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Literature / Breakfast of Champions

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This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.

Breakfast of Champions, or, Goodbye, Blue Monday! is Kurt Vonnegut's seventh novel, and one of his stranger dips into metafiction, first published in 1973.

Dwayne Hoover is the fabulously well-to-do owner of a Pontiac dealership. He's made his money in real estate. He's handsome and has oodles of charm. He's also slowly been going insane since his wife committed suicide.

Kilgore Trout is the reclusive author of various obscure science fiction stories for different, largely pornographic publishers, who paid him doodly-squat. He has just received an invitation to speak at an arts festival down the road from Dwayne Hoover's Pontiac dealership, and he wants to appear as the ultimate representative of failure.

Kilgore Trout's fiction will inspire Dwayne Hoover to completely snap and go on a rampage.

The book was made into a film by Alan Rudolph (Breakfast of Champions) in 1999, with Bruce Willis as Dwayne Hoover and Albert Finney as Kilgore Trout. Vonnegut himself called the film "painful to watch".

The book's name comes from the slogan for Wheaties breakfast cereal (see Our Lawyers Advised This Trope below).

Tropes used:

  • Arc Words: "And so on."
    • "Listen:"
  • Ascended Extra: Kilgore Trout appears as a minor character in Vonnegut's earlier Slaughterhouse-Five and God Bless You Mr Rosewater. He's one of the two principal protagonists in this novel.
  • Asshole Victim: The book notes that Don Breedlove was the only deserving victim of Dwayne Hoover's rampage for being a wicked rapist.
  • Author Avatar: Kilgore Trout is actually an parody/avatar of science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon and something of a Vonnegut alter-ego (Trout's novels and stories that are summarized in the text are ideas for stories Vonnegut either abandoned or never attempted). Later, Vonnegut blatantly inserts himself into the story as a deconstruction of this trope.
  • Author Tract: The book begins by describing the country in which the characters live (the United States) and all the ways in which it is fucked up.
  • Benevolent Boss: Dwayne is normally one, which is why Harry is disturbed when he starts making oblique references to Harry's crossdressing and otherwise acting more and more unsympathetic.
  • Bullet Time: Near the end of the book, Vonnegut is startled by a dog that leaps at him, and he describes, in detail, his chemical processes as adrenaline is pumped into his bloodstream and the dog drifts lazily closer like a blimp with teeth, and how his testicles retract into his body in such a manner that the doctors tell him " only surgery can bring them down again".
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": In one of Kilgore Trout's stories, another planet calls the local equivalent peanut butter 'Shazzbutter'. Another of his stories refers to mirrors as "leaks" - on the premise that they are potential portals to alternative universes.
  • Camp Gay: Dwayne's effeminate son, who goes by the nickname "Bunny".
  • Canon Welding: Eliot Rosewater and Kilgore Trout return after previous appearances in Vonnegut's work. Vonnegut says in the introduction that the book was written to retire all of his older characters (although Kilgore Trout is later unretired, appearing in some form or another in Jailbird, Galapagos, and Timequake).
  • Captain Obvious: Vonnegut as narrator constantly makes incredibly obvious statements in order to make a statement that all details are important, as well as to demonstrate the sometimes absurd amount of importance people place on trivialities, and to show the apparent absurdity of everyday situations and activities when deconstructed.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Ex-con Wayne Hoobler thinks that the similarity of his name to that of successful local businessman Dwayne Hoover means he's destined for success. Hoobler also tends to speak and think in bizarre non-sequiturs.
  • Crapsack World: Almost everyone in the novel is completely miserable, and the Earth is dying from pollution. In the future, every animal but man has gone extinct.
    • Midland City itself is this trope in miniature - a town full of corrupt people leading empty and/or sleazy lives next to a river contaminated with toxic sludge.
  • The Cynic: Kilgore Trout has a (justifiably) negative view of the state of the world and the human condition, to the point where he mostly just doesn't care how much worse things get.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Kilgore Trout, again - or perhaps more of a Stepford Snarker.
  • Delivery Stork: Discussed and illustrated in a sidebar.
  • Demoted to Extra: Eliot Rosewater, protagonist in Vonnegut's earlier novel God Bless You Mr Rosewater, makes a brief appearance as Kilgore Trout's sponsor at the arts festival.
