People have been dissecting Vonnegut’s work for years, and perhaps I’m no different.
However, I feel Breakfast of Champions is not just a Vonnegut masterpiece but an underrated testament to American culture. The book was published in 1973, but all of it’s concepts are still present, if not intensified, in today’s world.
Through the lives of Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout, two supposedly unrelated men who had tons in common, Vonnegut exposes everything that’s hypocritical, oppressive and cruel about American life.
From the start, we are told that the novel’s title has nothing to do with the popular General Mills Inc. cereal, which has to be pure sarcasm. Besides the “breakfast conspiracy” (an idea that says breakfast is stressed purely for profit- which would fit perfectly in the book’s context,) Vonnegut mentions in the preface that he’s speaking from the viewpoint of “Philboyd Studge.” Many feel this name derived from “Filboid Studge,” which was the name of a horrible-tasting breakfast product that people consumed due to the vanity of it’s cover (the story was written by short-story author Saki.)
Vonnegut also has an amusing yet charming manner of using phrases like “fabulously well-to-do” and “doodley-squat,” along with putting words in italics for emphasis (such words include f*king and communists, for example.)
Essentially I felt Trout’s “bad ideas” that were sent to Hoover was Vonnegut’s metaphor for the people in power instilling their own bad ideas into American culture. Of course, as a consumerist society, we gobble them up without question. Such misunderstood yet life-changing, detrimental, destructive and “friendly” ideas consisted of:
Capitalism vs. communism, the Illuminati, symbolism, the true origins of Veterans and Columbus Day, the American flag, the National Anthem, racism, slavery, pornography, the automobile industry, suicide, pollution, guns, prostitution, infidelity, drugs, poverty, reproduction, overpopulation, city crime, religious symbolism in capitalism, gangs, obesity, fast food, advertising, the death penalty, war, military brainwashing, animal killing… and so on.
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the novel is when Vonnegut points out how money has and continues to change/abuse language as we know it (beetle the bug vs. beetle the car – beaver the animal vs. beaver the vagina,) and of course, when Vonnegut tells us Trout’s “fictional” stories about other planets (which mirror planet Earth itself.)
Overall, this novel will make you laugh, wince, think, reminisce… and whether it was his intention or not, perhaps this novel should make you sad. Or maybe just more cynical.
Here are some memorable quotes:
“Bad chemicals and bad ideas were the yin and yang of madness.”
The Purpose of Life according to Kilgore Trout: “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe.”
“How old is the universe? It is one half-second old, but that half-second has lasted one quintillion years so far. Who created it? Nobody created it. It has always been here. What is time? Time is a serpent which eats its tail… (Ouroboros) This is the snake which uncoiled itself long enough to offer Eve the apple… What was the apple which Adam and Eve ate? It was the Creator of the Universe. And so on…”
“Homicidal beggars will ride.”