The Theme of Dehumanization in Breakfast of Champions
"Dear Sir, poor sir, brave sir: You are an experiment by the Creator of the Universe." (Vonnegut 259) Imagine if this was addressed to you. What an awful feeling of betrayal and loneliness you would no doubt get. But what if next you heard this? "You are the only creature in the entire Universe who has free will. You are the only one who has to figure out what to do next-and why. Everybody else is a robot, a machine." (Vonnegut 259) Surely you would feel like your entire existence was a big joke, one at your expense. You would feel desensitized, remote, and detached from all human feeling. You would be a poor victim, someone taken hold of by the cold grasp of dehumanization. The American Heritage Dictionary defines dehumanize as "To deprive of human qualities or attributes" or "To render mechanical and routine". This certainly does a grand job at describing the callous, inhuman, and cold feeling you get when reading the novel Breakfast of Champions. In his book Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. uses bold motifs, complex characterization, a plot of mundanity and shallowness, elementary diction, and satirical style to emphasize his main theme of dehumanization.
In 1922, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana to Edith Vonnegut and Kurt Vonnegut Sr. At the age of 18 he graduated from Shortridge High School and pursued a degree in chemistry at Cornell University. (Bonner, par. 1) However, he left college in 1943 to serve his country in World War II. Upon return, Vonnegut continued his studies at the University of Chicago in the field of anthropology. (Encarta, par. 4) In 1950 He left his job and started writing full-time. Vonnegut's other works include Player Piano, Cat's Cradle, and Slaughterhouse-Five.
Vonnegut's seventh novel Breakfast of Champions is "a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." (Vonnegut 7) The main event in the story is an arts festival in Midland City. This is where Kilgore Trout and Dwayne Hoover are destined to meet. The story is set in New York around 1973. It follows Trout's journey from Cohoes to Midland City, and Hoover's dysfunctional daily routine while Trout is doing so. Trout makes his way by getting a ride with a truck driver and during the ride, as well as the whole trip, his mind wanders to fanciful stories of science fiction. Destiny, as it were, brings Trout and Hoover together near the end of the book. This is where Trout turns Hoover into a homicidal maniac.
There are a few motifs that Vonnegut uses to drive in the theme of dehumanization in his book. Sex is one of the most apparent motifs used. It is also one of the most sacred things we have as humans. We use it for recreation1 and we also use it to recreate. Vonnegut uses our sexual urges to tear us apart and make us seem mechanical and routine. He reduces us to nothing less than a "fucking machine". (Vonnegut 280)...