Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions Summary and Analysis of Chapters 20-22


Kilgore Trout, who is walking the rest of the way to Midland City because of the traffic on the Interstate, reaches Sugar Creek and has to wade across. At once, his feet are coated in the clear, plastic substance that coats the surface of the creek. It comes from the Barrytron plant, which is manufacturing a new anti-personnel bomb for the Air Force and unknowingly polluting the creek with its waste. The Maritimo Brothers Construction Company, which is gangster-controlled, is supposed to be disposing of the waste in an effective way, but really it is just running a sewer pipe directly from Barrytron to Sugar Creek. Kilgore exits the stream and imagines entering the lobby of the new Holiday Inn, leaving wet footprints so someone will scold him. But he leaves no footprints because his feet are "sheathed in plastic and the plastic was dry." The narrator provides a sketch of the molecule that makes up plastic, accrediting it to Professor Walter H. Stockmayer of Dartmouth College, whom the narrator would like to be.

The narrator ties the plastic molecule with the indication of "etc." to the story itself, saying:

The proper ending for any story about people it seems to me, since life is now a polymer in which the Earth is wrapped so tigtly, should be taht same abbreviation, which I now write large because I feel like it, which is this one (large drawing of the letters "ETC.")

And it is in order to acknowledge the continuity of this polymer that I begin so many sentences with "And" and "So," and end so many paragraphs with "... and so on."

And so on.

Trout stands in the lobby, surrounded by mirrors, which he calls leaks. The only other person in the lobby is the beautiful, young, homosexual desk clerk, Milo Maritimo, of the gangster family that is polluting Sugar Creek. Trout presents himself to Milo Maritimo, hoping to make an offensive impression, but Milo disappoints him by welcoming him grandiosely. Trout is absolutely bewildered by the fact that Milo knows who he is. Milo explains that when he couldn't find any information about Trout, he wrote to Eliot Rosewater, who let Milo read all the novels and short stories in his private collection. Milo is just finishing up the last one, The Smart Bunny. The Smart Bunny is about a rabbit who is as intelligent as Einstein or Shakespeare, and who is the only female leading character in any of Trout's work. She led a normal rabbit's life, and concluded that her intellect was useless, "that it was a sort of tumor, that it had no usefulness within the rabbit scheme of things." She is on her way to have the "tumor" removed when she is shot and killed. But the hunter who killed her and his wife decide she must be diseased because of her unusually large head, and don't eat her.

Milo Maritimo shows Trout to his suite, so he can change into his tuxedo right away. He implores Trout, "Oh, Mr. Trout... teach us to sing and dance and laugh and cry. We've tried to survive so long on money and sex and envy and real estate and football and basketball and automobiles and television and alcohol - on sawdust and broken glass!" Trout is outraged and tells Milo, "Open your eyes!" But Milo says his eyes are open, and he sees "a man who is terribly wounded - because he has dared to pass through the fires of truth to the other side, which we have never seen. And then he has come back again - to tell us about the other side."

Meanwhile, the narrator is still in the new Holiday Inn as well, making the building disappear and reappear again. He decides it is "high time" for Dwayne to meet Kilgore. The chapter ends with another bit of foreshadowing, when the narrator tells us:

I knew how this book would end. Dwayne would hurt a lot of people. He would bite off one joint of the right index finger of Kilgore Trout.

And then Trout, with his wound dressed, would walk out into the unfamiliar city. He would meet his Creator, who would explain everything.

Of course, the narrator is Trout's creator. So we know he has planned his own meeting with Trout.

Chapter 21 begins with Trout entering the cocktail lounge, with "fiery hot" feet since they are still coated in plastic, as well as in shoes and socks. He is once again anonymous, and nobody notices his entrance. Karabekian and Beatrice Keedsler are talking with "new affectionate" friends at the piano bar, since Karabekian's speech was so well-received. Dwayne is still in his own world, "mentally absent from activities in the cocktail lounge." He moves his lips, saying "Goodbye, Blue Monday" soundlessly. The narrator, Trout, and Hoover are being watched by Wayne Hoobler from the peephole in the kitchen. He is told to leave, and wanders back outdoors among the cars of the Pontiac agency.

