Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions Study Guide

Published in 1973, Breakfast of Champions or Goodbye, Blue Monday! was Kurt Vonnegut's 50th birthday present to himself. It also marked the end of a period of depression that had followed his 1969 publication of Slaughterhouse Five.

The alternate title might have come from George Gershwin and Buddy DeSylva's 1922 one-act opera, Blue Monday, later renamed [135th Street.] This twenty- to thirty-minute work was written for an all-black cast, but was performed by white actors in blackface - a salient fact considering the theme of race that pervades Breakfast of Champions. The narrator of Breakfast of Champions always distinguishes the race of each character, and the potential reference to the opera would also imply that the phrase Goodbye, Blue Monday has some meaning as a symbol - as opposed to the suggestion at the end of Vonnegut's tale that symbols are mere constructs of the American mind.

Breakfast of Champions tells the story of Kilgore Trout, an elderly science fiction author and one of Vonnegut's recurring characters, and Dwayne Hoover, an insane but wealthy Pontiac dealer who interprets Trout's work literally. When the two finally meet in a bar, Hoover becomes violent, attacking bystanders and biting off Trout's finger.

Vonnegut experiments with structure, most obviously when it comes to the inclusion of his own child-like sketches. The sketches are used to demonstrate the use of symbols, which the narrator depends upon heavily and then dismisses, in the Epilogue, as an unnecessary American tendency. For example, there are two drawings of an apple throughout the story; in the Epilogue, when the narrator holds out his empty hands to Kilgore Trout and asks him what he sees in them, Trout sees an apple. The apple is a common American symbol, and demonstrates the narrator's point that Americans depend upon the meaning in symbols.

A 1999 film version of Breakfast of Champions stars Bruce Willis as Dwayne Hoover and Albert Finney as Kilgore Trout. It was adapted and directed by Alan Rudolph.