Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-17


Dwayne Hoover drives to lunch, and is now experiencing a new symptom: incipient echolalia, or wanting to "repeat out loud whatever had just been said." Wayne Hoobler is still loitering around the Pontiac dealership, hiding from employees. While Dwayne eats lunch, the narrator discusses how "bad chemicals" were common throughout history, as demonstrated by those who assassinated John F. Kennedy, as well as by the Nazis.

Dwayne's waitress, Patty Keene, is described as a "brand-new adult," who is burdened by the hospital bills her father racked up before dying. Vonnegut uses this character to express another characteristic of America cynically, which is that everyone must pay their own bills, even when those bills are just for the misfortune of getting sick. Patty decides to have a conversation with Dwayne, because she is aware of how rich he is and thinks maybe he can solve her financial problems. When Dwayne repeats her final word, "buzzed," she becomes self-conscious and apologizes for her use of language. Patty was raped by Don Breedlove in the parking lot of the Bannister Memorial Fieldhouse, named for George Hickman Bannister. He was a teenager who had been killed while playing football in 1924 on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, there were two monuments erected in his honor, although "nobody ever thought about him anymore." Dwayne and Patty have a short conversation, and when he leaves Burger Chef, she believes she can win him over.

The narrator discusses how he has recently heard about the proof of the tectonic plate theory, but how neither Patty nor Dwayne knows about it yet. The narrator uses direct address, making himself even more of a character in his own story: "I only found out about it day before yesterday. I was reading a magazine, and I also had the television on."

The narrator now begins talking about the size of the male characters' penises. From this point on, he often uses penis size in characterizations. We immediately learn about the penis sizes of Dwayne Hoover, his son Bunny, Kilgore Trout, Harry LeSabre, Cyprian Ukwende, and Don Breedlove. The narrator then moves on to Patty Keene's hip, waist, and bosom measurements, and also provides those for Dwayne's late wife, Francine Pefko, and Dwayne's step-mother.

Dwayne wanders over to the construction site of the new high school. He asks a white workman about a machine, and the workman replies that they call it "The Hundred-Nigger Machine," which the narrator explains references "a time when black men had done most of the heavy digging in Midland City.

Dwayne returns to work and avoids everyone because he is embarrassed by his tendency to repeat the last word he hears. He calls Francine on the phone and asks her to come with him to the Quality Motor Court at Shepherdstown. She asks Gloria Browning, the white cashier in the Service Department, to cover her desk. Dwayne has been reading about how to be a better lover, in order to repay Francine for her loyalty. Vonnegut uses this fact as a lead-in to a description of one of Trout's stories, called The Son of Jimmy Valentine.

Jimmy Valentine had extrasensitive fingertips, and he worked as a safe-cracker. His son, Ralston Valentine, also had extrasensitive fingertips, but instead was amazing at touching women sexually. He was elected President of the United States, thanks to his skills in bed. The description of this story draws attention to the theme of women's sexuality being forbidden, which we were introduced to in Chapter 1. Vonnegut reveals it as ridiculous through the character of Ralston Valentine, showing that women make up enough of the population to elect a president, and that their sexuality is clearly important to them, so it ought not to be ignored.

Dwayne and Francine make love, and Francine tells him that she loves him, even though she has promised not to. The description of Francine's history that follows allows us to understand her better as a character: she is extremely loyal to men, and after her husband, Robert, died in Viet Nam, she became dedicated to Dwayne. Dwayne and Francine discuss the use of the electric chair, and Dwayne remembers recent famous electrocutions. Then Francine makes the mistake of thinking aloud, absentmindedly, that "this would be a very good location for a Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise." Dwayne assumes that Francine is hinting that she wants him to buy her one, and he wants her to "love him for his body and soul, not for what his money could buy." He had been relaxed, but becomes tense again, and berates her for asking for a gift. Francine is extremely upset, because she loves him so much and is desperately loyal to him. He is unjustly nasty to her, and she realizes that Harry LeSabre was right when he mentioned how nasty Dwayne had suddenly become.

Harry LeSabre is, incidentally, crying at this moment, too, because he feels his has lost Dwayne Hoovers good opinion. His wife, Grace, is smoking a cigar and reassuring him by scorning Dwayne and his marriage with his late wife. Harry and his wife use the code word "reindeer" to refer to black people, and at this moment, specifically to their black maid. Grace suggests moving to Maui, and they do.

