Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions

by

Kurt Vonnegut

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Breakfast of Champions: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
“While my life is being renewed by the words of Rabo Karabekian,” Vonnegut writes, Kilgore is standing in the interstate looking at the Holiday Inn. A small patch of Sugar Creek sits between the highway and the Holiday Inn, and Kilgore must cross it to get to the Festival. He takes off his socks and shoes and places one foot in the creek. Kilgore’s foot is “coated at once with a clear plastic substance from the surface of the creek.” He pulls his foot from the water and it instantly hardens, “sheathing his foot in a thin, skin-tight bootie resembling mother-of-pearl.”
The polluted creek in Midland City again reflects the widespread pollution and destruction of the planet due to capitalism and the manufacturing process. Manufacturing has completely destroyed Sugar Creek, which Kilgore promptly ignores and wades through anyway. While this is obviously satirical, it still underscores society’s tendency to ignore the obvious signs of pollution or react apathetically. 
Themes
The Destruction of the Planet Theme Icon
The plastic substance is industrial waste from Barrytron, Ltd., which manufactures “anti-personnel bombs for the Air Force.” The new bomb scatters plastic, not metal, because “plastic is cheaper,” but also because the plastic cannot be detected by x-ray. Of course, Barrytron doesn’t know that they are polluting Sugar Creek; they had hired the Maritimo Brothers Construction Company to dump their waste. The company, which is “gangster-controlled,” thought that disposing of Barrytron’s waste sounded “complicated and busy,” so they built a confusing system that “concealed a straight run of stolen sewer pipe running directly from Barrytron to Sugar Creek.” 
The Maritimo Brothers Construction Company is fully aware that they are harming the environment, but they simply don’t care. They even go to the trouble to appear to properly dispose of the waste, which implies that they are at least aware of the importance of properly disposing of industrial waste. Still, they completely disregard the environment and pollute the creek anyway, and they even do it with stolen pipes, which further reflects their unethical behavior and desire to make a profit no matter what it costs the environment or others. 
Themes
The Destruction of the Planet Theme Icon
When Barrytron learns that they are polluting the creek, they are “absolutely sick” about it. They had no intention on polluting the town. After all, Barrytron has always “attempted to be a perfect model of corporate good citizenship, no matter what it cost.”
Obviously, if Barrytron really cared about being “a perfect model of corporate good citizenship” they would not hire the services of the Maritimo Brothers. Barrytron knows the construction company is crooked, but they use their services anyway to secure more profits, much to the detriment of the environment.
Themes
The Destruction of the Planet Theme Icon
Capitalism and Consumerism Theme Icon
Kilgore’s “situation,” Vonnegut says, is that he is a “machine,” but this is “complex” and “tragic.” There is a part of Kilgore, a “sacred part,” that “remains an unwavering band of light.” Vonnegut explains that he himself is a “meat machine” who is writing a book, but “at the core of the writing meat machine is something sacred, which is an unwavering band of light.” Everyone who reads this book likewise has a “band of unwavering light.” Vonnegut’s New York City doorbell rings. He doesn’t know who is there, but when he opens the door, he is sure to find “an unwavering band of light” behind it. “God bless Rabo Karabekian!” Vonnegut writes.
Vonnegut’s “spiritual climax,” or his realization that people, including his characters, are sentient human beings and not machines, is brought about by Rabo’s art. This, coupled with his description of the “unwavering band of light” as “sacred,” seems to go against the grain of Vonnegut’s impassioned argument that art doesn’t have inherent meaning or value. Vonnegut has already vowed to keep that which is sacred, and in this vein, he implies that perhaps art is sacred after all.
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon
People and Machines Theme Icon
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As Kilgore arrives at the Holiday Inn, he hopes that his plastic-coated feet will leave marks on the carpet. Unfortunately, the plastic is completely hard, and his footprints leave only small, disappearing dents. He walks across the lobby, “an inkless printing press,” and looks around. There are leaks everywhere; hanging on the walls, on the cigarette and candy machines, and one whole wall, which separates the lobby from the lounge, is one giant mirror.
The mirrors, or “leaks,” serve to separate Kilgore’s blue-collar life as a window installer from the sophisticated and cultured world of the artists. When Kilgore enters the lounge, he effectively crosses over into an entirely different universe that exists on the other side of the mirrors.
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Milo Maritimo, a “beautiful young desk clerk,” greets Kilgore happily. “Mr. Trout,” Milo says in “rapture.” He would know Kilgore anywhere, he says. “Welcome to Midland City. We need you so!” Kilgore is confused. How does this stranger know him? Milo hopes that Midland City will go down in history as the first town to “acknowledge the greatness of Kilgore Trout.” He has read all of Kilgore’s books—those in Eliot Rosewater’s personal library at least—and he stares at Kilgore with admiration. “We are so ready for a Renaissance, Mr. Trout!” Milo says. “You will be our Leonardo!”
Milo’s reliance on Kilgore to lead Midland City in a cultural Renaissance through his writing is absurd, but Milo nevertheless believes that Kilgore’s writing will have that very effect. Of course, it does, which further underscores this absurdity. In this way, Vonnegut again reverts to the argument that art is subjective—where most others have found zero value and talent, Midland City finds the work of Kilgore comparable to the masterpieces of Leonardo DaVinci.
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Milo shows Kilgore to his room so that he can change into his high school tuxedo and the new shirt he purchased in New York City. His room is a suite, which is two identical rooms joined by a door, and it is full of flowers and welcome cards from local businesses. “The town certainly seems to be getting behind the arts in a great way,” Kilgore says.
Kilgore’s “suite” again reflects the arbitrary nature of words and meaning. There is nothing special about Kilgore’s suite—it is simply two rooms combined—but since it is called a “suite” it automatically becomes superior.
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon
“Oh, Mr. Trout,” Milo says, “teach us to sing and dance and laugh and cry.” Kilgore is stunned. “Open your eyes!” he yells at Milo. “Do I look like a dancer, a singer, a man of joy? […] Would a man nourished by beauty look like this? You have nothing but desolation and desperation here, you say? I bring you more of the same!”
The fact that Kilgore brings only “desolation and desperation” not “beauty” reflects his identity as an anti-artist. As Kilgore maintains that there is no truth or beauty in the world, he is likewise unable to present it in the form of his art.
Themes
Art, Subjectivity, and Absurdity Theme Icon