Chaplain Tappman

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Chaplain Captain Albert Taylor Tappman (A.T. Tappman) (usually simply referred to as "The Chaplain") is a fictional character in Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22. He was called Chaplain R(obert) O(liver) Shipman in the first edition.[1]

Character overview[edit]

He is a naïve Anabaptist minister from Kenosha, Wisconsin[citation needed], who is tormented throughout the novel by his atheist assistant, Corporal Whitcomb. While easily intimidated by the cruelty of others, the chaplain is a kind, gentle and sensitive man who worries constantly about his wife and children at home. He is the only character in the book Yossarian truly trusts, and interestingly the novel opens with:

It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

He is timid and shy[citation needed], and only through his friendship with Yossarian does he feel comfortable. In particular he enjoys the company of Yossarian and his friends at the staff club, until he is thrown out by Colonel Cathcart after General Dreedle is embarrassed by him.[dubious ]

Also of note is that the Chaplain and Yossarian have the first characteristic Heller-like circular dialogue in the novel:

"You're a chaplain," he exclaimed ecstatically. "I didn't know you were a chaplain."
"Why, yes," the chaplain answered. "Didn't you know I was a chaplain?"
"Why, no. I didn't know you were a chaplain."

Name versions[edit]

In the original version of the book, Chaplain Tappman was called "Robert Oliver Shipman".[1] In the 1970 film version of the novel, the Chaplain identifies himself as "Chaplain Tappman"[citation needed], and is apparently embarrassed by the unfortunate rhyme. This may have been a gratuitous joke thrown in by the screenwriter, Buck Henry, which was subsequently adopted by later editions of the book in the USA. British editions retain the name "R.O. Shipman".[2]

C.I.D. investigation[edit]

The C.I.D. investigators that have been dispatched to the squadron are convinced that the Chaplain has been intercepting Major Major Major Major's mail and signing documents Washington Irving or Irving Washington. Yossarian has been abusing his duty of censoring letters sent home by the enlisted men, and signing those names to the letters he vandalises, except once where he signs "I yearn for you tragically. A. T. Tappman, Chaplain, U.S. Army". (Note that Yossarian's duties involve censoring enlisted men's letters; the chaplain is an officer.) This vandalism brings the C.I.D. down to the base.

Later on, Major Major Major Major begins signing those names to official documents, after he discovers that when he does, he never sees them again. Before they would always return with more attached documents to deal with.

These suspected acts of protest result in the Chaplain being interrogated at length by the C.I.D. investigators in the final chapters of the book. They find him guilty of all his "crimes"; since they're his crimes, he must have committed them. They also find him guilty of all the charges against him that they haven't thought of yet. Then they release him. This is actually worse than being jailed, because he never knows when he will be grabbed again.

When Yossarian tells the Chaplain that someone came into his hospital room to torment him with the words "We've got your pal!", the Chaplain replies "Well, I'm your pal and they've certainly got me." At the end of the novel, all Yossarian's other friends are dead, or, like Doc Daneeka, reduced to bureaucratic zombies. Only the Chaplain remains, and he has definitely been got (although in the last paragraphs he announces his intent to "stay here and persevere").


Chaplain Tappman was portrayed by Anthony Perkins in the 1970 film adaptation of the novel directed by Mike Nichols.


  1. ^ a b New York Times Review of the Closing Time
  2. ^ Heller, Joseph (1975). Catch 22. London: Corgi Books. p. 288. ISBN 0-552-09755-1.