Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions Summary and Analysis of Chapters 18-19


Kilgore Trout is still a passenger in the Galaxie, stuck in traffic on the interstate. He passes a sign that says, "Turn Back! You have just passed Sacred Miracle Cave!"

Meanwhile, Dwayne Hoover is in the dark cocktail lounge of the new Holiday Inn. Bunny is playing the piano, but he and his father ignore each other: "They had not exchanged greetings for many years."

Francine Pefko is back at the Pontiac agency, catching up on work. Vonnegut once again uses the technique of foreshadowing by reminding the reader, "Dwayne would beat her up very soon." Wayne Hoobler is the only other person on the grounds; Vonnegut has the narrator foreshadow his fate as well: "Dwayne would try to beat him up, too, but Wayne was a genius at dodging blows." Francine is described as "pure machinery at the moment, a machine made of meat - a typing machine,a filing machine." This is her job, as a secretary, and Vonnegut hearkens back to the theme of humans as machines here.

Wayne Hoobler is observing his surroundings, idling around, not knowing where to go. He misses jail: the "papery voice" of the radio he used to listen to, the "clash of steel doors," the food, and the sex. The narrator suggests a tombstone for Wayne Hoobler, which reads: "Black Jailbird. He Adapted to What There Was to Adapt to."

We learn that Dwayne has good teeth, because of the dental program at the Adult Correctional Institution at Shepherdstown. He listens to the orders that a waitress calls to the bartender in the cocktail lounge of the new Holiday Inn: a "Black and White and water." The narrator tells us:

Wayne should have pricked up his ears at that. That particular drink wasn't for any ordinary person. That drink was for the person who had created all Wayne's misery to date, who could kill him or make him a millionaire or send him back to prison or do whatever he damn pleased with Wayne. That drink was for me.

Now, Vonnegut uses the technique of direct address to completely breach the bounds between the universe of the narrator and that of the characters. The narrator is omniscient, as he describes himself above, but is now interacting with the world he controls, the world of the story. However, although Wayne Hoobler's fate is entirely in the narrator's hands, the next passage implies that the other characters have some amount of free will:

I was there to watch a confrontation between two human beings I had created: Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout.

The diction choice of the word "watch" suggests that some of the events which are to happen are not completely controlled by the narrator. Of course, he has planned them out, since he has been foreshadowing them for us throughout the story.

The narrator tells us the readers that he is wearing sunglasses so that he can be incognito. His sunglasses are important, because they embody the idea of mirrors as "leaks":

The lenses were silvered, were mirrors to anyone looking my way. Anyone wanting to know what my eyes were like was confronted with his or her own twin reflections. Where other people in the cocktail lounge had eyes, I had two holes into another universe. I had leaks.

The narrator names his white cocktail waitress Bonnie MacMahon, and creates a life for her. She serves Dwayne Hoover a martini and says the same joke she says every time she serves a martini: "Breakfast of Champions." Dwayne hopes that he will meet some of the artists that are coming to the arts festival in the cocktail lounge. He hopes that they will reveal truths to him, and that these truths will "enable him to laugh at his troubles, to go on living, and to keep out of the North Wing of the Midland County General Hospital, which was for lunatics." Vonnegut uses dramatic irony here, since we as readers know, thanks to foreshadowing, that Dwayne's hopes are exactly the opposite of what is to be the actual result of his interactions with the artists.

As he waits, Dwayne recites a poem that he learned in school:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half the Line

Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

The narrator sums up, "Some poem!" Dwayne becomes hypnotized by the poem and misses the entrance of Beatrice Keedsler, the Gothic novelist, and Rabo Karabekian, the minimal painter. Beatrice Keedsler and Rabo Karabekian have a conversation, in which they discuss how Midland City must be "the asshole of the Universe."

