Vonnegut the muckraker: 5 ways Breakfast of Champions will make you question yourself

If you want to know what’s really going on in the world, listen to the writers. Not all of them, mind you, but pay close attention to the ones who dare to call bullshit on everyone– including themselves.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

Kurt Vonnegut’s book Breakfast of Champions did just that.

And I liked it.

Vonnegut parades his exposé of human failure. He arouses forbidden questions. He is a provocateur.

Consider these 5 snippets from the text. Can you see yourself in them?

 1. Money as a priority

“’There were two monsters sharing this planet with us when I was a boy,…The monsters I will name never snoozed. They inhabited our

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

heads. They were arbitrary lusts for gold, and, God help us, for a glimpse of little girl’s underpants.” 

 Money seemingly dictates quality of life. However, wealth has only achieved such a stigma because of its social importance. According to society, affluence dictates happiness.

What a cold and lonely existence, to live for the purpose of profit.

Invest your life in love.

Money cannot comfort. It cannot soothe or calm.

Money buys you things.

Things mean nothing when the ones you love are gone.

 2. Seeking the pleasure machine

“Trout took his leave of the machine reluctantly. He said this about it to the manager: ‘It fills such a need, this machine, and it’s so easy to operate.’” 

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

Humanity grapples with the need to feel gratified. People strive to find easier, more convenient ways of doing things. If there’s a shortcut, people will take advantage of it.

Devices instantaneously immerse users in a separate, digital world gleaning gratifying results in moments. There is little effort needed for a large reward.

Find happiness in places that are difficult to get to, whether they challenge you geographically or personally. Dare yourself to find pleasure in the unexpected.

3. Futility and feeling useless

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

“‘In the long run, he’s committing suicide,’ said the driver. ‘Seems like the only kind of job an American can get these days is committing suicide in some way.’”

Human beings die fastest without hope. Wake up each morning with purpose. End each day by naming something that made you smile. Tell it to yourself, out loud. Write it down. Don’t skip a day.

Prove to yourself that you are important. Your actions are only meaningless if you allow them to be.

 4. Selfishness/Egocentricity

“Trout asked him what it had felt like to work for an industry whose business was to destroy the countryside, and the old man said he was usually too tired to care. ‘Don’t matter if you care,the old miner said, ‘if you don’t own what you care about.’” 

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

People are selfish creatures.  They care most about what directly affects them.

Consider your priorities. What makes one thing more important than another?

Take responsibility for how your choices affect others. Think before you choose the easiest option, as it may be destructive to something or someone you haven’t considered.

Do your best to cause the least amount of harm.

 5. Laziness/Complacency

“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.” 

 The constant barrage of media messaging turns independent thinking into an arduous task.  Expressing an opinion opposite to the masses earns a scarlet “A.” People allow themselves to be lead by others, fearing consequences for their abnormality.

Being an outlier shouldn’t be punished.  Complacency turns thinkers into cattle.  Laziness saps the strength from outrage.

Question what you are told. Don’t assume.  


Breakfast of Champions leaves no party blameless.

There are few books that challenged me, and this one left me shaken.

It’s easy to read through a satire of humanity’s flaws, but the difficulty lies in ridding those flaws from yourself.




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