Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In your opinion, is the narrator racist?

    Race is certainly a central theme of Breakfast of Champions, but it is debatable whether the narrator himself holds racist views. He points out the racist views of certain characters, for instance Dwayne's stepfather. The advertising campaign for the original Robo-Magic also demonstrates a widespread racism, drawing upon the audience's conception of washing and other menial tasks as "Nigger work." Debate whether there is a distinction between the narrator's point of view and that he confers upon his characters and Americans in general as represented in the text.

  2. 2

    What is the relationship between the narrator and Vonnegut himself?

    From what we as readers know about Vonnegut, he has a lot in common with the narrator: for instance, their mothers committed suicide and they are approaching their fiftieth birthdays. These similarities suggest that the narrator might represent Vonnegut, seen through a mirror, or "leak" into another universe. But the narrator interacts with his characters and becomes a character himself, with opinions and ideas designated to him by Vonnegut, the author. Address passages in which the narrator uses the direct address technique to analyze to what extent he represents Vonnegut himself, and to what extent Vonnegut makes him into a character.

  3. 3

    Why, after the narrator says the following quotation, does Trout see an apple in his hand?

    "I hold in my hand a symbol of wholeness and harmony and nourishment. It is Oriental in its simplicity, but we are Americans, Kilgore, and not Chinamen. We Americans require symbols which are richly colored and three-dimensional and juicy. Most of all, we hunger for symbols which have not been poisoned by graet sins our nation has committed, such as slavery and genocide and criminal neglect, or by tinhorn commercial greed and cunning."

    An apple is a fitting image, it is in fact "richly colored and three-dimensional and juicy." It has also come to be a symbol of the United States, associated with Johnny Appleseed and Apple pie, as wholesome. There have been two drawings of apples throughout the story; it has in fact, been made into a symbol by the narrator. But the above passage suggests that it is only a symbol because of the meaning Americans endow it with, not because of any inherent quality in the apple itself.

  4. 4

    How are black people characterized as animals?

    When we are introduced to Wayne Hoobler, he feels as though he's free for the first time in his life, since he has always been kept in "orphanages and youth shelters and prisons of one sort or another." He misses prison, since now that he is free he doesn't know what to do with himself. This is similar to what happened to Bill, Trout's bird, when he freed it from its cage and it decided to hop back inside because it was afraid of what was beyond the window. He believes that the planet is terrible, and feels like he doesn't belong on it since he has no friends or relatives, and is always being put in cages. This sense is similar to the feelings of Kazak, the dog who attacks the narrator in the Epilogue.

    All the black people in Midland City also know how to imitate birds, thanks to Fred T. Barry's mother. This links them all to each other, as well as to animals in that they are being oppressed and struggling against white people (in the case of birds, like the now extinct Bermuda Ern, against humans in general).

  5. 5

    Discuss the significance of the phrase "Goodbye, Blue Monday."

    This is the alternate title of the book, as well as the motto of the company which Dwayne Hoover was able to sell in order to buy the Pontiac agency. The company advertised the Robo-Magic in a racist campaign, and its motto was "practically the only symbol in town." It is also the phrase that Dwayne Hoover yells out in the ambulance when he thinks he is The Man, the protagonist of Trout's story Now It Can Be Told, using his free will to surprise the Creator of the Universe. Dwayne Hoover mouths it to himself as he zones out in the cocktail lounge immediately preceding his rampage. All the meaning heaped upon this symbolic phrase is challenged, though, by the narrator's speech to Trout in the Epilogue, in which he points out Americans' need for symbolism.

  6. 6

    How is an apple used as a self-aware symbol?

    There are two drawings of an apple, making it a literal symbol. One is when the narrator discusses how the the atmosphere of the Earth is as thin as the skin of an apple, and the other is after the narrator characterizes time as "a serpent which eats its tail." He draws the apple offered to Eve by the serpent, and says that the apple Eve ate was the Creator of the Universe, then says, "Symbols can be so beautiful sometimes." When the narrator accosts Trout in the Epilogue, Trout sees an apple in the narrator's hand, symbolizing American's need for symbolism.

  7. 7

    What is the purpose served by the inclusion of dogs as characters?

    Sparky is Dwayne Hoover's Labrador retriever, who cannot wag his tail and so has to fight other dogs all the time. Lancer is the dog whose excrement got on Trout when he was beaten up and left on the handball court, who has "a very small brain, but he must have suspected from time to time, just as Wayne Hoobler did, that some kind of terrible mistake had been made." Kazak is the Doberman pinscher who attempts to attack the narrator in the Epilogue, who has been kept in a cage and beaten, and taught that his entire existence is to kill. These dogs exist as characters to be compared to the animal-like qualities of the human characters.

  8. 8

    The narrator believes Americans are doing their best to live like characters in story books, and decides to write about life. Discuss his attempt.

    The universe of the narrator's characters in Breakfast of Champions is apparently his attempt at writing about life; the universe which includes the narrator himself as a character can be seen as Vonnegut's attempt at the same. While many characters' lives are detailed beyond the status of minor character, it is untrue that each of them is equally important: obviously Dwayne and Kilgore are the protagonists. However, in including the details of individual characters' personal stories, whether they are consequential to the plot or not, Vonnegut "brings chaos to order" through the narrator.

  9. 9

    What is the significance of Karabekian's painting?

    Karabekian's painting, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, is resented at first by everyone in Midland City because it was purchased for $50,000 and could have been made by a five-year-old, according to Bonnie MacMahon. However, he defends it in Chapter 19 by saying that it "shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out." It represents awareness, which all living things possess, as an unwavering band of light. This idea is a foil to the theme of humans as machines that has been developed throughout the story, since machines lack awareness.

  10. 10

    Discuss the significance of Eddie Key, calling upon the themes associated with America throughout the story.

    Eddie Key is a character in Chapter 24, the driver of Martha the emergency vehicle. His diverse ancestry, including Francis Scott Key, represents a cross-section of America. He imagines that his ancestors can look out of his eyes, as if they were leaks, as if he himself were a vehicle. He is the only clear symbol of hope in this story, as he focuses his eyes so that Francis Scott Key can see the American flag stuck to the windshield and says, "Still wavin', man." This hopeful phrase is in contrast to the negative light in which America is represented throughout the story, including commentaries on advertisement and ownership.