Dwayne is being comforted by Francine, and he tells her about a trip he made to the headquarters of the Pontiac Division of General Motors, three months after his wife's death. He had witnessed the destruction of Pontiacs by scientists, and comments that "Everything you're not supposed to do to a car, they did to a car." The sign on the door read, Destructive Testing. In order to comfort him, Francine suggests he attend the arts festival as a type of therapy, since he refuses to see a doctor. "This was a bad mistake," the narrator informs us, in a use of dramatic irony. The characters don't know what they are in for, but we the readers know how catastrophic Dwayne's interaction with the arts will be.

Kilgore Trout is still hitchhiking westward, and is now a pasenger in a Ford Galaxie, driven by a traveling salesman named Andy Lieber. The chapter ends with a brief description of one of Trout's novels, called How You Doin'?, about national averages and their use in advertising campaigns on another planet.

Chapter 16 begins by continuing the story of Trout's novel How You Doin'?, in which the eaters of peanut butter from Earth are attempting to conquer the "shazzbutter" eaters from another planet. In order to do so, they use the averages system of the advertising campaign to make all the listeners feel below average, and thus lower their self-esteem. It is much easier to conquer them this way.

Trout is still in the Galaxie, and notices that it has a fire extinguisher with the brand name Excelsior. He asks the driver of the Galaxie why he thinks it is named that, and the driver shrugs and answers, "Somebody must have liked the sound of it." Trout notices a sign advertising Sacred Miracle Cave, which is owned by Kyle and Lyle Hoover. The sign is used as a transition into the connection between Trout and Dwayne Hoover: Trout thumbs through his book Now It Can Be Told, the one that will "turn Dwayne into a homicidal maniac." The book is in the form of a letter from the Creator of the Universe to the reader, named The Man, who is an experimental creature. All other creatures lack The Man's free will faculty, and are merely robots. The Man is transferred to a virgin planet, where he is Adam and the sea is Eve. Cells from his palms are mixed with the sea to create evolving, complicated life forms, all with free will. The man bathes in the sea and then jumps into an icy mountain stream; as he emerges, he thinks of something to yell. "The Creator never knew what he was going to yell, since the Creator had no control over him." The Man's tombstone reads: "Not Even The Creator of the Universe Knew What The Man Was Going to Say Next. Perhaps The Man Was a Better Universe in its Infancy."

Chapter 17 is about Bunny Hoover, Dwayne's son. He is dressing for work; he is the piano player in the lounge of the new Holiday Inn. A vegetarian, he also has no friends. While he plays the piano, he practices Transcendental Meditation, which allows him to "become a skin diver in the depths of his mind." While he meditates, he sees a single word "floating by lazily, a translucent, scarf-like fish." The word is "Blue;" this is significant because he learned that pornographic movies are also called "blue" movies; both the movies and Bunny's homosexual lifestyle are offensive to the mind of the America in this story. It is also a reference to the phrase "Goodbye, Blue Monday," which was the motto of the company which Dwayne Hoover mortgaged in order to buy the Pontiac Dealership. Another "lovely scarf" floats by in Bunny's consciousness, this one reading, "Clair de Lune." Vonnegut provides sketches of both scarves.

Now we are provided with a biography of Bunny, in which Vonnegut uses the technique of direct address to liken the narrator to this character. Bunny was sent away to military school when he told his father, Dwayne, that he wished he were a woman. His mother, like the narrator's mother, committed suicide. The narrator also points out that both women were petrified of having their pictures taken. The importance of this connection is made prominent by what happens afterward: "Bunny smiled at himself in the mirror, in the leak." By having Bunny do this, it is as if the narrator acknowledges the connection between the two universes, and foreshadows the breach that is about to happen, when he will become part of the characters' universe.

Bunny's window looks out to the old Opera House, which became The Bannister, a motion picture house, which then became the gangster-controlled Empire Furniture Company. Bunny lives on Skid Row, and the narrator points out that every city has a neighborhood like it. It is where homeless people, who are described as "as easy to move, usually, as toy balloons," are sent; they "drift hither and yon, like balloons filled with some gas slightly heavier than air, until they came to rest in Skid Row..." this description is important because it links the homeless people in Skid Rows all over America to the characters in Trout's story, This Means You. Those characters were forced to dangle from the strings of balloons, because the owners of all the land of the Hawaiian Islands enforced a No Trespassing rule. The enforcement of this theme of ownership (or lack thereof) demonstrates the narrator's disgust with the treatment of those who own nothing in America. Vonnegut almost instructs us as readers to make this connection, since he follows the description of Skid Row with one of Trout's other stories, in which a town tells derelicts where to go by directing them to Skid Row with signs.