  • Downer Ending: As is typical of Vonnegut, things don't end well for the protagonists. Dwayne loses his mind and goes on a violent rampage, severely injuring several people (including his mistress Francine and his son Bunny), and is institutionalized afterwards. Kilgore Trout's first and only opportunity to be recognized as a writer ends in the said fiasco (adding injury to insult, he gets part of his finger bitten off by Dwayne when he tries to restrain him).
  • Driven to Suicide: Dwayne's wife, Celia killed herself by drinking Drano. Vonnegut mentions in the narration that his own mother killed herself with sleeping pills.
  • Either/Or Title: "Breakfast of Champions" or "Goodbye, Blue Monday!"
  • Extinct in the Future: Kilgore Trout, whose earlier stories were published in pornographic magazines with covers luridly advertising "wide-open beavers," mentions in a Flash Forward to 1979 that he "mourned especially when the last beaver died." In the novel, most animals other than humans become extinct due to habitat loss and pollution.
  • Food Porn: One of Trout's stories is about a planet where only synthetic food has remained, so the inhabitants' pornography is people eating seemingly natural food slowly and happily.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Vonnegut states right at the beginning that Dwayne Hoover will snap and seriously injure several people, after reading one of Trout's novels.
  • Fourth Wall Shut-In Story: The character Kilgore Trout is supposed to be a stand-in for Vonnegut, and toward the end of the story, Trout has conversations with Vonnegut (who is the third-person omniscient narrator). The content of these conversations is Trout (fictional) demanding changes to his world from Vonnegut (real), but the underlying subtext is of Vonnegut (real), in futility, demanding impossible changes to his own life.
  • Freak Out: Finally happens to Dwayne Hoover after reading the story by Kilgore Trout, which tells him that all other people are just mindless machines created as part of an experiment by God to see how he will react to them.
  • Gag Penis: Vonnegut claims that his penis is three inches long and five inches in diameter.
    • One character has a penis 800 miles long and 210 miles in diameter, but practically all of it is in the fourth dimension.
  • Gayngst: Dwayne's son, Bunny, suffers quite a bit, becoming an introvert with no friends or lovers.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation - Although the Freak Out (see above) is triggered by the story he reads, the insanity is caused by late stage syphilis.
  • "How I Wrote This Article" Article: Kurt Vonnegut's narration frequently goes off to explain what he was going through when he was writing the book.
  • I Just Want to Be You: Ex-con Wayne Hoobler thinks he's destined to be the next Dwayne Hoover due to the similarity in their names.
  • Immune to Fate: Meta-example: after reading Trout's story, Hoover believes this applies to him. It doesn't.
  • Kick the Dog: Dwayne's rampage has several moments of this, which arguably reaches its peak when he assaults Francine.
  • Lemony Narrator: Vonnegut himself.
  • Lighter and Softer: The film adaptation, which removes much of the racism and softens the ending. Unlike in the book, Dwayne's wife is still alive and it ends with a hint that he could recover, rather than becoming a despondent bum. And instead of being left to beg for Vonnegut to restore his youth, Trout is given access to a "leak" that returns him to his childhod in Bermuda.
  • Magic Mirror: Not really, but Kilgore Trout pretends that mirrors are holes to other universes, which is why he calls them 'leaks'. Played straight in the film adaptation, which ends with Trout stepping into one leading back to his Bermuda childhood.
  • Metafiction: Vonnegut himself appears as a character, amongst other things. There are also Kilgore Trout's many stories, many of which play roles in the plot, one of them pivotal.
  • Narrative Filigree: The book has extensive narrative filigree, such as giving definitions of the most common things, or describing the different sci-fi stories Kilgore Trout has written, or bizarre and inconsequential interrelationships between characters, or the penis lengths and circumferences of each male character.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dwayne's depression hits a high mark at the climax and Trout helps him get over it: awesome. Trout helps Dwayne get over his depression by giving him one of his novels: good. Dwayne believing that everybody but him are "machines" because of a passage in the book and deciding to go on a rampage where he beats up everybody he can get his hands on (including his son) while screaming that they are machines and shouldn't feel anything: very bad.
  • No Fourth Wall: Like in Slaughterhouse-Five, the narrator is Kurt Vonnegut. In fact, he shows up in the story toward the end.
