Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was the youngest of three children born to Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., an architect, and Edith Lieber, a socialite whose wealthy family owned a successful brewing company. Vonnegut’s family was hit hard during the Great Depression, and after Prohibition effectively shutdown Lieber’s family brewery, they were all but destitute. Vonnegut attended public high school in Indianapolis, and in 1940, began studying biochemistry at Cornell University. Vonnegut had little interest in biochemistry, and his grades were poor, but he did work as a writer and editor for the university’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut’s grades eventually landed him on academic probation, and in 1943, he dropped out of Cornell without earning his degree. Considering World War II, Vonnegut assumed he would be drafted, so he proactively joined the United States Army. On Mother’s Day in 1944, after a long struggle with depression, Vonnegut’s mother committed suicide with a combination of alcohol, prescription drugs, and sleeping pills. Vonnegut was soon deployed to Europe and fought in the 1944 Battle of the Bulge, where he was taken as a prison-of-war and sent to a camp in Dresden, Germany. Vonnegut survived the bombing of the city by the Allied forces in 1945 and was soon liberated and sent back to the United States. Later that year, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, his high school sweetheart, and the couple went on to have three children. Vonnegut held several odd jobs, including work as a publicist and a copy writer for an advertising agency, and continued to write in his spare time. He enrolled at the University of Chicago to study Anthropology, but again left before completing his degree after his proposal for his master’s thesis was rejected. Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952, and while it was received well by critics, it was considered a commercial flop. The novel focuses on factory workers who are replaced by machines, a theme that is also reflected in Breakfast of Champions. In 1958, Vonnegut adopted his sister’s three young sons after she died of cancer, and while he continued to write to support his large family, he did not reach commercial success until the 1969 publication of Slaughterhouse-Five, which skyrocketed Vonnegut to fame. In 1971, Vonnegut and Cox finally divorced after several years of marital strife, and in 1972, Vonnegut’s son suffered a mental breakdown. Vonnegut married his second wife, Jill Krementz, in 1979 and together they adopted a daughter, Lily. In 1984, Vonnegut suffered his own mental breakdown and suicide attempt after struggling with depression and anxiety for decades. Vonnegut continued to write well into his 80s, and in 2007 at the age of 84, he died of a brain injury after falling in his New York City home.     
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Historical Context of Breakfast of Champions

Kurt Vonnegut is an icon of the American countercultural movement. Counterculture began in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s, but the anti-establishment movement culminated with the peace, love, and rock-n-roll of the American hippie movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. American counterculture was defined by an opposition to conventional social, political, and economic beliefs and practices, and was fueled by the Civil Rights Movement, second-wave feminism, and anti-war sentiments following the Second World War and the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. The countercultural movement saw the British Invasion and welcomed musical acts like the Beatles, the Who, and the Rolling Stones, and it also gave birth to Woodstock, the famous 1969 music festival that boasted Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and several others on its famous setlist. The counterculture responded to tremendous political upheaval, including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. The movement also explored human sexuality and psychoactive drug use, protested war and social injustices, and espoused differing beliefs and interpretations regarding the reality and attainability of the American Dream. In addition to Vonnegut, other notable members of the countercultural movement include feminist Gloria Steinem, beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and painter Andy Warhol.  

Other Books Related to Breakfast of Champions

Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions is the epitome of postmodern literature, which, although hard to define, often involves some sort of social or cultural critique. Postmodern works of literature usually employ deconstructionist approaches, or the assumption that language is fluid and arbitrary, and therefore unstable. James Joyce’s 1939 publication of Finnegans Wake is generally accepted as the beginning of the postmodern era. Other famous works of postmodern literature include Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The postmodern era’s preoccupation with language is seen throughout Breakfast of Champions, most notably in Kilgore’s obsession with corporate logos. When Kilgore asks why certain products or companies are named certain words, the answer, invariably, is that someone “liked the sound of it.” From a postmodern viewpoint, language does not have inherent meaning; rather, the meaning of language is a reflection of social convenience and convention. Postmodern literature is also marked by intertextuality, or the weaving together of outside literary works into a single piece of writing. The characters of Breakfast of Champions, including Kilgore Trout and Eliot Rosewater, appear in several of Vonnegut’s other stories and novels, like God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and Jailbird. Vonnegut mentions other literary works in the novel as well, including Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Other famous works of literature that engage and explore intertextuality are John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, which is a retelling of the legend of King Arthur, and, more recently, Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.
Key Facts about Breakfast of Champions
  • Full Title: Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday
  • When Written: Early 1970s
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1973
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Metafiction, Satire
  • Setting: The American Midwest
  • Climax: When Dwayne Hoover goes insane and “runs amok” in Midland City, violently assaulting his son, Bunny, and several innocent bystanders.
  • Antagonist: American society; Dwayne’s struggle with mental health
  • Point of View: First-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Breakfast of Champions

Free Books! The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Vonnegut’s hometown, Indianapolis, is the home of Vonnegut’s typewriter and several signed copies of his work, but they also continue to honor the author’s fight against censorship. Slaughterhouse-Five, a book often banned in public schools, is given free at the door to any student whose school has banned it. 

Follow Me on Twitter. Despite his death in 2007, a Twitter account dedicated to Vonnegut is alive and well, tweeting Vonnegut’s witticisms multiple times a day. Famous Vonnegut quotes populate the account, including “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be,” and “Evolution is so creative. That’s how we got giraffes.”