One important theme explored in Breakfast of Champions is the proper role of the artist, a particularly difficult question in a society so adept at transforming art into commodity and so immersed in the consoling fantasies supplied by Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood. By writing a self-conscious, antinovel Vonnegut hopes to prevent his readers from trying to "live like people invented in story books." It is a reworking of a favorite Vonnegut theme, explicitly stated in the preface that was added to the 1966 reissue of Mother Night: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

In Breakfast of Champions, Dwayne Hoover, the man of property, is set against Kilgore Trout, the man of vision, and at the center of their confrontation is the question of free will. Near the end of Breakfast of Champions Hoover reads Trout's Now It Can Be Told, which tells him that he is the only creature in the universe with free will and that other people are only robots. This message seems to confirm the alienation Hoover has experienced and encourages a psychotic binge of violence that leaves both of the principal characters physically and spiritually damaged.

Yet in Breakfast of Champions there is some hope for melioration. Although experiential evidence indicates that life is mechanistic, intuition suggests, in the words of the minimalist painter Rabo Karbekian, that there is an...

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