  • N-Word Privileges: Averted. Various racist white characters use the N-word extensively, as does the narrator, presumably to mock their racism.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: Vonnegut slips in two legal advisories that the title of the book is not meant to reflect upon General Mills' "fine products."
  • Ouroboros: Vonnegut claims that time is "a serpent which eats its tail," which he illustrates.
  • Polluted Wasteland: America as a whole is portrayed like this. Midland City itself has a river full of toxic sludge running through it (in one scene, Kilgore Trout attempts to wade through the river and the sludge winds up forming a plastic-like casing around his feet).
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: Vonnegut claims that the United States has the Latin motto "E pluribus unum" because its founders "were aristocrats, and they wished to show off their useless education".
  • Prison Rape: Jailbird Wayne Hoobler has been in one institution or another for so long that this is the only kind of sex that he knows about.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Deconstructed, as while there are given reasons for Dwayne Hoover's descent into violent psychopathy (the effects of his wife's suicide and late-stage syphillis), it's ultimately because Vonnegut made it so.
  • Rage Against the Author: Kurt Vonnegut hands Kilgore Trout an apple and disappears. Trout, realizing that Vonnegut is his creator is left on the sidewalk begging him to come back and make him young. Since Trout is Vonnegut's Author Avatar, Vonnegut himself is wishing for his lost youth.
  • Running Gag: Each male character, after being introduced, will receive a set of exact measurements for his penis, and every time an asshole is mentioned, it will be drawn, childishly, on the page.
  • Sanity Slippage: Dwayne Hoover is slowly going crazy, but he hides it well enough that nobody suspects he needs professional help...until it's too late.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    "This is a very bad book you're writing," I said to myself behind my leaks.
    "I know," I said.
  • Show Within a Show: Kilgore Trout's novels and short stories, which receive more focus than in previous books.
  • Shrouded in Myth: While traveling through New York City, Trout gets mugged along with another man. He can't identify the assailants to police afterwards, saying that an intelligent gas from Pluto might have attacked him for all he knows. The headline the next day in the New York Post is "PLUTO BANDITS KIDNAP PAIR". The story spreads and becomes more and more embellished, and it isn't long before everybody in the city is scared to death of a fearsome pack of thugs known as the "Pluto Gang". Even international news is warning people who might travel to NYC that they need to be careful and watch out for the Pluto Gang when they get there.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • In the novel, Dwayne's wife Celia commits suicide by drinking Drano. She survives and at least partly snaps out of her depression in the film.
    • While he's not killed in the novel, Dwayne's son Bunny is beaten to a bloody pulp by his father and is taken away by an ambulance. In the movie, he just gets a bloody nose and a bruise.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Time: A ditty Dwayne's father used to sing when he was drunk:
    Roses are red
    And ready for plucking
    You’re sixteen
    And ready for high school.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Trout gets a happy ending for once.
  • Title Drop: Bonnie McMahon tells the phrase to everyone whom she serves a martini.
  • Tradesnark™: At the beginning of the book, and also immediately after the first use of the "Breakfast of champions" phrase within the novel itself. (A waitress says it to patrons, as a private joke, every time she serves a martini.)
  • Toilet Humor: The illustrations range from cows to assholes to beavers to "wide open beavers." Additionally, almost all of the male characters' penises are given measurements.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Harry LeSabre is a secret crossdresser. However, his wife knows about it and doesn't mind, and they have a very satisfying sex life. The fact that he would go to jail for a long, long time if people knew what he got up to in his private life is portrayed as unjust.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Dwayne, during his rampage, says, "Never hit a woman, right?" before punching Beatrice Keedsler and Bonnie McMahon, who were trying to restrain him. He also proceeds to beat up his mistress, Francine Pefko.
  • Writers Suck: Kilgore Trout is a complete failure of a writer. His work is only published as filler material in pornographic magazines. Nobody has heard of him, except Eliot Rosewater, his only fan. Flash-forwards show that he will eventually turn his life around... but only after the rest of the world is good and truly screwed.

And so on.