Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is on a mission to reconstruct American psyche.
He feels like an obligation to rebuild America from the very outset of its education, morality, history and psychological makeup.
Breakfast of Champions is an effort to straighten the age-old superstitions, wrong knowledge, and ignorance. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. has authenticated the experiences of his novel from autobiographical elements of his own life. He mentioned his own mother as an example who was subject to this ignorance. As he puts it, “My own mother wrecked her brain with chemicals, which were supposed to make her sleep.” Then, he starts to explain his own experience, “When I get depressed, I take a little pill, and I cheer up again.”
The writer has a different observation of human identity; he equates the human beings with machines. As he puts it: “I tend to think of human beings as huge, rubbery test tubes, too, with chemical reactions seething inside.”
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. emphasizes a need for complete overhaul of our attitude towards our culture and education. As a matter of fact, he feels that America doesn’t have a culture. And, a country cannot progress without a viable culture. Americans don’t have a culture because they always try to fit in. Imitating a foreign culture would not make you educated and rationally fit person. As he finds out, most of the immigrants try to imitate the white Americans and they miserably fail to do so. This is because of the culture shock and multi-ethnic community values. He explains: “The things other people have put into my head, at any rate, do not fit together nicely, are often useless and ugly, are out of proportion with one another, are out of proportion with life as it really is outside my head.”
He records the time period of the novel as “November eleventh, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.” The date is important because on this day all the hostilities of First World War ended. It would be called the Armistice Day in America which was later named as Veterans’ Day later on. He finds it offensive because it lies about the original history of American glory in the World War-1. As he states: “Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.”
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is called a “visual writer”. He would draw picture in every chapter of the book to explain the situation in an ironic manner. Most of the drawings are felt tipped which deride the way Americans choose to make a living. He learnt the technique as he started his career in an advertising farm. The technique involves exaggeration, hyperbolical expressions, and lies. The title of the novel suggests the irony of expression. He was trained to be impolite to earn his livings. As he explains: “She (the editor) taught us to be impolite in conversation, not only about sexual matters, but about American history and famous heroes, about the distribution of wealth, about school, about everything.”
We can only imagine how deceit and lies were institutionalized from this instance. He wants to get out of this vicious cycle of illusion of so called reality. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. does not want to continue his life in this manner. He wants a relief, a freedom from wrong lessons, and a gateway to the future which would make a better America.
There are numerous occasions where Kurt Vonnegut Jr. would disagree on American lifestyles and norms. The first thing he criticizes is race relations. He finds weird how the minorities are ignored in the mainstream American culture. Human rights preserve a society in its best possible harmony which is absent in America. As he observes: “a lot of citizens were so ignored and cheated and insulted that they thought they might be in the wrong country, or even on the wrong planet, that some terrible mistake has been made.” Everything the writer aspires is fairness, brotherhood, and happiness in society. He prefers a wholehearted effort from all the community members to make it successful.
He argues about our concept of skin colour being the determinant of our identity which in a way destroys the real spirit of human lives. Skin colour plays a dominant role in making our status; the rulers and the ruled. In most cases, the rulers are white and the slaves are black. As he explains: “color was everything”
Greed and wantonness prevailed everywhere for it was a privilege for Americans; grab whatever you want, as much as you want. Americans make a lot of stupid people famous because they can provide bad ideas to the crazy and rich business entrepreneurs. The writer tells us about the background of the major characters: “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.
One of them was a science-fiction writer named Kilgore Trout. He was a nobody at the time, and he supposed his life was over. He was mistaken. As a consequence of the meeting, he became one of the most beloved and respected human beings in history.”
According to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. bad people need bad ideas. Bad ideas would obviously work on insane people. Dwayne Hoover, being insane always needed bad inspiration from Kilgore Trout to compliment his evil intentions. According to Kilgore Trout: “Everybody on Earth was a robot, with one exception-Dwayne Hoover.” Trout made an impression on Dwayne Hoover’s mind that only he has the prerogative to think, feel, worry, and plan. He believes that everybody else is simply automatic machine. “Only Dwayne Hoover had free will.”
The first chapter of the novel tries to censure behavioural pattern of business entrepreneurs who has serious problem of understanding literary ideas. Lack of critical mind made them insane and fanatics. Kilgore Trout reached a serious conclusion: “Ideas or lack of them can cause disease!”
The writer is Associate Professor, Department of English, Asian University of Bangladesh.