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1994. In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or does not appear at all, is a significant presence. Choose a novel or play of literary merit and write an essay in which you show how such a character functions in the work. You may wish to discuss how the character affects action, theme, or the development of other characters. Avoid plot summary.

Joseph Heller's Catch-22 plays host to quite a large host of characters, many of whom are memorable for their names, their relationships, or their shenanigans. Others are mentioned only in passing and seen only very briefly. There is only is one character, however, who is mentioned multiple times, but never depicted in a literary style: a certain Lieutenant Mudd.

Even if one is well familiar with Catch-22, he may have trouble recalling who exactly is Lieutenant Mudd; he will be much more likely, however, to remember Mudd's repeatedly used pseudonym: “the dead man in Yossarian's tent.” Lt. Mudd was an officer who reported to camp for duty but rather than reporting to the Orderly tent, stopped in at the Operations tent and was immediately sent on a mission where he was killed in action. As a result of having never officially reported for duty, he is never acknowledged by the administration as arriving. This leaves his partially-unpacked effects in Yossarian's tent with no legal way of having them removed.

Though not an important character in the narrative, Lt. Mudd does represent well most major themes of the novel and given the time a few characters spend dwelling on him he certainly may be seen as a “significant presence.” In considering Catch-22 there are a few themes which Heller seemed to be aiming for. The first is the general absurdity of bureaucracy from which the title is derived. Lt. Mudd is a prime example of this absurdity—because of the lack of the appropriate paperwork and commands from higher up, the simple actions of removing the effects of a dead man can not be performed, despite the simplicity of the act. This is not present only in the members of the ruling bureaucracy; Yossarian himself is bothered by the presence in his tent and works repeatedly to go “through proper channels” to have it corrected. In the end, when Yossarian's new roommates arrive following Orr's disappearance and simply throw the items out into the bushes, everyone is astounded. Within the mindsets they were programmed, they simply couldn't conceive of such a solution.

Another interpretation of Mudd's limited appearence is as a social commentary on the draft. He was described as having only wanted directions to were he was due to report when he stopped at the Operations tent and yet was soon KIA. Though not actually entirely involuntary, the allegory of his rapid pushing to combat for the general concept of conscription is not hard to detect. It is quite clear that some of Heller's characters, in fact most, did not actually revel in the concept of combat. Though most are not as fatalistic as Yossarian, it is clear that the vast majority of the outfit did not volunteer, and the presentation of those who have completed their missions as waiting to depart is indicative of their eagerness to return to civilian life. Though it is hard to speculate on Mudd's specific mindset, it is clear that regardless of his general opinion of the military, he did not mean to be so short in presence.

Finally and most philosophically, Lt. Mudd's presence is a representation of the shadow of death over all of the proceedings of the novel. It is one of the few discussed to have occurred before the events of the novel. Though most casualties occurring leave behind little signs other than a conspicuous absence, the way Mudd is presented, as a literal presence of a dead man amongst the living is a reminder to the reader that these people are living with death in their midst. It is simply disconcerting. As Yossarian is so keenly aware, and as the novel would mostly support, most of these men are simply waiting to be killed in the line of duty.

Though Mudd is never involved in the action of the novel, he contributes significantly to the themes of the novel. The novel would lose some of its effect without his limited presence. Thus, he provides an excellent example of how a very minor character can be used effectively.