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Breakfast of Champions
by
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

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Breakfast of Champions

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Breakfast of Champions

Copyright © 1973 by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Preface

When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God.

Chapter 1

The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them.

“WE ARE HEALTHY ONLY TO THE
EXTENT THAT
OUR IDEAS ARE
HUMANE.”

Chapter 2 Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind.

And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: “Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity.

“The ideas Earthlings held didn’t matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn’t do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything.

“They even had a saying about the futility of ideas: ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’

“And then Earthlings discovered tools. Suddenly agreeing with friends could be a form of suicide or worse. But agreements went on, not for the sake of common sense or decency or self-preservation, but for friendliness.

“Earthlings went on being friendly, when they should have been thinking instead. And even when they built computers to do some thinking for them, they designed them not so much for wisdom as for friendliness. So they were doomed. Homicidal beggars could ride.”

Topic:

Friendship

Chapter 3 “I’m going out there to show them what nobody has ever seen at an arts festival before: a representative of all the thousands of artists who devoted their entire lives to a search for truth and beauty—and didn’t find doodley-squat!”

Topic:

Artists

Chapter 10 “Seems like the only kind of job an American can get these days is committing suicide in some way.”

Topic:

Suicide

“I can’t tell if you’re serious or not,” said the driver.

“I won’t know myself until I find out whether life is serious or not,” said Trout. “It’s dangerous, I know, and it can hurt a lot. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s serious, too.”

Chapter 15

This was in a country where everybody was expected to pay his own bills for everything, and one of the most expensive things a person could do was get sick.

Topic:

Medicine

The women all had big minds because they were big animals, but they did not use them much for this reason: unusual ideas could make enemies, and the women, if they were going to achieve any sort of comfort and safety, needed all the friends they could get.

So, in the interests of survival, they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too.

Topic:

Women and Men

Every person had a clearly defined part to play—as a black person, a female high school drop-out, a Pontiac dealer, a gynecologist, a gas-conversion burner installer. If a person stopped living up to expectations, because of bad chemicals or one thing or another, everybody went on imagining that the person was living up to expectations anyway.

That was the main reason the people in Midland City were so slow to detect insanity in their associates. Their imaginations insisted that nobody changed much from day to day. Their imaginations were flywheels on the ramshackle machinery of the awful truth.

Chapter 18

As an old, old man, Trout would be asked by Dr. Thor Lembrig, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, if he feared the future. He would give this reply:

“Mr. Secretary-General, it is the past which scares the bejesus out of me.”

Chapter 19

As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.

Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.

And so on.

Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.

Chapter 20

His situation, insofar as he was a machine, was complex, tragic, and laughable. But the sacred part of him, his awareness, remained an unwavering band of light.

And this book is being written by a meat machine in cooperation with a machine made of metal and plastic. [...] And at the core of the writing meat machine is something sacred, which is an unwavering band of light.

At the core of each person who reads this book is a band of unwavering light.

“Open your eyes!” said Trout. “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!”

“My eyes are open,” said Milo warmly, “and I see exactly what I expect to see. I see a man who is terribly wounded—because he has dared to pass through the fires of truth to the other side, which we have never seen. And then he has come back again—to tell us about the other side.”

Chapter 21

The thing was: Trout was the only character I ever created who had enough imagination to suspect that he might be the creation of another human being. He had spoken of this possibility several times to his parakeet. He had said, for instance, “Honest to God, Bill, the way things are going, all I can think of is that I’m a character in a book by somebody who wants to write about somebody who suffers all the time.”

Now Trout was beginning to catch on that he was sitting very close to the person who had created him. He was embarrassed. It was hard for him to know how to respond, particularly since his responses were going to be anything I said they were.

I am going to make a wild guess now: I think that the end of the Civil War in my country frustrated the white people of the North, who won it, in a way which has never been acknowledged before. Their descendants inherited that frustration, I think, without ever knowing what it was.

The victors in that war were cheated out of the most desirable spoils of that war, which were human slaves.

Topic:

Slavery

Chapter 22 “Of course it is exhausting, having to reason all the time in a universe which wasn’t meant to be reasonable.”
Chapter 24

I agree with Kilgore Trout about realistic novels and their accumulations of nit-picking details. In Trout’s novel, The Pan-Galactic Memory Bank, the hero is on a space ship two hundred miles long and sixty-two miles in diameter. He gets a realistic novel out of the branch library in his neighborhood. He reads about sixty pages of it, and then he takes it back.

The librarian asks him why he doesn’t like it, and he says to her, “I already know about human beings.”

Epilogue

A writer off-guard, since the materials with which he works are so dangerous, can expect agony as quick as a thunderclap.

I was about to be attacked by a Doberman pinscher. He was a leading character in an earlier version of this book.

Topic:

Writing

text checked (see note) June 2011

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