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Breakfast of Champions Summary and Analysis

by Kurt Vonnegut

Chapters 5-8

Summary

Kilgore Trout is trying to sleep in a movie theater in New York City, precisely because he knows "sleeping in movie houses was the sort of thing really dirty old men did." He wants to embody that persona when he arrives in Midland City. He has spent the day visiting pornography shops, where he bought two of his own books, Plague on Wheels and Now It Can Be Told. The latter is the book that ends up turning Dwayne Hoover "into a homicidal maniac."

He also buys a pornographic magazine including one of his stories, "The Dancing Fool." The premise of the story is that a flying saucer creature named Zog arrives on Earth from the planet Margo, where everyone communicates by means of farting and tap dancing. He tries to explain to Earthlings how to prevent wars and cure cancer, but they don't understand his farting and tap dancing so they kill him.

While Trout watches the pornographic movie that is playing the theater (because it is that kind of theater), he makes up another novel. It is about an astronaut from Earth named Don who goes to a planet where pollution has killed everything except humanoids. The humaniods are bothered because their movie theaters only show dirty movies - but when they take Don to see the dirty movies, the theme is about eating. The movies consist of close-ups of people eating different types of food; sex is equated to food in this way. After the movie, Don the astronaut goes out into the street and is accosted by whores offering "eggs and oranges and milk and butter and peanuts and so on. The whores couldn't actually deliver these goodies, of course."

Chapter 6 takes us back to Dwayne Hoover, sitting in his car in the parking lot he owns in Midland City. We are told that while Dwayne sat there so alone, Mary Young, the oldest inhabitant of Midland City was dying in the County Hospital, also alone. The only person with her while she dies is a black intern, Cyprian Ukwende.

Dwayne now drives to the new Holiday Inn next door to his Pontiac agency and goes up to the roof. He gazes out over the city and says, "Where am I?" This is significant because Midland City is where Dwayne has always been - he was born and adopted there, went to school there, and now he owns almost everything in the town. He seems to forget everything, even that his wife, Celia Hoover, committed suicide and that his son, Bunny, is a homosexual. The chapter ends with him repeating, "Where am I?"

Chapter 7 begins in the men's room of the movie house, where Trout sees this message written on the tiled wall: "What is the purpose of life?" He cannot write a response because he has no writing utensil, but wants to write: "To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool." When he returns to the theater, the only person there is the ticket-taker/bouncer/janitor, sweeping. He tells Trout to go home. Before leaving, Trout examines the box in the back of the auditorium that can be flicked on to start the movie. There is a drawing of an on/off switch. "It intrigued Trout to know that he had only to flick the switch, and the people would start fucking and sucking again."

Chapter 8 begins with Trout exiting onto Forty-second Street, which is dangerous, just like the whole city "because of chemicals and the uneven distribution of wealth and so on." The theater manager follows Trout out of the theater and locks the door, and then "two young black prostitutes materialized from nowhere." They had grown up in the rural south, "where their ancestors had been used as agricultural machinery."

We are given a summary of Trout's story called "This Means You," about forty people who own all the land of the Hawaiian Islands, and who "exercise their property rights to the full." Since no one else is allowed to trespass on the property, there is nowhere for them to stand. The Federal Government solves the problem by providing a helium balloon to each person, so they can hover above the land without trespassing.

Trout and the manager refuse the services of the prostitutes, and walk together until Trout is attacked. His attackers are mysterious, since the only thing he notices is their white Olds-mobile Toronado with a black vinyl roof. When he comes to, he has been beaten up, robbed, and his pants and underpants are around his ankles. The police find him while he is pulling up his pants and they bring him to the hospital, where it is discovered that he is not seriously injured. When asked what his attackers look like, Trout responds, "For all I know, they may not even have been Earthlings. For all I know, that car may have been occupied by an intelligent gas from Pluto." His saying this is significant, because his attackers are perhaps the first characters in the book unidentified by the color of their skin. The speaker has always specifed "black" or "white" in characterizations, but these attackers are anonymous. It implies that all inhabitants of the city are equally likely to attack and beat an old man for his money.

Trout's words are blown out of proportion: "his comment turned out to be the first germ in an epidemic of mind-poisoning." The "disease" is spread by a reporter who writes a story about the attack under the headline: "PLUTO BANDITS KIDNAP PAIR." The Pluto Gang becomes known among New Yorkers, who fear it because it is something specific to fear. A group of Puerto Rican boys who wish "to become frightening, in order to defend themselves and their friends and families" decide to adopt the moniker.

Analysis

The novel that Trout begins to write in Chapter 5 hints at the theme of the destruction of the planet, but points out that Earth isn't the only planet with problems. The humanoids on the planet where sex is equated to food have destroyed everything with pollution, just as humans are doing on Earth.

The sense of isolation Dwayne feels at the end of Chapter 6 can be compared to that which Trout feels at the beginning of the story. Trout then feels that nobody knows who he is, and now Dwayne feels he has forgotten who he is. He loses his identity, an ironic development as he is a symbol of ownership (being "fabulously well to do"). Even looking down upon a city in which he owns nearly every building, he cannot find within it or the view a sense of self. This dilemma also draws attention to the multiple universes that exist within the story; Dwayne's self-directed question could be expanded in scope to the following query: "What universe am I in?"

In the pornographic movie house, Trout's thought about turning on the movies again recalls the theme of humans as machines. The people in the pornographic movie can be made to perform the most basic of human functions simply by the flip of a switch. Human flesh is reduced to buttons and pulleys, tricks of light, chemicals; human agency is reduced to automation.

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