The bartender flicks on the ultraviolet lights in the ceiling, and Bonnie MacMahon's uniform, the bartender's jacket, Bunny Hoover's smile, and other white things in the room are illuminated. Brightest of all is Kilgore Trout's new evening shirt, and its "beam was aimed at Dwayne Hoover." He comes out of his trance. Trout is "flabbergasted," since he knows nothing about science and cannot understand why all the white things in the room are lit up.

Dwayne "now lost himself in the bosom of Trout's shirt," and remembers for some reason "why there were no Niggers in Shepherdstown," something his stepfather had told him when he was ten years old. The two of them were on "a weekly expedition in the family car, hauling garbage and trash out into the country, where they dumped it all in Sugar Creek." According to the story Dwayne's stepfather had told him, black people were migrating north during the World War, and "there was such a labor shortage that even Niggers who couldn't read or write could get good factory jobs. Niggers had money like they never had before." However, the white people in Shepherdstown didn't want black neighbors, so they put up signs all over town reading: "Nigger! This is Shepherdstown. God Help You if the Sun Ever Sets on You Here!" One night, a black family got off a boxcar in Shepherdstown and disregarded the signs, staying in an empty shack. That night, a mob took out the man and "sawed him in two on the top strand of a barbed-wire fence."

Trout is uneasy because of how Dwayne is staring at him. He is also uneasy because of the narrator, since "Trout was the only character I ever created who had enough imagination to suspect that he might be the creation of another human being." It is embarrassing to him to be sitting so near his creator.

The narrator draws the equation "E=Mc^2" on the table, and thinks about how it is flawed since there is no "A" for Awareness, without which the other symbols could not exist. The theme of ownership appears with relation to this equation, when the narrator ponders how "the really smart people understood that one of the best ways to get rich was to own a part of the surface people had to stick to."

In order to avoid eye contact with Dwayne or the narrator, Trout sifts through the materials he has with him: the manilla envelope with his materials for the arts festival, which includes a letter from Fred T. Barry. The letter includes an explanation of how Barrytron was originally The Robo-Magic Corporation of America, and that the motto has remained the same: "Goodbye Blue Monday." Fred T. Barry wrote all the ads himself, including one of a black maid saying, "Feets, get movin'! Dey's got theirselves a Robo-Magic! Dey ain't gonna be needin' us 'rown' here no mo'!" This racist depiction was to advertise that eventually Robo-Magic appliances would do "all the Nigger work of the world, which was lifting and cleaning and cooking and washing and ironing and tending children and dealing with filth." Thus, the Robo-Magic and its motto, "Goodbye Blue Monday!" are inextricably linked to the theme of race. The narrator continues to expound upon this theme:

I think that the end of the Civil War in my country frustrated the white people in the North, who won it, in a way which has never been acknowledged before. Their descendants inherited taht frustration, I think, without ever knowing what it was.

The victors in that war were cheated out of the most desirable spoils of that war, which were human slaves.

This idea that the narrator has demonstrates his view that humans view each other as machines: even the Northern whites who won the war felt cheated because they didn't win the human machinery that should have been their "spoils."

The "brain" of the Robo-Magic later becomes the nerve center of the "BLINC System" or "Blast Interval Normalization Computer," during World War II, installed on bombers and completing the task of actually dropping the bombs after being directed to do so by the bombardier. It is fitting that this machine, which was the source of racism and perpetuated hatred in Midland City as the "brain" of the Robo-Magic, should cause death and destruction on a larger scale in a war.

At the beginning of Chapter 23, the narrator describes how he is wearing a bracelet that says, "WO1 Jon Sparks 3-19-71." WO1 stands for "Warrent Officer First Class," and this type of bracelet is becoming popular; wearers don't take them off until the prisoner of war whose name is on them is sent home. The narrator decides to leave the bracelet for Wayne Hoobler to find, since he won't know how to make sense of what is written on it.

The narrator decides also that Dwayne has taken a class in speed reading, in order to explain how he is able to read Now It Can Be Told in its entirety so quickly. Then the narrator takes a pill; mixed with the alcohol, it makes him feel that it is urgent to explain certain things he has not yet explained up to this point. For example, while in the hospital, Trout will see a jacket that says "Innocent Bystander H.S.," which has become the name of the high school originally named after Crispus Attucks.

