Vonnegut, Kurt: Breakfast of Champions
(researched by Jbeau Lewis)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
The first edition was published by Delacorte Press, U.S.A., 1973.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first edition was printed in orange cloth.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
162 lea
ves. Pp. 18 unnumbered + 302 as follows: Blank, pp. [1]-[2]; Half title, p. [3]; Blank, p. [4]; List of other titles by author, p. [5]; Blank, p. [6]; Title spread as noted in section 12, pp. [7]-[11]; Blank, p. [12]; Dedication, p. [13]; Blank, p. [14]; Epigraph, p. [15]; Blank, p. [16]; Fly title, p. [17]; Blank, p. [18]; Text, pp. 1-295, [296]; Statement about the author, p. [297]; Blank, p. [298]; Printing information and drawing of button reading "support the arts," p. [299]; Blank, pp. [300]-[302].
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
There is a "Preface" by the author, pp. 1-6. There is no mention or indication of an editor.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The illustrations in the title spread (as noted in section 12) are original drawings by the author. Additional drawings by the author are dispersed throughout the text and closing pages, and are simple li
ne drawings that refer to the plot.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The book appears in excellent condition and seems to have incurred little damage since 1973. The book utilizes black endpapers. The pages are well laid-out, with a great deal of margin space
, and large type. Black arrows introduce separate blocks of text throughout the book. Drawings by the author separate blocks of text throughout the book. Bob Giusti designed the dust jacket, which is printed in yellow, orange, blue and black. Picture
of author on back of dust jacket by Jill Krementz. Leaves measure 21 x 13.8 cm.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper is cream colored, thick and remarkably sturdy.
11 Description of binding(s)
The book is bound in orange cloth over boards. All edges are trimmed.
A reproduction of the author's signature is stamped in gold on the top cover. The spine has the author's name and press stamped in blue and the title in gold. It reads as follows: (H) Vonnegut / [arrow] / Breakfast of Champions / (H) [Delacorte emblem] / (H) DELACORTE / (H) PRESS / .
12 Transcription of title page
[Five-page spread with drawings by author] p. [7] BREAKFAST / OF / CHAMPIONS / [title is printed as though it were the slogan on a T-shirt] p. [8] [
four-line copyright statement / First printing-1973 / [Library of Congress cataloging in publication data] / p. [9] OR / p. [10] By / KURT VONNEGUT, JR. / [arrow] / with drawings by the author / [ruled line extends across pp. 10 and 11. Breaking this line
is] p. [10] Delacorte Press [slash] Seymour Lawrence / p. [11] GOODBYE / BLUE MONDAY! / [words appear in loop above drawing of cow; cow breaks ruled line] / .
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
According to the WorldCat Database, a 360 leaf "photocopy of typescr
ipt with corrections" is located in the University of Arizona Library, as well as in the Lexington Public Library in Lexington, Nebraska.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The only discrepancy revealed in research is that Kurt Vonnegut: A Comprehensive Bibliography, by Asa B. Pie
ratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-klinkowitz and Jerome Klinkowitz, lists a first edition publication date of 1974, while the actual book clearly reads 1973.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Uncorrected proof copy, 1973 BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS / by / Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. / DELACORTE PRESS [slash] SEYMOUR LAWRENCE / . Collation. Pp. 236 as follows: Fly title, p. [1]; list of other titles by author, p. [2]; title page as above, p. [3]; copyright information, p. [4]; dedication, p. [5]; blank, p. [6]; epigraph, p. [7]; blank, p. [8]; preface, pp. 9-21; text, pp.
22-234; blank, pp. [235]-[236]. Binding and description. 27.3 x 13.6 cms. Perfect bound. Green and black wrapper. Review slip, laid in, gives publication date of May 1973. Stamped in back is name of printer, Crane Duplicating Service.
Saturday Review Book club edition, 1973. Completely identical to first edition. During the first printing an extra number of copies were run for distribution through the Book Club. BREAKFAST / OF / CHAMPIONS / [title is a hand lettered slogan on the front of a t-shirt]. Collation. Pp. 14 unnumbered + 306, as follows: half title, p. [1]; blank, p. [2]; title page as above, p. [3]; verso as follows: Copyright © 1973 by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. / [five line rights reserved statement] / Manufactured in the United States of
America / , p. [4]; OR / , p. [5]; By / KURT VONNEGUT, JR. / with drawings by the author / Delacorte Press / Seymour Lawrence / , p. [6]; GOODBYE / BLUE / MONDAY / , p. [7]; blank, p. [8]; dedication, p. [9]; blank, p. [10]; epigraph, p. [11]; blank, p.
