Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Kilgore Trout is a largely obscure science-fiction writer living in Cohoes, New York. Although his work is widely published, it is used only as filler text in pornographic novels and magazines. No one, reader or fan, has ever acknowledged Trout for his writing. Trout himself can find copies of his fiction only by seeking them out in lurid sex shops.
One day in 1972, Trout receives a letter from Fred T. Barry, a wealthy industrialist from Midland City. Barry, strangely enough, has come across Trout’s work and is an ardent fan. Barry uses his influence as chairperson of Midland City’s arts commission to garner Trout an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the city’s annual arts festival. A hermit for many years, Trout nonetheless takes Barry up on the opportunity to appear in Midland City, where he plans to use the festival as his chance to espouse to the reading public the highly unconventional views expressed in his stories.
Dwayne Hoover, a prosperous entrepreneur in Midland City, has no knowledge of Trout. Despite owning a lucrative car dealership and several other businesses in town, Dwayne is miserably unhappy and suffers from serious inner turmoil. His wife had recently committed suicide, and his son Bunny is estranged from him because Dwayne refuses to accept the young man’s homosexuality. Dwayne also is involved in a torrid and less than fulfilling affair with his secretary, and he also is experiencing hallucinations, panic attacks, and other symptoms of an emotional breakdown.
Upon receiving word of his invitation to speak in Midland City, Trout, nearly penniless and devoid of all but the most rudimentary social skills, hitchhikes to nearby New York City, where he plans to thumb a ride to the Midwest with a long-haul trucker. Shortly after arriving, he finds a copy of his novel Now It Can Be Told in a pornography shop, but is promptly mugged. Having lost everything but the book and the ten-dollar bill he had stashed inside his trousers, he is forced to hit the road even earlier than he had anticipated.
In Midland City, Dwayne’s symptoms continue to worsen. Unable to deal with people, he begins spending nights at the Holiday Inn near his car dealership. He devotes most of his day to driving aimlessly around town, listening to radio commercial jingles. One time while at the Holiday Inn, he becomes convinced that the asphalt under his feet is sinking deep into the ground as he walks across it. Shortly thereafter, he returns to the dealership to check up on things, only to find that he has developed echolalia—a rare condition that forces him to...
(The entire section is 1072 words.)
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Published in 1973, Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions is a satiric novel that mixes humor with a depressing worldview. The satiric tone of the novel is established early when Vonnegut explains that the title of his book is actually a registered trademark of General Mills, but that it is “not intended” to disparage their “fine products.” However, the focus of Breakfast of Champions is not only the superficiality of corporate slogans. Vonnegut deconstructs the pursuit of happiness in America, as well as the concepts of liberty and equality. The novel is also deeply personal, and Vonnegut inserts himself into the text. The sprawling narrative even contains felt-pen drawings of things like electric chairs, an anus, and fried chicken. Vonnegut’s tale follows an unconventional plot and introduces characters in a seemingly haphazard way, but it is primarily organized around the stories of Kilgore Trout and Dwayne Hoover.
Trout is an eccentric, unsuccessful, and aging science fiction novelist who knows very little about science. He refers to mirrors as “leaks” that serve as gateways between universes. His work has been widely published, but only in pornographic magazines. However, when he receives a call to go to an arts festival in Midland City, it seems that he has become “fabulously well-to-do.” It turns out that his lone fan, Eliot Rosewater, has recommended Trout to speak at the Midland City Arts Festival. Trout may not be famous, but at least he owns a tuxedo, which is required. Upon reflection, Trout is not inclined to leave his parakeet, Bill, all alone, and he is about to decline the invitation when he realizes although “they don’t want anything but smilers out there…maybe an unhappy failure is exactly what they need to see.” So Trout decides to attend.
Trout has never met Dwayne Hoover of Midland City, though the reader learns early on that the two men will encounter one another before the end of the novel. Unlike Trout, Hoover has had great success running a Pontiac dealership. He has gone on to invest in other businesses in Midland City and has made a great deal of money. In fact, everyone that sees Dwayne agrees that he is “fabulously well-to-do.” Sadly, the narrator explains, the chemicals in Dwayne’s brain are making him act erratically. Hoover’s life has not been the same since his wife committed suicide. She drank Drano, a chemical that is designed to unplug drains. Looking back later, the narrator explains, people would wonder how they missed the signs that Dwayne was going crazy. Only Dwayne’s fellow veteran, Harry LeSabre, seems to notice that Dwayne has changed.
The entire world appears to be as off-balance as Dwayne. The narrator explains that
everywhere were the shells of the great beetles which men had made and worshipped. They were automobiles. They had killed everything.
The chaos and destruction of the world is mirrored in Dwayne’s life. Since his wife committed suicide, Dwayne has been having an affair with his secretary, Francine. Francine is in love with Dwayne and tries to help him. She suggests that he open a KFC franchise near the prison because
I thought of all of the people who come out here to visit their relatives, and I realized how most of them were black, and I thought how much black people like fried chicken.
Francine’s comment expresses no concern for social problems like the high percentage of African Americans in prison, but she does speak out of a desire to help her lover. Unfortunately, Dwayne is spiteful, thinking that she is merely asking him to buy her a KFC franchise. He is now successful, but his life has not always been easy. Dwayne’s mother was a “defective child-bearing machine” and died while giving birth to him. It turns out that his father, who left thereafter, was a “disappearing machine.”
Meanwhile, Trout is in New York City, which is just...
(The entire section is 1641 words.)