarian with the possibility of death, yet he never resorts to feeling fearful but always stresses that death is an inevitable phenomenon. Being caught in the army and forced to complete more and more missions left Yossarian trapped in the army demonstrating catch-22. In this situation, Yossarian has come to realize that death is inescapable regardless of being detained in the army or not. It becomes apparent that even if he does manage to escape the prison of the army he will eventually be facing death caused by other situations.
In the novel, the final step in Yossarian's transition from defiance to hope is Snowden's death. Although this event occurs before many of the others in the book, it functions as the climax of the novel because the reader will not be able to comprehend the entire sequence of events until the story nearly closes. After Yossarian discovers the sickening, gigantic hole in Snowden's ribs and watches helplessly as Snowden dies on the floor of the plane, he realizes that Snowden's death revealed a secret: "It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden's secret. Drop him out a window and he'll fall. Set fire to him and he'll burn. Bury him and he'll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden's secret. Ripeness was all" (450). This final atrocity reveals to Yossarian that man being only made of matter is nothing, yet his innate desire to live is the most important impulse he can have.
At the end, the confused Yossarian realized his inability to stand a life of hypocrisy or oppression under the military. Thus, this recognition is what finally pushes him to desert. The knowledge that Orr finally paddled all the way to Sweden gives him hope, and he sees that is also the only path he can take to be free. He knows it will be difficult, but he knows there is no alternative for him.
Although Catch-22 is a novel about war, this does not end in the bitterness of death but conveys a message of hope to the readers. This becomes apparent