[12]; fly title, p. [13]; blank, p. [14]; text, pp 1-303; sketch of man's hand, p. [304]; nine line about-the-author statement, p. [305]; blank, p. [306]. Binding and description. 21 x 13.6 cms. Light brown cloth over boards. Spine printed in yellow reads T-B as follows: (H) Vonnegut / (H) [arrow] / Breakfast of Champions / (H) Delacorte emblem / (H) DELACORTE / (H) PRESS / . Author's name, arro
w and publisher printed in yellow. The title is gold. Dust jacket identical to first edition. End papers are black on outer side, white on inner. Issued at $5.50. Fore-edge untrimmed, top and bottom edges are trimmed.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
The
first edition was printed only once.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Delta (First Paperback) Edition, 1973. Second Edition, Literary Guild Book Club Edition, 1973. Canadian Reedition of Dell Edition, 1973. Formosan Piracy Edition, 1973. International Collectors Library Edition, 1973. British Cape Edition, 1973. Dell Publishing Delta Edition, 1974. Delta Reedition, 1974. Panther Books Edition, 1974. British Grafton Books Edition, 1974. British Panther Books Edition, 1975. Panther (Special Overseas Edition), 1975. Dell Reedition of First Edition, 1975. British Panther Books St. Albans Edition, 1975. Dell Edition, 1977. Octopus/Heinemann Edition (Collection of Works), 1980. Dell Publishing "Delta/Seymour Lawrence Book" Edition, 1986. Paladin Edition, 1990. Dell Publishing "Laurel Book" Edition, 1991. Bantam Books (Mass Market Paperback) Edition, 1991. Vintage Edition, 1992. British Vintage Edition, 1992. Buccaneer Books Edition, 1994. Delta (Doubleday) Edition, 1999.
6 Last date in print?
The book is still in print as of 1999. A Delta Books (Doubleday) Edition is due May 11, 1999.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Information on number of copies sold not available. Some information available on size of print runs: First Edition, 1994 - 100,000 copies. Delta Reedition, 1974 - 200,000 copes. Dell Reedition of First Edition, 1975 - 968,698 copies. Canadian Reedition of Dell Edition, 1973 - 8,500 copies. (information from Pieratt, Huffman-klinkowitz and Klinkowitz: Kurt Vonnegut: A Comprehensive Bibliography).
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
Information not available.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Information not available. Comprehensive searches through all specific publications in which reviews and cri
tiques were published returned no advertising copy. See Assignment Four for a list of searched publications.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
Information not available. Comprehensive searches through all specific publications in which reviews and critiques were published returned
no evidence of other promotions. See Assignment Four for a list of searched publications.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Audio recording. Breakfast of Champions. Voice Over Books, 1973. Audio recording. The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., sound book. Caedmon, 1973. Audio recording. Breakfast of Champions. Andrew Duncan, 1973. Audio recording. Breakfast of Champions. Warren G. French, 1975. Audio recording. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., reads Breakfast of Champions. Abridged. Caedmon, 1979. Audio recording. Breakfast of Champions. Cassette Duplication Service, 1979. Drama. Breakfast of Champions: A Comedy. Adapted by Robert Egan. Samuel French, 1984. Screenplay and motion picture (forthcoming). Breakfast of Champions. Adapted and Directed by Alan Rudolph. Starring Bruce Willis.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Swedish Translation MorgonmÍal fËor mËastare : eller FarvËal blÍa mÍandag Stockholm : Norstedt & SËoners, 1973
French Translation Le breakfast du champion : roman Paris : Seuil, 1974
German Translation FrËuhstËuck fËur starke MËanner, oder, Goodbye blauer Montag! : Roman Berlin : Verlag Volk und Welt, 1978 1974
Unknown Translation Zavtrak dlÎiÏa chempionov : roman 1975
Unknown Translation TÈsempionide eine Tallinn : Kirjastus "Eesti Raamat", 1978
Russian Translation BoÊinÎiÏa nomer pÎiÏatß, ili KrestovyÊi pokhod deteÊi ; Kolybelß dlÎiÏa koshki ; Zavtrak dlÎiÏa chempionov, ili ProshchaÊi chernyÊi ponedelßnik, s risunkami avtora ; DaÊi vam bog zdorovßÎiÏa, mister Rozuoter, ili Ne mechite bisera pered svinßÎiÏami
Moskva : Khudozh. lit-ra, 1978
Unknown Translation Skerdykla nr. 5, arba, VaikÒu kryÈziaus Èzygis ; ÈCempionÒu pusryÈciai, arba, Sudie, juodasis pirmadieni! : romanai Vilnius : Vaga, 1981
Hebrew Translation AruÚhat boÚker shel alufim Tel-Aviv : Zemorah, 1983
Japanese Translation Chanpiontachi no chÂoshoku Tokyo : Hayakawa ShobÂo, 1984
Spanish Translation Desayuno de campeones Ciudad de La Habana : Arte y Literatura, 1988
Japanese Translation Chanpiontachi no chÂoshoku Tokyo : Hayakawa ShobÂo, 1989
Polish Translation ?Sniadanie mistrz?ow Warszawa : Wydawn. Da Capo, 1994
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Selected sections from the early chapters were printed in Ramparts v. 11 no. 8 (Feb. 1973), pp. 43-48, 57-62.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was born on November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of architect Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., and Edith Lieber Vonnegut, both of German descent. Already members of the household were olde
r siblings Bernard, nine years Kurt's senior, and Alice. From ages 14 to 18, Vonnegut attended Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, where he wrote for the Shortridge Daily Echo. After graduating from high school in 1940, Vonnegut spent two ye
ars at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he majored in chemistry and held various editorial positions on the school newspaper, the Cornell Sun. In 1942, Vonnegut left Cornell and enlisted in the U.S. Army, which in turn sent him to Car
negie Tech (now Carnegie-Mellon University) to study engineering in 1943. Following the death of his mother on May 14, 1944, infantryman Vonnegut was interned as a prisoner of war after his capture by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge in December 19
44. On February 13, 1945, Vonnegut experienced the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany, and in April of the same year he was released as a prisoner and awarded the Purple Heart. On September 1, 1945, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he even
tually had three children - Mark, Edith and Nanette. From 1945 to 1947, Vonnegut attended the University of Chicago in an M.A. program with a major in anthropology, while at the same time he worked as a police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau.
