Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions

by

Kurt Vonnegut

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Breakfast of Champions: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back at his Pontiac dealership, Dwayne finally remembers that it is Hawaiian Week. His mind is clearing, and the parking lot is “no longer a trampoline,” but he has developed “incipient echolalia,” which compels him to repeat every last word he hears. Dwayne leaves his office and drives (in a brand-new Pontiac) to one of his Burger Chef restaurants for lunch. 
Dwayne leaves his dealership in a brand new car and heads for lunch in a restaurant which he owns, and this further reflects capitalism and the unequal distribution of wealth. Many people don’t have access to new cars, but Dwyane has several at his disposal, and while others can’t afford to eat, Dwayne owns several restaurants. This moment is reminiscent of when Dwayne rested in his empty lot; by driving a car from his dealership and dining at his restaurant, he revels in the wealth that he has amassed.
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Dwayne’s waitress at Burger Chef, Patty Keene, is a seventeen-year-old girl working to pay off her father’s hospital bills. He father is dying of colon cancer, and in America, “where everybody is expected to pay his own bills for everything,” getting sick is “one of the most expensive things a person can do.”
Patty Keene also underscores the unequal distribution of wealth in American society. Whereas Dwayne’s life is one of excess and greed, Patty’s father is so poor he must fight simply to stay alive and get the medical care he requires.
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Dwayne isn’t sexually attracted to Patty, although he does appreciate that she is pretty. Patty is “stupid on purpose.” She had programmed herself, “in the interest of survival,” to be an “agreeing machine instead of a thinking machine.” Patty rarely thinks for herself—all she does is “discover what other people are thinking, and then [she] thinks that, too.”
Here, Vonnegut again employs the people-as-machines narrative. As America’s sexist society assumes that Patty, a pretty young woman, must also be stupid, she essentially reprograms herself to align with what is expected of her. Vonnegut implies that this is not only ridiculous but also entirely unproductive and unhelpful.
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Patty eyes Dwayne. He “can solve so many of her problems with the money and power he has,” and she envisions a “magic wand” that Dwayne passes over her life, magically making everything better. Being in the presence of Dwayne makes Patty feel as if she is in the presence of a “supernatural” power. “When you came in,” Patty says to Dwayne, “[everybody] just buzzed and buzzed.” Dwayne looks at her blankly. “Buzzed,” he says.
The fact that Dwayne can solve so many of Patty’s problems with his money again underscores the unequal distribution of wealth in American society. Patty does not wish for money simply so that she can live a life leisure; she wishes for money so that her father can have the opportunity to live at all.
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“I guess that’s not the right word,” Patty says. Like most people in Midland City, Patty is “used to apologizing for her use of language.” English teachers fail those who don’t “speak like English aristocrats,” and if students can’t “love or understand incomprehensible novels and poems and plays about people long ago and far away, such as Ivanhoe,” they are deemed “unworthy” to speak or write English. Black people in Midland City do not follow this rule. They speak English how ever they want, and “they refuse to read books they can’t understand—on the grounds that they can’t understand them.”
Here, Vonnegut again implies that art is subjective and that its worth is arbitrary. American English teachers have randomly assigned value to books no one understands about people they can’t relate to, and they have set a standard based on those books. Vonnegut suggests that this is a terrible test of knowledge, and he applauds the black community for refusing to partake in such ridiculousness.
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Patty herself failed English in high school when she failed to appreciate Ivanhoe, and she was put into a “remedial” course where she was forced to The Good Earth, a book “about Chinamen.” Around this time, she “lost her virginity” when she was raped by Don Breedlove, a white gas-conversion unit installer, behind the Bannister Memorial Fieldhouse after a basketball game. Patty never told a soul because her father was busy dying and “there was enough trouble already.”
Patty doesn’t understand Ivanhoe or The Good Earth because she can’t relate to them. In this way, their meaning and importance as literature, or art, depends on the person reading them; to Patty, these books have to value, but to the high school English teachers, these books are significant enough to be part of the standard curriculum.