Bunny makes the connection between his universe and that of the narrator clear by smiling at himself in the mirror/leak. Then he calls himself to attention, becoming "the insufferably brainless, humorless, heartless soldier he had learned to be in military school." He repeats the motto he had learned, there: "Can do." It is significant that Bunny is so unhappy that he must escape reality by meditating and by repeating this motto that represents a loss of individuality.


These chapters use individual characters to develop the theme of humans as machines. Patty Keene is described as being like "a new automobile, which hadn't even had its radio turned on yet," again linking humans to machines, specifically cars. She, like many women in Midland City, has become an agreeing machine instead of a thinking machine: "All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too." Here, Vonnegut uses the theme of humans as machines to demonstrate yet another common theme, the theme of ideas as disease. This rapid spreading of thoughts among "agreeing machines" clearly parallels the spreading of physical disease among bodies. The use of measurements (for example, penis size) to characterize human beings also enforces the idea of humans as machines. In this case, they are breeding machines: of course it is important how big a man's penis is and how wide a woman's hips are if they are seen as only machines for making babies. This idea is demonstrated again a bit later in the chapter, when we learn that Dwayne received a brochure for a penis-extender in the mail two months before. It offered him pornographic motion pictures, and the still photographs "caused the sex excitation center in Dwayne's brain to send nerve impulses down to an erection center in his spine." This very scientific approach to arousal enforces the view of humans as sex machines.

As Dwayne recalls what he saw inside the room labeled Destructive Testing at the headquarters of the Pontiac Division of General Motors, he wonders aloud, "if that was what God put me on Earth for - to find out how much a man could take without breaking." This anecdote demonstrates the theme of humans as machines, specifically as cars, once again. It also foreshadow's Dwayne's mental breakdown brought on by Trout's book that convinces him that he is the only human in the world. He feels very alone, as if God had a destructive plan for him, and thus it is easy for him to be pushed over the edge when Trout's written words speak to him.

Race is also very apparent in these chapters; when Patty Keene apologizes for her language, the narrator comments that black people in particular defied being taught correct English, and instead went on "talking English every which way." This draws attention to race, another common theme, and that language distinguishes race among humans as well as appearance. It also suggests that the narrator himself might be subject to racism. The worker at the construction site calls the machine Dwayne asks about "[The Hundred Nigger Machine]," referring to the time of slavery, when black people used to be treated as machines. This comment by a minor character not only likens humans to machines, it demonstrates how racism is embedded in the society in which Dwayne Hoover lives. The conversation between Harry LeSabre and his wife in which they use the code word "reindeer" to refer to their black maid, further demonstrates this idea. They often discuss the "reindeer problem," which is that black people reproduce like "useless, big black animals" and loiter around. Again, the theme of race emerges. Using this code word allows Harry and Grace to be racist without "giving offense to any black person who might overhear." This is extremely ironic, since their racism is extremely offensive in likening black people to an animal.

The conversation Trout has in Chapter 16 with the driver of the Galaxie hearkens back to the one between Trout and the driver of the Pyramid truck, in which that driver had the same answer for why a truck company would be named Pyramid. The theme of the advertising is linked to the way things sound, and it is significant to note that although the radio advertisements in the parking lot were "lullabies" to Dwayne Hoover's ears, Trout is for some reason unable to identify advertisements that work because of the way they sound. This is a key difference between the two men: Dwayne is susceptible to advertisements, while Trout is not, instead questioning their logic.

The narrator now reveals the plot of Trout's novel Now It Can Be Told," which we as readers know through foreshadowing will cause Dwayne Hoover to go completely crazy. This story acts as a mirror, or "leak," reflecting Breakfast of Champions itself. The narrator is the Creator of the Universe, and Dwayne Hoover assumes that he is The Man. However, he lacks free will; the narrator often points out that the characters in his book have no power over what happens to them. This idea is reinforced by the foreshadowing technique Vonnegut employs to make sure we understand that the characters' fates are decided, from the very beginning of the story.