His thesis, Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tales, was rejected unanimously by the anthropology department in 1947. Said Vonnegut in a 1979 Paris Review interview: "I left Chicago without writing a dissertation, and without a d
egree. All my ideas for dissertations had been rejected, and I was broke, so I took a job as a P.R. man for General Electric in Schenectady" (qtd. from The Kurt Vonnegut Web, http://www.duke.edu/~crh4/kv/). Oddly enough, twenty years later (1971), Vonne
gut would receive a letter from the new dean at Chicago alerting Vonnegut that the anthropology department had deemed Cat's Cradle worthy of being substituted for his dissertation, and he received his degree. Vonnegut worked at General Electric u
ntil 1950, at which time he left the company to write full time, having published his first national story, Report on the Barnhouse Effect, in Collier's on February 11, 1950.
In 1952, at the age of 29, Kurt Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, with Charles Scribner's Sons in New York. With this publication began Vonnegut's timeless career as a freelance writer, one which to the present day includes 14 n
ovels and numerous plays, essays, works of short fiction, and more. In 1953, Player Piano became Vonnegut's first work to be published outside the United States and his first book club publication, and in 1954 it became his first paperback reprin
t. On October 1, 1957, Vonnegut's father passed away. In 1965, after publication of The Sirens of Titan (1959), Canary in a Cathouse (1961), Mother Night (1961), Cat's Cradle (1963) and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (
1965), Vonnegut began writing reviews and professional journalism for several publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Life. That same year, Vonnegut took a job at the Hopfield School i
n Sandwich, Massachusetts, as a teacher; also, he began a two year residency as a lecturer at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. Following the residency, in 1967 Vonnegut accepted a Guggenheim Fellowhsip to return to Dresden, Germany. In 1968, Von
negut received a new three-book contract with Seymour Lawrence, and published Welcome to the Monkey House. After the 1969 publication of Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut in 1970 taught creative writing at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massa
chusetts. In 1970 and 1971, Happy Birthday, Wanda June was produced as a play and as a film and published in book form. In 1973, the same year as Breakfast of Champions was published, Vonnegut was appointed by the City University of New Yo
rk as Distinguished Professor of English Prose, replacing Anthony Burgess. In 1976, following the publication of Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More, the author dropped the "Jr." from his name to become Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut divorced Jane Marie Cox
in 1979 and was remarried to photographer Jill Krementz in November of the same year and the two adopted their daughter, Lili. Since the 1979 publication of Jailbird, Vonngeut has continued to write, producing five additional novels.
Among other things, Kurt Vonnegut has aided the National Coalition Against Censorship in the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography hearings (1986), and has appeared in advertisements for the Discover card (1996). Vonnegut is a member of t
he Author's League of America, the National Institute of the Arts and Letters, Delta Upsilon fraternity, the Barnstable Yacht Club and the Barnstable Comedy Club. Vonnegut currently resides in New York City, and can be reached there by mail through his
agent and attorney, Donald C. Farber at Hartman & Craven LLP, 460 Park Avenue, New York, New York, 10022.
Kurt Vonnegut's Complete Writings:
NOVELS: Player Piano, 1952. The Sirens of Titan, 1959. Mother Night, 1961. Cat's Cradle, 1963. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls before Swine, 1965. Slaughterhouse Five, 1969. Breakfast of Champions; or
, Goodbye Blue Monday
, 1973. Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More, 1976. Jailbird, 1979. Deadeye Dick, 1982. Galápagos: A Novel, 1985. Bluebeard, 1987. Hocus Pocus, 1990. Timequake, 1997.
COLLECTED SHORT FICTION: Canary in a Cathouse, 1961. Welcome to the Monkey House: A Collection of Short Works, 1968.
PLAYS, WORKS FOR TELEVISION, ADAPTATIONS BY VONNEGUT: Penelope, 1960. Later revised as Happy Birthday, Wanda June, 1970. Between Time and Timbuktu; or, Prometheus Five: A Space Fantasy. National Educational Television Network. 1972.
Make Up Your Mind, c. 1988. Miss Temptation, Edited by David Coperman, 1993. L'Histoire du Soldat, 1993, 1997. Adaptation.
COLLECTED ESSAYS AND SUCH: Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons: (Opinions) , 1974. Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage, 1981. Nothing Is Lost Save Honor: Two Essays, 1984. Fates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of t
he 1980s
, 1991.
