Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions

by

Kurt Vonnegut

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Breakfast of Champions: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kilgore, who has since hitched a ride with a man driving a Ford Galaxie, is making his way closer to Midland City. Kilgore asks the man what is like to “steer something like the Milky Way,” but the man doesn’t hear him. Kilgore looks to a fire extinguisher mounted in the car that has the brand name displayed prominently. The word “EXCELSIOR” is written on it and Kilgore is confused. The word means “higher in a dead language” and has nothing to do with fire. “Why would anybody name a fire extinguisher Excelsior?" he asks. “Somebody must have liked the sound of it,” the driver answers.
Here, Vonnegut uses capitalism and advertising to underscore the arbitrary nature of language. The man’s car has nothing to do with the Milky Way, yet they share the same name. Similarly, the fire extinguisher has nothing to do with height, but the word “excelsior” describes them both. The relationship between words and meaning is subjective and arbitrary, which makes all language and the meaning it expresses equally arbitrary.
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Capitalism and Consumerism Theme Icon
Kilgore begins to thumb through his novel, Now It Can Be Told, which is the book that “will soon turn Dwayne into a homicidal maniac.” In the book, all creatures in the universe are “fully-programmed robots,” but the Creator of the Universe wants to test a creature with free will, so he creates one man—The Man—who has “the ability to make up his own mind.” The book is in the form of a letter written by the Creator of the Universe to The Man.
Through Kilgore’s book, a form of art, Vonnegut explores what humankind has accomplished using their free will, and it doesn’t appear that he is impressed with the result. There is little beauty or goodness in Breakfast of Champions, and by extension, Vonnegut argues there is little in the real world as well.
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon
The Creator of the Universe brings The Man to a “virgin planet” with a large and “soupy sea.” On the planet, “The Man is Adam and the sea is Eve.” The Man often swims in Eve, but he finds her “too soupy,” so he jumps into an icy stream to refresh himself. As The Man comes up from the cold water he yells, “Cheese!” “Why did you yell, ‘Cheese’?” the Creator’s robotic messenger asks. “Because I felt like it, you stupid machine,” The Man replies.
Again, The Man’s arbitrary use of the word “Cheese” suggests that words and their meanings are not rooted in any inherent or universal understanding. The Creator waits with bated breath to hear what The Man will say, but he seems disappointed with “Cheese!” Likewise, Vonnegut implies that he is disappointed with humankind as well. 
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon
At the end of Now It Can Be Told is a picture of The Man’s tombstone as it stands on the virgin planet. Vonnegut includes a drawing of the tombstone and it reads: “NOT EVEN THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE KNEW WHAT THE MAN WAS GOING TO SAY NEXT / PERHAPS THE MAN WAS A BETTER UNIVERSE IN ITS INFANCY.”
Through the inscription on The Man’s tombstone, Vonnegut suggests that the idea of humankind is better than what has come of it, which again suggests his disappointment in society.
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon
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