The narrator also explains why so many black people in Midland City were able to imitate birds from the old British Empire. Fred T. Barry's family moved into the old Keedsler mansion, where Beatrice Keedsler grew up, and there were many black servants working for them. Fred T. Barry's mother could imitate birds from the British Empire, since she and her husband used to be music hall entertainers in England. All the black servants thought it was funny that she could imitate so many birds, so they learned how to, as well, and taught all their friends.

Dwayne's chemicals make him decide to accost Kilgore Trout in the cocktail lounge, and demand of him the secrets of life. He says, "Give me the message," and digs his chin into Trout's shoulder. The narrator explains that the Duchess does this to Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and he's always wanted to have a character do this to another character. To get Dwayne to remove his chin from his shoulder, Trout gives him Now It Can Be Told, and Dwayne begins "to read hungrily."


In Chapter 20, when Kilgore Trout's feet become coated in plastic, the pollution of Sugar Creek is evident in another way besides the ping-pong sized pollution bubbles taking over Lyle and Kyle Hoover's Sacred Miracle Cave. The pollution of the creek is tied to the theme of the destruction of the planet, and once again it is thanks to humans, in this case building ways to destroy each other. The plastic molecule is important to the story because Stockmayer indicated "points where it would go on and on" with the abbreviation "etc." This is an example of the narrator's self-conscious approach to the story.

In Chapter 21, Dwayne remembers the racist story his stepfather told him, when the two of them were on "a weekly expedition in the family car, hauling garbage and trash out into the country, where they dumped it all in Sugar Creek." The inclusion of this detail before recounting this very racist story is a way of connecting the theme of the destruction of the planet with the them of race. Dwayne's stepfather has been a racist character throughout the story, and it seems fitting that as he tells a story that Dwayne will remember his whole life, and which will come back to him right at the moment in which he goes completely crazy, they are polluting Sugar Creek. It is important that "Dwayne remembered clearly that a rainbow of oil from the trash was spreading prettily over the surface of Sugar Creek when he heard that." This imagery directly ties the pollution of the creek to this hate crime based on race. Humans' destruction of each other is thus linked to their destruction of the planet, at least in Dwayne's mind.

The fact that it is embarrassing for Trout to be sitting so close to his Creator, the narrator, is an important characteristic, since Trout himself is an author. He, unlike the narrator, seems aware that he is the character in a story, though they both write their own stories. This awareness is revealed through the character of Milo Maritimo, when Trout tells Milo, "Open your eyes!" But Milo says his eyes are open, and he sees "a man who is terribly wounded - because he has dared to pass through the fires of truth to the other side, which we have never seen. And then he has come back again - to tell us about the other side." It is interesting that the narrator points out this quality of awareness in Trout, though he himself cannot see that he is merely a character in Vonnegut's story.

In Chapter 21, there is an important description of the motto of The Robo-Magic Corporation of America, "Goodbye, Blue Monday," which is also the alternate title of Breakfast of Champions. It "cleverly confused two separate ideas people ahd about Monday," one being that Monday was washday, and not especially depressing. The other idea is that people with horrible jobs disliked Monday and called it "Blue Monday," but when Fred T. Barry made up the motto, he pretended that it was called "Blue Monday" because women hated doing the wash. The machine was going to "cheer them up." However, it is not true that women do the washing on Monday. When the Robo-Magic first came out, it had no competition, since it was during the Great Depression and nobody else could afford billboard space. "It was practically the only symbol in town." This detail reinforces the theme of advertising, and links the motto "Goodbye Blue Monday" to this theme, since it was at one point the only form of advertising in the town.

The fact that all black people in Midland City can imitate all birds from the old British Empire further links black people to animals, beyond just the connection of Wayne Hoobler to caged birds. One of the birds they can imitate is the Bermuda Ern. They learn this skill from Fred T. Barry's mother, a wealthy white woman who employs them. So the thing that links them together as black people in Midland City was born from a racist institution.