SELECTED UNCOLLECTED ESSAYS, SOUNDINGS, ETC.: Sun, Moon, Star. 1980. A work for children, illustrated by Ivan Chermayeff. "Books into Ashes." The New York Times section 4.19, February 7, 1982. "Avoiding the Big Bang." The New York Times section 4.23, June 13, 1982. Bob and Ray: A Retrospective, June 15-July 10, 1982. 1982. Contributor. Discrimination, Affirmative Action, and Equal Opportunity: An Economic and Social Perspective. 1982. Contributor. "A Dream of the Future (Not Excluding Lobsters)." Esquire 104: 74, 1985. "He Leadeth Us from Porn: God Bless You, Edwin Meese." Nation 242.3: 65. 1986. "Requiem: The Hocus Pocus Laundromat." North American Review 271: 29-35, 1986. "Can Great Books Make Good Movies? 7 Writers Just Say No!" American Film 12:36-40, 1987. Contributor. "My Fellow Americans: What I'd Say if They Asked Me." Nation 247: 53, 1988. "The Courage of Ivan Martin Jirous." The Washington Post A25, March 31, 1989. "Slaughter in Mozambique." The New York Times A31, November 14, 1989. "Notes from My Bed of Gloom; or, Why the Joking Had to Stop." The New York Times section 7.14, April 22, 1990. "Heinlein Gets the Last Word." The New York Times section 7.13, December 9, 1990. Book revew. "One Hell of a Country." The Guardian (London) 21, February 27, 1992. Reprinted in The Ottawa Citizen A11, August 31, 1992. "America: Right and Wrong." The Gazette (Montreal) B3, September 12, 1992. "Why My Dog Is Not a Humanist." Humanist 52.6:5-6, 1992. "Why We Need Libraries." Reprinted in The Utne Reader 52.6:139, 1994. The Vonnegut Encyclopedia: An Authorized Compendium. 1996. Author of the foreward. "Bernard Vonnegut: The Rainmaker." The New York Times section 6.17. January 4, 1998. "Old Fashioned Gadgets." Forbes 266, November 30, 1998.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
"I've often thought," Kurt Vonnegut once declared, "there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they're on, why they don't fall off it, how much time they've probably go
t here" (quoted from Charles Berryman, Critique, Winter 1985). Breakfast of Champions is, quite agreeably, a simple book; it is a book full of line drawings, a book that speaks down to its audience. Written at his own fiftieth birthday, Von
negut's book proves childish to the majority of readers. And, it is precisely this trait of childishness that has - in the 26 years since its publication -gained the book such mixed reviews. Fans see this childishness as merely a manifestation of Vonne
gut's brilliance and wit; to others, however, the author's style proves but irritating and unfunny. In the months following its May 1973 release, the strongest proponents of Breakfast of Champions dubbed it Vonnegut's "best so far," going so far as to call the author "a hero of modernist culture" (George Stade, Harper's, May 1973). Stad
e finds intriguing the absorption of the author into the plot as a character as it applies to his control over the characters, who "begin to affect him as much as he affects them" (Stade 89). The novel represents the "assertion of the human against the m
indless and mechanical chaos," Stade relates, arguing that the author's presence only augments this assertion. Nora Sayre of The New York Times Book Review praises Vonnegut's unique ability to make despair hilarious: "he is still our funniest pe
ssimist, a magician of misery and farce" (May 13, 1973, 4). Sayre sees Breakfast as one of Vonnegut's best, as he "has succeeded in his purpose of 'bringing chaos to order'" (Sayre 4). Amidst his simplistic, science fiction status quo plot whe
rein a man must try to prove that he is a human being although he suspects that he is just another robot in a world of machines, Vonnegut manages to achieve comic genius. Publisher's Weekly agrees: "it's the wild and great humor permeating even t
he darkest side of the moon that is Mr. Vonnegut's great gift" (May 14, 1973, 60). Other critics are not so quick to agree, finding fault not only in the literature itself, but Vonnegut's decision to write the book at all. Harlan Ellison finds "sloppily written" Breakfast of Champions to be a "very sad pile of pages" (Magazi
ne of Fantasy and Science Fiction
, January 1974). "Adolescent drawings" by Vonnegut seem to Ellison "merely an idle indulgence by a man who never really wanted to write this book?and it reeks of sophomoric philosophy" (Ellison 36). Ellison is of the
opinion that, in the frenzy surrounding his previous works' popularity, both publisher and public pressure resulted in a book that Vonnegut did not really wish to write. Michael Wood of The New York Review of Books has come to the same conclusio
n, calling the book "mainly a set of distress signals: writer in trouble" (May 31, 1973, 25). While Wood praises Vonnegut for his writing ability - "a writer digging himself out of a hole by writing" - he nonetheless finds great fault in the style. Wood
calls "some of the gags ? lamentable ? degenerated to a level beneath that of a lousy joke" (25). Opposed to Vonnegut's overly simplistic method of writing down to the audience in a mocking way and looking back from the future to the present, Wood sees
these characteristics as "in line with ? the book's general, irritating strategy" (25). Martin Burns of The Critic concurs, calling the style "sometimes annoying" (Sept-Oct 1973, 609). The reader "shares in the indifference" which Vonnegut show
s toward his characters, J.D. O'Hara of The New Republic summarizes (May 12, 1973, 26). Thus, the concept of aged writer and childish plot seems to appeal to some and annoy others. The New York Times Book Review thinks that "if Vonnegut were bottled and sold in liquor stores, champagne and slivovitz would both go out of business" (Dec
ember 2, 1973, 76). Yet, The New York Review of Books calls Breakfast of Champions "desperate ? unfunny" (Wood, 25). Maybe Peter Prescott of Newsweek synthesized it all perfectly when he theorized that "the comfortable banalities ad
vanced by [Vonnegut] in place of ideas are totally incompatible, but that doesn't bother the groupies. Anything will do for them" (May 14, 1973, 114).