Meanwhile, Trout decides to get out of the Galaxie and walk, since it is stuck in traffic on the Interstate. He thinks about how to achieve "his narrow mission in Midland City, which was to show provincials, who were bent on exalting creativity, a would-be creator who had failed and failed." He examines himself in the rearview mirror, the leak of a truck with the message Peerless written in huge letters, twice, on it. His image in the leak is shocking: he is covered in blood and dog shit. The narrator points out that the dog from whom the shit came was "a wretched greyhound belonging to a girl I knew." The dog's name is Lancer, and his "entire life was devoted to unloading his excrement at the proper time and place." The inclusion of this detail about the dog's owner being someone the narrator knows takes another step toward doing away with the boundary between universes. How is it possible that the narrator should have an acquaintance within the universe he himself created?

Trout continues walking and discovers the cause of all the traffic on the interstate: a Queen of the Prairies milk truck has gotten into an accident with a Chevy, whose driver was lying dead in Sugar Creek. Coincidentally, Queen of the Prairies is the brand of milk that Wayne Hoobler used to drink in prison. "Milk and blood were about to be added to the composition of the stinking ping-pong balls which were being manufactured in the bowels of Sacred Miracle Cave." The pollution of Sugar Creek is thus entirely blamed on humans: the milk which they drink and the blood which they bleed are adding to the destruction of the environment.

Chapter 19 begins with the narrator affirming his role in the universe of his characters: "I was on a par with the Creator of the Universe there in the dark in the cocktail lounge." He plays with the universe, having it shrink and then explode. The narrator ponders the question of time, informing the reader that time is "a serpent which eats its tail," and providing a sketch of such a serpent. The snake "uncoiled itself long enough to offer Eve the apple," and we are provided with the second sketch of an apple so far in the story. The narrator tells us that the apple Eve and Adam ate was the Creator of the Universe, and states, "Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes." This reflective statement is Vonnegut's self-conscious way of addressing all the symbols in the story so far. The reader is encouraged to acknowledge them for what they are.

The narrator has a conversation with the waitress, Bonnie MacMahon. He tells her that he can tell fortunes (which is, of course, true in her case) but she refuses his offer to have her fortune told. The narrator decides that the bartender is named Harold Newcomb Wilbur, and that is the second most decorated veteran in Midland City, after all the medals he won in World War II. The bartender is staring at the narrator, and the narrator wants him to stop. This prompts the narrator to describe his role:

Here was the thing about my control over the characters I created: I could only guide their movements approximately, since they were such big animals. There was inertia to overcome. It wasn't as though I was connected to them by steel wires. It was more as thought I was connected to them by stale rubberbands.

This description hints at the role the creator of the reader's universe might play as well. It explains why the characters have some sort of free will, based upon the narrator's mood and will to participate.

In order to stop the bartender from staring at him, the narrator makes the phone ring, and makes Ned Lingamon be on the other line. He is the most decorated veteran in Midland City, beating even Harold Newcomb Wilbur, and he is jail for killing his own baby. The narrator confides that he could have told the fortunes of Bonnie MacMahon and of Bunny Hoover, and provides a summary for the reader's benefit.

Wayne Hoobler is standing outside the lounge among the garbage cans, looking at the money that had been given to him when he was let out of jail that morning. He sees a truck go by, and reads the message on its side: "Hertz." His reading the word hearkens back to the theme of advertising, and how a child would interpret it. Wayne Hoobler is, in terms of experiences, the most childlike main character in the story, but we know that Dwayne Hoover also experiences advertisements like a child, and that Trout plays a game in which he tries to see them through a child's eyes. The narrator reveals a bit about the near future of Wayne Hoobler.

Now we return to Rabo Karabekian and Beatrice Keedsler, who the narrator decides will "say and do some more stuff for the sake of this book." The narrator doodles on his tabletop with a damp fingertip. He draws the symbol for nothingness, which is an open circle, or a zero. He draws the sign for everything: an infinity loop. Then he writes out the word "Drano." Then he draws the sign for pi. Then he makes an "invisible duplicate" of Rabo Karabekian's painting entitled The Temptation of Saint Anthony. The original painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony is a 20x16 foot green wall with a vertical stripe of dayglo orange tape. Midland City, the narrator, and Beatrice Keedsler are all "outraged" that the painting had been the first purchase for the permanent collection of the Mildred Barry Memorial Center for the Arts, at $50,000. Karabekian is aware that everyone in the cocktail lounge hates him for "getting so much money for so little work," and he is amused. Beatrice Keedsler asks Karabekian who Saint Anthony was, and Karabekian himself doesn't know. The narrator confesses that he has "no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist."