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The Bannister Memorial Fieldhouse is named for George Hickman Bannister, a local high school kid who was killed playing football on Thanksgiving Day. George’s tombstone, the largest in Midland City’s cemetery, is a tall marble obelisk with a football on top. For many years, the obelisk was the tallest structure in town, and The George Hickman Bannister law prohibited any taller structures from being built. The law had to be “junked” years later to allow for radio towers. No one thinks about George Hickman Bannister anymore and his family has long since left the area.
Vonnegut frequently explores the concept of “gone but not forgotten,” and the character of George suggests that, at times, gone really does mean forgotten. Midland City has gone to great lengths to keep George’s memory alive, but they forget about him anyway. The radio towers that cause George’s law to be “junked” carry connotations of capitalism and advertising, and by comparison, George’s memory is merely something to be thrown out like garbage. 
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Dwayne continues to repeat the last word of each of Patty’s sentences, but she doesn’t seem to notice or mind. It matters very little what Dwayne says. Everyone in Midland City “has a clearly defined part to play,” and each person lives up to those expectations. If a person stops living up to expectation, “because of bad chemicals” or any other thing, the town just goes “on imagining that the person is living up to expectation anyway.”
Patty’s failure to acknowledge Dwayne’s symptoms again emphasizes society’s feigned ignorance regarding mental illness. It connects to Vonnegut’s people-as-machines narrative and implies that society is conditioned, or programmed, to avoid such issues. The novel implies that Patty notices; she has simply been programmed to believe the subject of mental health is taboo and not to be commented on.
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Related Quotes
On the way back to the dealership, Dwayne passes a construction site where a crew of men are digging massive holes in Midland City. Dwayne approaches the biggest piece of equipment he sees and asks the “white workman how many horsepower drives the machine.” The workman isn’t sure. “I don’t know how many horsepower, but I know what we call it,” the workman says. “We call in The Hundred-Nigger Machine.” The workman’s reference is “to a time when black men had done most of the heavy digging in Midland City.”
The workman’s comment is another example of racism in America. Not only does he use a racial slur which in itself is demeaning, he further dehumanizes people of color by conflating slaves with machinery. The workman’s racist comment both implicitly and explicitly highlights how pervasive racism is in American society.
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At the dealership, Francine is hard at work. Dwayne goes into his office and calls her, even though she is sitting just outside the door. “Francine?” says Dwayne. “I am going to ask you to do something I have never asked you to do before. Promise me you’ll say yes.” Francine promises, and Dwayne asks her to go with him to the hotel in Shepherdstown. 
Like Patty, Francine is also programmed to be “an agreeing machine.” She agrees to Dwayne’s request before even knowing what it is because, as a woman in a sexist society, she has been conditioned to do so.
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Francine doesn’t mind going—she thinks it is “her duty” to do so—but she must first convince Gloria Browning, the Service Department cashier, to man her desk, which is known as the “Nerve Center” of the dealership. Gloria isn’t up to doing Francine’s job, as she has just had a hysterectomy at the age of twenty-five after a “botched abortion.” Ironically, the father of her “destroyed fetus” was Don Breedlove, the married father of three who raped Patty Keene behind the George Bannister Memorial Fieldhouse.
Again, Francine believes it is “her duty” to do as Dwayne says because she has been programmed by society to obey and cater to men. Gloria’ hysterectomy, presumably, is due to having undergone an illegal abortion. Vonnegut implies that the tragedy of this is secondary to Gloria’s civil rights—or free will—being taken from her.
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Gloria finally agrees to sit at Francine’s desk. “I don’t have nerve enough to commit suicide,” she says, “so I might as well do anything anybody says—in the service of mankind.” Dwayne and Francine take separate cars to the Shepherdstown, where they meet at the Quality Motor Court and have sex in the middle of the afternoon. Francine’s husband had been killed in Vietnam not long before Dwayne’s wife, Celia, committed suicide.
Both Gloria’s comment and the mention of Celia’s death again shines a light on suicide and mental health. Gloria’s comment is sarcastic but nevertheless is rooted in some truth; she appears to be struggling with her emotions after her recent abortion and hysterectomy, and it seems to be affecting her mental health.  