America, November 17, 1973, p. 382 Best Sellers 33 (July 15, 1973), p. 193 Booklist, April 15, 1973, p.792 Books and Bookmen 19 (November 1973), p. 104 Book World, May 13, 1973, p. 2 Book World, June 2, 1974, p. 4 Chicago Sun-Times Book World, May 13, 1973, p. 1 Choice, November 1973, p. 1391 Christian Century, May 14, 1975, p. 502 Commonweal, December 7, 1973, p. 272 Connecticut Magazine, July/August 1973, p. 10 Critic 32 (September 1973), p. 74-76 Economist 248 (July 28, 1973), p. 106-107 Harper's, May 1973, p. 86-90, 94-95 Hudson Review, 26 (Fall 1973), p. 545-547 Kirkus, March 1, 1973, p. 274 Library Journal, February 1, 1973, p. 445 Library Journal, April 15, 1973, p. 1311 Listener 90 (July 26, 1973), p. 125 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 46 (January 1974), p. 34-41 National Observer, May 26, 1973, p. 21 New Republic, May 12, 1973, p. 26-28 New Statesman, July 13, 1973, p. 56 Newsweek, May 14, 1973, p. 114, 118 New York Daily News/Leisure, April 29, 1973, p. 20 New Yorker, May 26, 1973, p. 146 New York Review of Books, May 31, 1973, p. 23-25 New York Times, May 2, 1973, p. 43 New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1973, p. 3-4 New York Times Book Review, December 2, 1973, p. 76 New York Times Book Review, May 12, 1974, p. 34 North American Review, Fall 1973, p. 69-73 Observer, July 15, 1973, p. 33 Observer, May 9, 1975, p. 27 Partisan Review, 41, no. 2 (Summer 1974), p. 302 Playboy, June 1973, p. 24 Psychology Today, September 1973, p. 22, 24 Publishers Weekly, March 19, 1973, p. 60 Spectator, July 21, 1973, p. 85 Times Literary Supplement, July 20, 1973, p. 825 Travel and Leisure, June/July 1973, p. 17 World 2 (June 19, 1973), p. 42
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
"I've often thought," Kurt Vonnegut once declared, "there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they're on, why they don't fall off it, how much time they've probably go
t here" (quoted from Charles Berryman, Critique, Winter 1985). Breakfast of Champions is, quite agreeably, a simple book; it is a book full of line drawings, a book that speaks down to its audience. Written at his own fiftieth birthday, Von
negut's book proves childish to the majority of readers. And, it is precisely this trait of childishness that has - in the 26 years since its publication -gained the book such mixed reviews. Fans see this childishness as merely a manifestation of Vonne
gut's brilliance and wit; to others, however, the author's style proves but irritating and unfunny. In the months following its May 1973 release, the strongest proponents of Breakfast of Champions dubbed it Vonnegut's "best so far," going so far as to call the author "a hero of modernist culture" (George Stade, Harper's, May 1973). Stad
e finds intriguing the absorption of the author into the plot as a character as it applies to his control over the characters, who "begin to affect him as much as he affects them" (Stade 89). The novel represents the "assertion of the human against the m
indless and mechanical chaos," Stade relates, arguing that the author's presence only augments this assertion. Nora Sayre of The New York Times Book Review praises Vonnegut's unique ability to make despair hilarious: "he is still our funniest pe
ssimist, a magician of misery and farce" (May 13, 1973, 4). Sayre sees Breakfast as one of Vonnegut's best, as he "has succeeded in his purpose of 'bringing chaos to order'" (Sayre 4). Amidst his simplistic, science fiction status quo plot whe
rein a man must try to prove that he is a human being although he suspects that he is just another robot in a world of machines, Vonnegut manages to achieve comic genius. Publisher's Weekly agrees: "it's the wild and great humor permeating even t
he darkest side of the moon that is Mr. Vonnegut's great gift" (May 14, 1973, 60). Other critics are not so quick to agree, finding fault not only in the literature itself, but Vonnegut's decision to write the book at all. Harlan Ellison finds "sloppily written" Breakfast of Champions to be a "very sad pile of pages" (Magazi
ne of Fantasy and Science Fiction
, January 1974). "Adolescent drawings" by Vonnegut seem to Ellison "merely an idle indulgence by a man who never really wanted to write this book?and it reeks of sophomoric philosophy" (Ellison 36). Ellison is of the
opinion that, in the frenzy surrounding his previous works' popularity, both publisher and public pressure resulted in a book that Vonnegut did not really wish to write. Michael Wood of The New York Review of Books has come to the same conclusio
n, calling the book "mainly a set of distress signals: writer in trouble" (May 31, 1973, 25). While Wood praises Vonnegut for his writing ability - "a writer digging himself out of a hole by writing" - he nonetheless finds great fault in the style. Wood
calls "some of the gags ? lamentable ? degenerated to a level beneath that of a lousy joke" (25). Opposed to Vonnegut's overly simplistic method of writing down to the audience in a mocking way and looking back from the future to the present, Wood sees
these characteristics as "in line with ? the book's general, irritating strategy" (25). Martin Burns of The Critic concurs, calling the style "sometimes annoying" (Sept-Oct 1973, 609). The reader "shares in the indifference" which Vonnegut show
s toward his characters, J.D. O'Hara of The New Republic summarizes (May 12, 1973, 26). Thus, the concept of aged writer and childish plot seems to appeal to some and annoy others. The New York Times Book Review thinks that "if Vonnegut were bottled and sold in liquor stores, champagne and slivovitz would both go out of business" (Dec
ember 2, 1973, 76). Yet, The New York Review of Books calls Breakfast of Champions "desperate ? unfunny" (Wood, 25). Maybe Peter Prescott of Newsweek synthesized it all perfectly when he theorized that "the comfortable banalities ad
vanced by [Vonnegut] in place of ideas are totally incompatible, but that doesn't bother the groupies. Anything will do for them" (May 14, 1973, 114).
