Breakfast of Champions Analysis

  • Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions is notable for its innovative structure and metafictional elements. Vonnegut inserts himself into the novel as both the narrator and a character, using himself as a foil for the less successful Kilgore Trout, a science-fiction writer with no reputable publications to his name.
  • Breakfast of Champions alludes to many of Kilgore Trout's works, none of which exist in the real world. One of Trout's novels, Now It Can Be Told, reappears throughout the novel, it being Trout's sole possession after the mugging in New York City. Trout recounts the narratives of his stories, including one in which a character named Zog communicates by tap dancing and farting.
  • Vonnegut was concerned with the deterioration and the hypocrisy of American culture. He notes that Thomas Jefferson, a man hailed as a great thinker and proponent of freedom, owned slaves. He goes on to criticize American capitalism by describing fast food chains and neon lights with evident disgust.

Analysis

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Written after Vonnegut's brief-lived rejection of prose, the novel is a conscious effort to break away from the successful formulas of his earlier writing. Vonnegut openly addresses himself in the role of creator "on a par with the Creator of the Universe," and with a Prospero-like gesture releases the characters from his earlier fiction. He also talks freely of his own personal experiences, including his mother's suicide and his relationship with his psychiatrist.

The result is a colloquial antinovel, a further break from the confines of realistic fiction. Vonnegut undercuts suspense by revealing his plot in the first few chapters. In one of his numerous authorial intrusions, Vonnegut states that his purpose is to bring "chaos to order," to undercut his readers' comfortable expectations. Vonnegut freely ranges in time from 1492 forward into the future, saying that life is like an endless polymer without beginning or end. He stylistically emphasizes this notion of continuity by beginning many of his sentences with the word "And." In another rebellion against the order of realistic fiction, he makes no effort to dish out moral justice; the good and the evil suffer equally.

Other technical experiments in Breakfast for Champions derive from pop art. Vonnegut's felt-tip-pen illustrations reduce experience to its inexorable essence while parodying Americans' tendency to accept simplistic, commercial versions of reality. Their crudeness mocks a culture...

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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Breakfast of Champions is set in an America stripped of physical and spiritual beauty. Before setting out on the darkly humorous...

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Bibliography

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Allen, William Rodney, ed. Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988. One of the definitive sources on Vonnegut’s personal insights into his literary themes and style and his aesthetic vision.

_______. Understanding Kurt Vonnegut. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. A perceptive critical study of Vonnegut’s fiction. Provides many valuable insights into his most important novels and short stories, including an extensive analysis of Breakfast of Champions.

Boon, Kevin A., ed. At Millennium’s End: New Essays on the Work of Kurt Vonnegut. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. A diverse collection of essays on Vonnegut’s fiction and broader cultural influence.

Broer, Lawrence R. Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut. 2d ed. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994. One of the most significant and widely cited works on Vonnegut’s fiction. Probes the depths of what Broer finds to be Vonnegut’s most pervasive theme, schizophrenia.

Leeds, Marc. The Vonnegut Encyclopedia: An Authorized Compendium. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Ambitious both in scale and scope, this collection is especially useful as an introduction to Vonnegut’s life, works, and aesthetic.

Marvin, Thomas F. Kurt Vonnegut: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. A thorough and accessible overview of Vonnegut’s major fiction, particularly Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Reed, Peter J., and Marc Leeds, eds. Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. A collection that includes three interviews with Vonnegut and eleven scholarly essays on his work. Among the topics that Vonnegut addresses in the interviews are postmodernism and experimental fiction. Includes a chronology, a bibliography, and an index.

Tomedi, John. Kurt Vonnegut. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004. Presents an informative overall survey of Vonnegut’s life and literary work, including his nonfiction.

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Perhaps the most important literary precedent is The Tempest, Shakespeare's symbolic exploration of the role of the artist. Like...

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Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although Vonnegut frees his characters in Breakfast of Champions, several are recalled in later books: In the Prologue to...

(The entire section is 82 words.)