The narrator explains that he pities Americans for trying to live like characters in storybooks. In this description, it is unclear whether it is the narrator or Vonnegut himself speaking, since the speaker confides that:

Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

This passage describes the way Breakfast of Champions works, and explains why there are so many characters with individual stories and backgrounds. For that reason, the line between narrator and Vonnegut is blurred here: whose book is it?

Bonnie MacMahon brings Karabekian another martini, and they have a conversation about how she says "Breakfast of Champions" each time she brings any customer a martini. The narrator reveals to the reader who Saint Anthony actually was: an Egyptian who founded teh very first monastery. The Catholic high school in Midland City is named after Saint Anthony's biographer, Saint Athanasius.

Eldon Robbins, a black male dishwasher, steps outside for a cigarette. He recognizes Wayne Hoobler, since he too used to be an inmate at the Adult Correctional Institution, and he brings him inside and gives him a free steak and mashed potatoes and gravy and "anything else he wanted, all prepared by other black men in the kitchen." He shows Wayne a peephole through which he can look into the cocktail lounge and "watch the animals in the zoo." Wayne observes that Bonnie and Karabekian are still talking with each other.

Karabekian is making fun of Bonnie, teasing her by asking her to provide Beatrice Keedsler with details for her novels. Bonnie is deceived by his friendliness, and tells him the story of how her husband, who is a guard at the Shepherdstown Adult Correctional Institution, had to keep a white man named Leroy Joyce company before he was executed for his crime of rape. Leroy Joyce "was so dumb," that he cut off his penis and presented it to Bonnie's husband, as if now he wouldn't have to go to the electric chair after all. The narrator reveals that although "this story" itself is made up, the story of Leroy Joyce actually happened. In addition, Sparky is modeled after a real dog. This inclusion of "real" details in a story the narrator acknowledges as fictional further blurs the line between universes.

Karabekian asks Bonnie to tell him and Beatrice Keedsler something about Mary Alice Miller, the fifteen-year-old Women's Two Hundred Meter Breast Stroke Champion of the World, who is on the cover of the program for the Festival of the Arts. Bonnie tells the artist and novelist that Mary Alice's father taught her to swim when she was eight months old. Karabekian asks, "What kind of a man would turn his daughter into an outboard motor?" Now the narrator proclaims:

And now comes the spiritual climax of this book, for it is at thsi point that I, the author, am suddenly transformed by what I have done so far. This is why I had gone to Midland City: to be born again.

The narrator describes the "pre-earthquake condition" of the "spiritual matrix of the cocktail lounge." That comment made by Karabekian was the force that upset the balance: "... a grain of sand crumbled. One force had a sudden advantage over another, and spiritual continents began to shrug and heave." One of the forces is the jealousy of the people in the cocktail lounge for Karabekian's sudden wealth due to his piece of art. Another force is their fear that "their lives might be ridiculous, that their entire city might be ridiculous." Karabekian has drawn attention to this fear by questioning their town's hero, Mary Alice Miller.

The narrator's own condition is described as:

I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing sacred about myself or about any human being, that we were all machines, doomed to collide and collide and collide.

This realization on the narrator's part reinforces the image he drew of time as a serpent eating its own tail. If he is just realizing this idea now, how have all the references to humans as machines existed earlier in the story? The narrator is now included in the theme of humans as machines, making him truly a character in his own story.

Bonnie MacMahon explodes for the first time since she's been a waitress in the cocktail lounge. She confronts Karabekian about his painting, saying she has "seen better pictures done by a five-year-old." Karabekian responds to her criticism by addressing "all those enemies" in the cocktail lounge, standing up. His description of the painting is important:

"I now give you my word of honor," he went on, "that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal - the 'I am' to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us - in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery."