America, November 17, 1973, p. 382 Best Sellers 33 (July 15, 1973), p. 193 Booklist, April 15, 1973, p.792 Books and Bookmen 19 (November 1973), p. 104 Book World, May 13, 1973, p. 2 Book World, June 2, 1974, p. 4 Chicago Sun-Times Book World, May 13, 1973, p. 1 Choice, November 1973, p. 1391 Christian Century, May 14, 1975, p. 502 Commonweal, December 7, 1973, p. 272 Connecticut Magazine, July/August 1973, p. 10 Critic 32 (September 1973), p. 74-76 Economist 248 (July 28, 1973), p. 106-107 Harper's, May 1973, p. 86-90, 94-95 Hudson Review, 26 (Fall 1973), p. 545-547 Kirkus, March 1, 1973, p. 274 Library Journal, February 1, 1973, p. 445 Library Journal, April 15, 1973, p. 1311 Listener 90 (July 26, 1973), p. 125 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 46 (January 1974), p. 34-41 National Observer, May 26, 1973, p. 21 New Republic, May 12, 1973, p. 26-28 New Statesman, July 13, 1973, p. 56 Newsweek, May 14, 1973, p. 114, 118 New York Daily News/Leisure, April 29, 1973, p. 20 New Yorker, May 26, 1973, p. 146 New York Review of Books, May 31, 1973, p. 23-25 New York Times, May 2, 1973, p. 43 New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1973, p. 3-4 New York Times Book Review, December 2, 1973, p. 76 New York Times Book Review, May 12, 1974, p. 34 North American Review, Fall 1973, p. 69-73 Observer, July 15, 1973, p. 33 Observer, May 9, 1975, p. 27 Partisan Review, 41, no. 2 (Summer 1974), p. 302 Playboy, June 1973, p. 24 Psychology Today, September 1973, p. 22, 24 Publishers Weekly, March 19, 1973, p. 60 Spectator, July 21, 1973, p. 85 Times Literary Supplement, July 20, 1973, p. 825 Travel and Leisure, June/July 1973, p. 17 World 2 (June 19, 1973), p. 42
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
In writing Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut rejected the template of the typical novel. He rejected his role as author, and deemed himself the Creator. He rejected the concept of complex profundity,
and replaced it with simplistic two-dimensionality. He rejected the progression of active plot, and embraced the potential of active thought. In this his seventh novel, Vonnegut admits that he is "trying to clear [his] head of all the junk in there -- t
he assholes, the flags, the underpants" (Vonnegut, 5). Yes, Breakfast subsists as a tale of digressions. What plot actually exists does not manifest itself until the waning pages of the novel. Above all, omniscient Vonnegut directs his character
s, through their thoughts, to reveal his own innermost ideals. Whether addressing his personal opinions concerning the history of the washing machine or the history of Nazi Germany, Vonnegut utilizes these pages as a contemporary soapbox. And herein lie
s the conflict which many a critic has failed to resolve: why has Kurt Vonnegut chosen to write a fictional account which merely synthesizes years of thought without testing new waters of literature? The issue is one of intent. Breakfast opponents
must understand that the author did not write with intentions of developing a progressive, complex plot. As Vonnegut explains in the Preface, "this book is my fiftieth birthday present to myself. I feel as though I am crossing the spine of a roof -- ha
ving ascended one slope" (Vonnegut, 4). Indeed, his approach seems horizontal. On the heels of several wildly popular novels and at the peak of his career, Vonnegut presents Breakfast of Champions as an autobiographical means of therapeutic self-
cleansing -- nothing more, and nothing less.
The stylistic methods utilized by Vonnegut in this novel prove abnormal, deviating not only from that of the common novel, but from that of Vonnegut himself. The author alerts the reader to the story's climax and conclusion in the first paragraph of th
e novel, though this climax is not actively pursued until the final pages: "this is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast" (Vonnegut, 7). As the chapters progress, Vonnegut -- by way of his cha
racters --gradually divulges details of the climax, to the point where the reader knows exactly what shall happen by the time the action actually occurs. This blatant foreshadowing serves as but one example of the absolute lack of subtlety employed by Vo
nnegut. For, as he determines the futures of his creations/characters and ponders both related and wholly unrelated philosophical and social issues, Vonnegut allows his stream of consciousness to flow directly to the ink. The reader certainly does not e
xpect these oscillations from omniscient third person explanations of characters' thoughts to first person honesty, and back again. Furthermore, Vonnegut's creation of Kilgore Trout in his own image, and Vonnegut's eventual appearance in the storyline
as himself are anything but normal. Breakfast of Champions is more the revelation of Kurt Vonnegut than the revelation of protagonists Kilgore Trout and Dwayne Hoover.
