|← Tracks Written by Tomas Transtromer||The Razor's Edge Up to Part →|
Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction occupies a peculiar place in postmodernist literature because it combines neo-romantic and neo-modernist elements. These themes in Breakfast of Champions (1973) are typically romantic ones especially his attacks on technological progress and materialism. In addition, his vision of life includes the belief in a divine Creator; the narrative structure of his novel is highly contrived. As such, the point of view is self-reflexive with Vonnegut not only commenting on the progress of his narrative, but participating in it as a major character. Indeed, it is highly enjoyable, loveable, and an entranced satirical work that focuses on the western culture—and United States is no exception. It can be perfectly termed as the best examples of the contemporary American parable rather than novel. Vonnegut is dry, witty, and a matter-of-fact. This detached perspective of life gives him a fresh and decisive meaning to the themes in which he writes; the literary words that Vonnegut plays with enhances the readers to understand his intention. In addition, he plays through the sacred threshold that is portrayed between the author, and the reader to show that his listening skill is, indeed, a precious gift (Vonnegut, Chp 8).
Numerous themes are critically analyzed in Breakfast of Champions’ Chapters. In regard to Chapter 10, the Pyramid truck’s driver points out that the planet was under destruction. The society was focused on manufacturing processes that they perceived to be beneficial; however, the products that were manufactured were “lousy, by and large.” He signified that the operations that are undertaken by the society will have an effect to the future ecosystem in the society. The human damage that is being inflicted on the environment will ultimately lead to a dismal future amongst the world’s habitats. The stories of Trout emerge as an allegory—refracting his favorite themes through Trout’s eccentric imagination that inclines to his future perspective of the society. The story, in which the Trout makes, is aimed at passing time; “Gilgongo!” relates to a planet that is characterized by continued creation process. The story addresses overpopulation in the current society—it has been explored thoroughly in his other story in Chapter 8; “This means you.” The story highlights the life of a chimpanzee, which instigates a different perception concerning the discrimination in the society. Vonnegut, in this scenario, points out that the president may not necessarily be useful in the society. Sometimes he can fail miserably and cannot solve the problems that the Americans face—he can be compared with the life of chimpanzee. Vonnegut uses hyperbole in expressing his views.
In addition, the theme of the mirror that acts as a leak between universes clearly resurfaces in the story when Trout inquires from the driver on the name given to mirrors in Bermuda—whether they are called “leaks.” This misconception of the whole idea demonstrates that false information can spread quite easily like a disease. Although, thinking that the mirror can be referred to as a leak in Bermuda cannot be a disease itself, or a harmful idea, the spreading of inaccurate information depicts the theme. Contrary, when Trout inquires from the driver on why they were referring the company as Pyramid, the driver retorts that the owner “liked the sound of it. Don’t you like the sound of it?” The question and the story that Trout makes up regarding the planet where its creatures were “enchanted by sounds” in which the language turned into music, clearly reveals the advertising theme. In this regard, the enchantment of the living creatures is a hindrance to the conveyance of information to the general public. The intention was that playing the music will enhance conveyance of the message. Playing of music is useless as the leaders will keep on inventing “new and much uglier vocabularies and sentences structures all the time, which would resist being transmuted to music.” It is one of the significant character traits that are advertently portrayed by the nature of advertisement; Dwayne Hoover perceives it to be music in his ears. On the other hand, Trout cannot comprehend the link between the “liking the sound” and ridiculing of the company’s name.
Consequently, the relationship emanating between Trout and his son, Leo, can be likened to that between Dwayne and his son, Bunny; both characters are estranged. Trout narrates to the truck driver that Leo decided to join Viet Cong, which seemingly portrays the ridiculous turn of events into Communism theme. The Viet Cong is one of the communist groups in the region, as such, it was quite fitting that his offspring can join the group. Trout, on the other hand, has a “doodley-squat,” and Leo confidently joins the movement. He believes that the undertakings of the group should be shared amongst themselves.
The narration of the novel is also both experimental and confrontation of conventional expectations: the reader is not aware that he is reading and forgets that work is fictional. In Chapter 18, the narrator confesses to being Vonnegut himself, who is essentially spying on his own characters, Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout. In addition, Vonnegut appears to be wrestling in Breakfast of Champions with the impact of art on culture as much as the impact of any culture—but specifically American culture—on art. He declares that, “I resolved to shun story-telling” and plans to set his characters free. The result makes Breakfast of Champions more than Vonnegut musing about art; it is an opportunity for readers to contemplate the value of art and the conventional expectations of the novel.
Vonnegut, in this novel, analyzes the role of artists and art in American culture by providing adept and humorous observations. For instance, in the preface, he introduces the reader to the woman who used humor and bawdiness to teach him to be a skeptical learner, setting the stage for his own technique throughout the novel—which may be an extended tribute to Phoebe Hurty. In addition, Vonnegut argues throughout the novel that humans are robots, the realization that prods him to free his own characters.
In relation to the explicit nature of the novel is Vonnegut’s thematic interest in three key issues facing the American culture: sexism, racism, and sexual squeamishness. Vonnegut maintains a matter-of-fact tone throughout the novel, particularly as he details the measurement of his female characters. He uses racial slurs in his narration—not just in the dialogue of the racist characters, and as he describes the pornographic magazines where Kilgore Trout’s writings are published. The Breakfast of Champions ends with a self-portrait of Vonnegut crying. Such manifestation leaves the readers asking themselves why he is crying. That act of bewilderment by the reader is what the art entails.