Breakfast of Champions’ First Five Chapters

by Nick

Some thoughts that I decided to write about. They might be mediocre but it made me write.

Chapter 1

“Of all the creatures in the Universe, only Dwayne was thinking and feeling and worrying and planning and so on. Nobody else knew what pain was. Nobody else had any choices to make. Everybody else was a fully automatic machine, whose purpose was to stimulate Dwayne. Dwayne was a new type of creature being tested by the Creator of the Universe. Only Dwayne Hoover had free will.” (14-5)

Judging from the Preface this might be one of Vonnegut’s fears regarding his novels. Rather than showing the reader all the different conflicts and complexities in the existence of another person he fears that each work focuses too heavily on the reader’s reading experience. Also note that Dwayne believes this to be true and so it becomes true for him independent of reality. This emphasis on the power of the mind is also shown in Trout’s epitaph “We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane” (16). And that’s the truth. It matters more how we think and how we process information than what we think often times. Hamlet out of context would say “thinking makes it so” and he’s right.

Chapter 2

Note how Dwayne’s dog Sparky cannot communicate his true emotions much like the people Dwayne deems incapable of free will, understanding of pain, etc. (17).

Note also how Heliogabalus cages human torment in the body of a giant metal animal suggesting our incredible ability to reduce or mute people’s sufferings merely because they are less real to us. This also connects nicely with Trout and Dwayne’s selfishness and how both of their closest companions are animals rather than people (although admittedly Dwayne’s case isn’t quite as cut and dry it does seem clear that Sparky’s the closest living being to him).

“There were two monsters sharing this planet with us when I was a boy, however and I celebrate their extinction today…They inhabited our heads. They were the arbitrary lusts for gold, and God help us, for a glimpse of a little girl’s underpants.

I thank those lusts for being so ridiculous for they taught us that it was possible for a human being to believe anything and to behave passionately in keeping with that belief – any belief” (25)

This passage refers again to the power of the human mind and its incredible ability to organize the world independently of truth about that reality. Here at least our vanity and absurdity are reminders of the overwhelming fecundity we have rather than mere reminders of how arbitrarily we assign value.

Chapter 3

“His high school was named after a slave owner who was also one of the world’s greatest theoreticians on the subject of human liberty” (34)

There’s at least one more example of this a little later, but here Jefferson demonstrates how one can build a whole world and profess belief in it without actually acting upon those ideas. The power of thinking allowed him to create and lock all those notions away in the vault of abstraction. This connects well with the last quotation I cited above.

Chapter 4

“Why me?” said Harry. This was a common question in Midland City. People were always asking that as they were loaded into ambulances after accidents of various kinds, or arrested for disorderly conduct or burglarized or socked in the nose and so on: “Why me?” (43-4)

This is Quintessential Trout philosophy (based on chapter 1) which the book villainizes. Most everyone wants to ask this question and/or wallow in self-pity, but Trout’s insane cynicism in the dialogue with the truck driver gives at least a little hope of accepting and moving past the pains of existence. Like a lot of other authors Vonnegut wants us to see the real struggles and selves of each character rather than believing that only we suffer or doubt ourselves or fail, etc. Similar to John Green or David Foster Wallace it seems pretty clear that KV wants readers to understand they are not alone.

Chapter 5

Note that the thing which appears to be so repulsive and gross about the dirty movie shows in Trout’s imagined novel (58-61) is their deceit. The natural food in the film and that the whores offer cannot exist. Obviously that mirrors how porn places all these false ideas in our heads about sex and physical expectations. But this anecdote also calls into question the importance of the arbitrary. In Trout’s book it just happens to be food rather than sex allowing the reader (of Vonnegut’s novel) a subject matter with fewer connotations and a less conditioned moral response. Vonnegut’s writing style throughout the novel focuses on treating Earth like an alien planet complete with explanations and pictures that no earthling needs. The novel does this so we question our assumptions about the world.

What did you find interesting about the novel? The quotations? Or Vonnegut?

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