The author's seemingly out-of-character forthrightness and simplicity are most apparent in the context of Vonnegut's sociopolitical opinions. In fact, it is in that context that the novel connects most directly to its time period and to contemporary i
ssues. Yet, while Vonnegut hastily moves from issue to issue, he does not express the desire to conflict or to teach; he merely desires to reflect upon American hypocrisy. Within the first chapter, his reflection manages to center upon the national anth
em (8), the idea that Columbus discovered America (10), the nobility of the founding fathers (11) and the cause of our conflicts in Vietnam (12). The honesty and objectiveness of Vonnegut's descriptions differ from the bleakly comic nature we expect fro
m the man. He seems humorless and obvious to the point where his methods appear manic. Does commentary on Americans' obsession with national norms really require Vonnegut to rattle off the penis size of each newly-introduced character? Quite possibly,
assuming that the reader comprehends the novel in the context of its prefaced horizontality. If the reader assumes that Vonnegut merely tests his suspicions and says what comes to mind, rather than assuming that his commentary clamors for change, the la
ck of plot direction may be excused. Vonnegut talks down to his audience, oversimplifies issues in a childlike manner and draws pictures of asterisks to represent rectums; yet, all is done in an attempt to clear his head. The reader holds a front-row ti
cket to Vonnegut's internal debate, however contrived and crude it may seem. If one is to accept this autobiographical debate as literature, these philosophies and ideals must be themselves accepted in a dramatic context. After all, these philosophies
prove responsible for directing the story itself.
Indeed, Vonnegut's personal interaction with his own characters, specifically through the assignment of ideals, proves most critical to the success of this story. The protagonists mirror the stick figures that line the leaves of the novel. Each has be
en programmed to think and act in a specific manner, thus everything that their Creator pulses through their bodies appears contrived. In truth, however, the protagonists do nothing for themselves. They exist as puppets, subject to Vonnegut's will. Th
e two central protagonists, Kilgore Trout and Dwayne Hoover, embody different aspects of Vonnegut's personality. As Robert Merrill explains, "Dwayne Hoover represents his Midwestern, middle class background, while Kilgore Trout is a comic embodiment of
his artistic career" (Merrill, 156). Ironically, Vonnegut originally thinks himself a puppet, as well: "I write what I am seemingly programmed to write" (Vonnegut, 4).
Trout's resemblance to Vonnegut operates on a number of different levels. Most blatantly, both men have with age developed into extreme pessimists, as Trout explains: "humanity deserved to die horribly, since it had behaved so cruelly and wastefully on
a planet so sweet" (Vonnegut, 18). Vonnegut brings Trout to Midland City to meet Hoover, but also to confront the Festival audience with the ugly truths of life in which this pessimism roots itself. Trout's anonymity, even in the largest of cities, mu
st draw parallels to Vonnegut's early career in which he struggled to obtain both publication and a significant audience. Most importantly, however, the reader must address the commonality of both Trout's and Vonnegut's obsession with ideas, and speci
fically ideals. Within Breakfast, Vonnegut addresses the ideals of communication (58), governmental failures (74), ecological disaster (58) and man's contempt for art (132). Trout appears, of course, in much the same light. He is a self-proclai
med, unappreciated genius, whose lack of popularity has driven him to a complete lack of faith in reform and in happiness. Trout has been resigned to express his despair to his pet parakeet. Yet, while both Vonnegut and Trout prove pessimistic in the co
ntext of reforming action, a faith in the power of ideas nonetheless unites them. From the shackles of pessimism, both men find a means of developing the conception that even if bad ideas can destroy, humane ideas may grant health. Trout's own epitaph,
the subject of one of Vonnegut's line drawings, expresses that faith: "we are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane" (Vonnegut, 16). Maybe there does exist a means of expressing conscience, if only the pessimism may be cured.
Dwayne Hoover's thematic position in the novel is to point out the fatal consequences of believing man to be nothing more than a robot. He is a man in search of a rebirth, as he hopes to meet artists at the Midland City Festival of the Arts in order to
"discover whether they had truths about life which he had never heard before" (Vonnegut, 200). Bordering on insanity and absolutely vulnerable, his dramatic function becomes to reveal those fatal consequences to Trout and Vonnegut. Trout's trip to Mid
land City rids him of the mechanistic view of mankind, rediscovering his hope for salvation in humanity. Dwayne Hoover's negative example thus rescues both Vonnegut and Trout from previous despondency. Hoover's rampage, along with a speech by painter
Rabo Karabekin, mark a dramatic reversal in Breakfast.