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Francine and Dwayne talk about the local prison in Shepherdstown, and Francine marvels at how most of the guards are white and most of the prisoners are black. “You know what I keep thinking?” Francine says. “This would be a very good location for a Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.” Immediately, Dwayne thinks that Francine is asking him to buy her a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, and he grows angry. “Let’s keep love-making and presents separate, O.K.?” he tells her.
The fact that most of the guards are white and most of the prisoners are black in the Shepherdstown prison is another reflection of racism in America, and it is further evidence of the mass incarceration of people of color. The widespread imprisonment of black Americans bolsters racist stereotypes of black men as criminals.
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Francine is shocked. She doesn’t know what Dwayne is talking about. “Every woman is a whore,” Dwayne tells her, “and every whore has her price.” Francine’s “price” is the cost of a Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, “which would be well over one hundred thousand dollars by the time adequate parking and exterior lighting and all that is taken into consideration.” Francine begins to cry. She only suggested the restaurant because most of the prisoners are black, and she is thinking of their relatives when they come to visit. “I thought how much black people like fried chicken,” Francine says. “So you want me to open a Nigger joint?” Dwayne asks.
While Dwayne’s callous racial slur is an obvious reflection of racism in American society, Francine’s reliance on stereotypes to pigeonhole an entire group of people is just as racist. Not only does Francine assume that black men are criminals simply because they are black, she also assumes that all black people love fried chicken.
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In the meantime, Harry is at home crying as well. He is sure that Dwayne knows he is a “transvestite,” and he has gone home to cry in his bed. Harry and his wife, Grace, are rich, having made a pile of money in Xerox stocks, which sit in their safety deposit box at the bank and continue to make money. “There is a lot of money magic like that going on.”
Vonnegut’s reference to the “money magic” enjoyed by Harry and Grace highlights how easily they came into their wealth. Most people work hard their entire life and never earn that much money, and this further emphasizes the evils of capitalism and the unequal distribution of wealth.
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“Fuck Dwayne Hoover,” Grace tells Harry, “and fuck Midland City. Let’s sell the God damn Xerox stock and buy a condominium on Maui.” Harry continues to cry. “Can the reindeer hear you?” Harry asks. “Fuck the reindeer,” Grace says. “Reindeer” is Harry and Grace’s “code word” for their black maid. In fact, they called all the black people in Midland City “reindeer.” The Midland City Police Department and the Midland County Sheriff’s Department, which are composed mainly of white men, have “racks and racks of sub-machine guns and twelve-gauge automatic shotguns for an open season on reindeer, which is bound to come.”
Grace and Harry’s use of the word “reindeer” to describe black people in Midland City again reflects the obvious racism in American society; however, it also emphasizes the postmodern opinion that language and meaning is arbitrary, as Harry and Grace assign racist meaning to an arbitrary word.
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As Francine cries, Dwayne begins to regret his outburst. “I’m so confused,” he says and asks Francine to hold him. She agrees, and he tells her about the time he visited the headquarters of the Pontiac Division of General Motors. Dwayne was given a tour of the facility, and the tour stopped at the department of “Destructive Testing.” In that department, the workers did “everything you’re not supposed to do to a car,” including breaking windshields and mirrors and staging “head-on collisions.” They tried to destroy cars to see how much destruction they could take before failing. “I couldn’t help wondering,” Dwayne says to Francine, “if that was what God put me on Earth for—to find out how much a man could take without breaking.”
Dwayne’s story about the “Destructive Testing” room harkens to both capitalism and environmentalism in that it involves a large corporation that undeniably has a negative impact environmentally, but it also highlights Vonnegut’s people-as-machines narrative. In his failing mental health, and because he has been forced to endure so much tragedy, Dwayne is convinced he is a human prototype for “Destructive Testing.”  
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“I’ve lost my way,” Dwayne says to Francine. He wants to talk to someone about his feelings, but he has already talked to everyone in Midland City. Francine suggests a doctor, but Dwayne refuses. “What about all these painters and writers and composers coming to town?” she says in reference to the Arts Festival. “You’re right!” Dwayne cries. “The Festival could give me a brand new viewpoint on life!”
Through Dwayne’s comment about art, Vonnegut again implies that society has placed art on a pedestal. Dwayne needs a doctor, not an artist, but he believes that art will reveal to him the meaning of life, which Vonnegut argues is not the case.
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