Karabekian's speech contradicts the theme of humans as machines, or even animals (as some humans are seen by others) as machines. That beam of consciousness distinguishes us, readers in our universe, the narrator, and characters in his created universe. It is significant, therefore, that Dwayne Hoover is still "hypnotized, turned inward," and thus misses the speech. He is still susceptible to the message of Now It Can Be Told by Kilgore Trout, which asserts that people are robots.

Wayne Hoobler's tombstone message hints at the theme of race, since we usually think of animals as adapting to their environments. Black people throughout the story have been compared to animals, and here Wayne Hoobler's entire existence is summed up as one of adaptation. He misses what he knows, even though it is captivity, much as an animal would. In fact, this passage links him to Trout's bird Bill, who flew back into his cage because he was afraid of everything outside the window. Vonnegut also uses Lancer the dog to reinforce the racial theme that black people are often seen as animals: he compares Lancer to Wayne Hoobler, because they both suspect that "some kind of terrible mistake had been made." In Chapter 19, when Eldon Robbins invites Wayne Hoobler to "watch the animals in the zoo," an important point is made about race. Up to this point it has been black people who are thought of as animals by white people. Now, the black kitchen staff is observing the white customers as if the white people are the animals.

The narrator's sunglasses make clear the purpose of Trout's calling mirrors "leaks" throughout the story. The narrator's sunglasses are truly leaks between universes: his own and that of the characters. He is able to watch his characters through the "leaks," but to the characters in their universe they are merely mirrors. As the narrator sits, he interacts with himself: he is truly a character within his created universe, as well as a being in the "real" universe, in which he exists without the characters of the story. He mouths the word schizophrenia, even though he is not certain he has this disease. By having the narrator mouth it, though, Vonnegut suggests that he in fact does suffer from the disease, and that affliction is what allows him to interact with this universe of his own creation. However, the narrator decides, "I am better now." This statement seems to come from a more recent reality, in which the narrator is looking back on the events of his interaction with his characters' universe, a time in which he was "really sick."

Vonnegut includes the poem Dwayne recites to himself to point out the power of the Creator of the Universe, in all universes. What has been decided by the narrator will happen to Hoover, and there is nothing he can do to change it; yet, the same is true for the narrator in the universe that Vonnegut has created. And the same is true for all of us, as readers, in whatever universe in which we happen to exist. However, the narrator's conversation with Bonnie MacMahon, and her subsequent conversation with the bartender, about which the narrator can only guess, reveals an important characteristic of the narrator: though he can, in fact, tell fortunes (and through foreshadowing has been doing so throughout the whole story), he is not in fact all-knowing, since he cannot guarantee that Bonnie MacMahon wants to have her fortune told, and does not know what her conversation with the bartender is about.

The narrator's confession that he has "no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist" (Karabekian and Keedsler) is important, and ironic, since the narrator himself is, within this work, both a painter and a novelist. The sketches we've seen throughout the story are apparently of his making, and of course Breakfast of Champions is a novel. Vonnegut has the narrator make this confession in order to reveal that perhaps the narrator himself is unaware of his own role; Vonnegut is the creator of his universe, and pulls the strings. However, a deep connection is implied between Vonnegut himself and the narrator, since the narrator now reveals that he is approaching his fiftieth birthday (the same is true for Vonnegut, as we learned in the introduction). The passage:

And now comes the spiritual climax of this book, for it is at thsi point that I, the author, am suddenly transformed by what I have done so far. This is why I had gone to Midland City: to be born again.

confuses the narrator and Vonnegut himself, first of all by using the word "author." The narrator is supposedly the author of the universe of the book, but he himself is a character in the book written by Vonnegut. We know that Breakfast of Champions was a kind of rebirth for Vonnegut's career as a writer, and perhaps that is why he has created this alternate universe.