In the process of revealing his thoughts through his characters, Kurt Vonnegut finds himself affected by his creations. Although Trout's literature drives Hoover over the edge and into a raging fit, the real climax becomes that which Trout, and most imp
ortantly Vonnegut, experience within themselves. To this point, Vonnegut's dark suspicions about man's nature must parallel the bad ideas that Hoover learns from Trout's writing. Vonnegut had come to believe that "there was nothing sacred about [hims
elf] or about any human being, that we were all machines, doomed to collide and collide and collide" (Vonnegut, 224-225). Karabekin's speech saves the two men, as he suggests that men may "'adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos': by asserting o
ur uniquely human quality of awareness in the face of such chaos" (Merrill, 160). The process of writing this novel, of developing and speaking through these characters incites a change in Vonnegut, as he describes: "It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it
can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done" (Vonnegut, 215).
Quite possibly, this change played a crucial role in drawing book buyers to the bookstore in 1973, as Breakfast of Champions assumed its position in the echelon of bestsellers. With six novels under his belt by the time of publication, Vonnegut's
pattern of writing himself into the plot was something with which readers were familiar. In this case especially, Vonnegut's personal development through the chapters supercedes the development of the plot itself. Not only were readers eager to follow
the progress of the many common characters that find a home in multiple Vonnegut novels, they were eager to follow the progress of the author. Futhermore, many such fictional lives achieve finality in Breakfast, any it is certain that many a read
er wished to be present in those final pages. Thus, Kurt Vonnegut's desire to openly share his most personal revelations, combined with the public's desire to listen to those revelations, may go a long way toward explaining the book's popularity.
Understandably, however, critics and reviewers were much slower to accept Breakfast into the ranks of literary greatness. Many critics were reluctant to realize the value maintained within such a stylistically and thematically unique work. If re
viewers are prone to analyze only that which the author prints within the binding, that tendency was surely manifested in this situation. Among the harshest of critics was Harlan Ellison of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, who dubbed t
he novel "merely an idle indulgence by a man who never really wanted to write this book" (Ellison, 36). Obviously irked by Vonnegut's brainflush method of writing, Ellison believes that the book expresses "the pain of a writer inundated by long deserved
and too frequent uncritical success, forced by circumstance, publisher pressure, the blood-lust of the mob or his own insecurities to complete a book he had long-before clearly decided he did not wish to write" (Ellison, 36). That Kurt Vonnegut appears
self-critical at the beginning of Breakfast the reader cannot deny: "What do I myself think of this particular book? I feel lousy about it, but I always feel lousy about my books" (Vonnegut, 4). The author merely manifests that which has already
been described as a purely pessimistic attitude toward to the world. Ellison, and logically the several other critics who called the book "annoying," "irritating," or the manufacturer of "indifference," failed to read the entire novel (Burns 609, Wood 25
, O'Hara 26). For it is not until the waning scenes that the true climax, the spiritual climax of Vonnegut and his protagonists' plight, is realized. Neither Kurt Vonnegut's self-deprecating words nor a plot that focuses upon mental instead of physic
al development can degrade the quality of Vonnegut's literature.
Indeed, the reader must appreciate the significance of Vonnegut's internal plight from pessimism to hope, from close-mindedness to vulnerability to change, if the reader is to comprehend Vonnegut's intent. Many reviewers moved quickly to praise Vonneg
ut's humor -- the 'typical' Vonnegut critique inherent in Nora Sayre's New York Times Book Review article: "he is still our funniest pessimist, a magician of misery and farce" (Sayre, 4). However, in relative Vonnegut terms, Breakfast p
roves relatively humorless. Whether his thoughts be humorous, grotesque or pessimistic, Kurt Vonnegut seeks centrally to clear his mind of ideals and characters past. One might view Breakfast as a rebirth of sorts for Vonnegut, a chance to move o
n with his career without a great deal in his rear view mirror, to cross the spine of the metaphorical roof. And, at the age of fifty with six novels to his credit, one must believe that Kurt Vonnegut has every right to write whatever he chooses. After
all, the public maintains the power to purchase that which it pleases. The author's only job is to write. At the zenith of his career, Vonnegut chose to take the opportunity to synthesize his internal emotions and social opinions, and to finalize sever
al of his longstanding themes. Complex and subtle plot lines did not interest him in 1973, thus he wrote simply and forthrightly. In Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut developed a unique story through a unique style. Whether it be for his nam
esake, his common characters, his internal debates, his sociopolitical commentary, or his line drawings of underwear, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a bestseller that continues to sell a quarter of a century later. In the end, the novel proves therapeutic. It has
made him free, it has made him better, and Vonnegut believes that, by resisting the seductions of the mechanistic life, all men may become better: "I am better now. Word of honor: I am better now" (Vonnegut, 199). More power to him.
WORKS CITED: Martin Burns, The Critic 32 (1973), 74-76 (reprinted in Contemporary Literary Criticism, 609-610). Harlan Ellison, "Books," The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 46 (1974), 34-41. Robert Merrill, "Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions: The Conversion of Heliogabalus," Critique 18 (1977), 99-109 (reprinted in Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut, by Robert Merrill, Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1990). J.D. O'Hara, "Instantly Digestable," The New Republic, May 12, 1973, 26-28. Nora Sayre, "Breakfast of Champions," The New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1973, 3-4. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Breakfast of Champions (New York: Delacorte Press, 1973). Michael Wood, "Dancing in the Dark," The New York Review of Books, May 31, 1973, 23-25.
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