“Picture This” the Novel by Joseph Heller Analytical Essay

October 29, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Oct 10th, 2018


The novel “picture this” by Joseph Heller is more or less written in relation to Rembrandt’s painting the Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer which in1961 was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The themes that Heller actually focuses on are those of war, money and government. Another important aspect that he looks at is that of justice and just how much it lacks in the ancient democracies.

Joseph Heller’s implications

Heller however mentions that Pericles was intolerant of written critism just like all the great leaders of democracies who were proud of their freedom of expression. He goes on to say that, he would have excoriated the press had it been there.

This in other words implied that given the role of the media which to this day is to monitor the activities of the government, Pericles having initiated a war did not want the interference of the media in his affairs. The Peloponnesian war which he initiated and made inevitable is what the media was shedding light on hence infuriating Pericles.

The writer, given the era in which this novel was written viewed war as a rather in inevitable act. The more land a nation conquered the better, since this was a way through which they could create an empire. Towards the end though, Joseph Heller tries to bring out the moral of the story which is that wars are pointless as well as destructive.

This is according to the previous experiences in wars which in most cases led to the loss of a huge number of lives as well as property. This loss of property in a particular nation would lead to an escalation of another war for it to be able to steal enough from its victims. He also tries to illustrate that very little can be solved via violence and war, in other words he proposes that diplomacy should be applied in order to avoid unnecessary loss of lives and property.

If Pericles had the audacity to mention that he would do something irritating had the press been there, clearly shows that this leader was rather irrational. More so, it seems like war and violence was a way of life during the seventeenth century all the way to the Second World War.

Significantly, we get to note that diplomacy did not have a chance of taking root during this time given the “culture” of violence that these ancient societies were used to. It was only after the devastating Second World War that the stupidity of violence was eradicated by the introduction of diplomacy amongst nations.

In his novel, Joseph Heller tries to bring out the aspect that most of the leaders of the then “democracies” did not abide by the principles of the democracy. Principles such as every individual has a right to life and that everyone within a territory had a right to freedom of expression were just but a fallacy to win over leadership positions.

Therefore, Pericles was following on the footsteps of his neighboring nation’s leaders as well as his predecessors in suppressing the rights of the individuals in his territory. According to Joseph, he did this by barring the media from criticizing his actions which included his fuelling of the Peloponnesian war.

From the above quotation, Joseph reveals that history has a way of repeating itself. This is as a result of the various wars that have been taking place from time to time over the same reasons. Hence, he goes ahead and mentions that this must be stupidity given the consequences of war are never positive.

Heller in his novel discloses that there have been pointless cycles of greed by the previous as well as the current leaders in the various democratic states. This is somehow accurate given that he was comparing in writing the different periods in history when these activities were taking place.

In another instance, Joseph is explains just how these leaders are proud of being heads of democracies yet they do not implement the principles. “Excoriating the press” are such strong words which mean that the leaders would do anything possible to do away with them which in most cases will be getting rid of them entirely.

We should also bare in mind that the barring by Pericles and other democratic leaders of the media to voice out their concerns or publicize their activities is more like denying the citizens their right to information. The media represented the voice of the millions and therefore, the leaders of these democracies were rather too greedy and ignorant to let the media do their work.


In brief, Joseph tries to imply that democracy is an ancient ideology that only became dominant with the fall of the Berlin wall. But in ancient times, the leaders did not care at all about the principles that democracy upheld given that most of them inherited power anyway. Therefore, important institutions such as the media had no or very little to contribute in the politics of the day.

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