“Snowden” is one of those names that sticks with you. Or with me, anyway. It was technically the name of the particular one of the Honeycombs I lived in that one semester I went to USC in 1971 — although I seem to recall that a lot of people called it by a letter designation. Was it “J”? I don’t know. Maybe. “Snowden” sticks better.
That’s probably because I was so hugely into Catch-22 at the time. I had first read it the summer before my senior year of high school. Then, at the start of the senior year, our English teacher, Mrs. Burchard, let us pick several of the books we would read. I pushed, successfully, for Catch-22. (not just because I’d already read it — I looked forward to discussing it) We also read Cat’s Cradle and Stranger in a Strange Land, at the urging of some of my classmates. Mrs. Burchard did make us read several of Ibsen’s plays, which I enjoyed — especially “An Enemy of the People” (“A majority is always wrong” seemed so true to me at that early age.)
Snowden, of course, was the pivotal character in Heller’s novel. He only appeared in one scene, but that scene was repeated — or rather, portions of it were repeated — over and over in the novel. All he ever had to say was “I’m cold.” But that was enough.
The novel is structured around that incident, until the very end. The plotline keeps looping around back through time, flashback after flashback, and Yossarian’s memory keeps returning to the incident with Snowden. Each time, that memory is unfolded a little more completely, toward the final, full, horrible revelation that changes Yossarian permanently.
“I’m cold,” said Snowden.
“There, there,” said Yossarian, tending the wounded gunner back toward the rear of the plane. Even after Snowden had spilled his terrible secret, that’s all Yossarian could say.
Anyway, that’s what goes through my mind as I read the name of the guy who took it upon himself to reveal the NSA’s programs. He’s a guy who looks like he could be Yossarian’s Snowden. He certainly looks young enough, unformed enough. Yet he’s a guy who’s taken on a self-righteousness akin to Ibsen’s Thomas Stockman, someone who’s decided he knows better than everyone else, and is prepared to take the burden of revelation upon himself.