Literary Tattoos: Kurt Vonnegut Illustrations Breakfast of Champions

Andy submitted this birdcage tattoo:

I got this pen-and-ink drawing by Kurt Vonnegut on my arm on January 3rd. The empty birdcage never appeared in any of his novels, but refers to a specific scene in Breakfast of Champions. The scene consists of the book’s main character, Kilgore Trout, trying to set free a pet bird he’s kept for years. When the bird refuses to leave the cage, Trout says something to the effect of “Good choice, Bill. Now you’ve still got something to wish for.”

The image first appeared as a silkscreen later in Vonnegut’s life, when he took up pen-and-ink drawing as a hobby. These were silkscreened in limited numbers and sold on Vonnegut’s website. It became the front page of his official website on the day he died.

I began reading Kurt Vonnegut when I was thirteen and found my way of thinking both reflected and transformed in his writing. He almost single handedly guided me through high school, and his death when I was sixteen felt like losing a grandparent. I chose the birdcage as a memorial because its stark, proud simplicity reminds me of everything I love about both his literary style and his philosophy. When set against the backdrop of his death, it conveys a sentiment not unlike the subtitle of his novel Slapstick: “Lonesome no more.”


  1. Ally says

    I love it. Question, though: do people ever ask you about the fire hydrant on your arm? It looks a bit like a fire hydrant, though that's no fault of yours–just Vonnegut's drawing skills.

    Please don't take that as a criticism of the tattoo…I do love it, and I think it's wonderful, and kudos on expressing your love for Vonnegut without a sphincter or "so it goes." I'm honestly just curious if you ever get that reaction.

  2. Andy says

    I have actually been told a few times that it looks like a fire hydrant, but only one person (a rather vindictive, permanently annoyed guy I worked with on a blue collar summer job) has ever insisted that it looked more like a fire hydrant than anything else. Everybody else who says anything to that effect is either joking or adding it in as an after thought.

    Sorry this response is so late, by the way. I had been checking the blog for weeks and had figured that my submission simply hadn't been accepted.

  3. Andy says

    I'm actually the second guy on here with a Kurt Vonnegut tattoo and a Streetlight shirt, haha. Somebody got Edgar Derby's tombstone on their arm in pretty much the same place I have my birdcage.

  4. bert9 says

    I have that exact tattoo on my the right side of my rib cage and it seems you had an equally gifted tattoo artist do yours. Ours as close to perfect as any can get.

    With that said, almost everyone that I've shown it to asks if it's a fire hydrant, but they ask in earnest. It doesn't seem like those comments bother you, but in case they ever do just remember 2 things.

    1) No matter what people think it looks like, you know, I know, and any Kurt Vonnegut fan knows that's EXACTLY what he drew. It even looks like HE tattooed you. And…

    2) The meaning you get from it far outweighs any stupid comments.

  5. MackDCamp says

    I have the same birdcage (modified slightly for spacing reasons and the addition of a daffodil emerging from the cage) and have never had people ask about a fire hydrant. I personally, had never even seen the resemblance. But I agree with Bert… The tattoo is for you and about you…. If people don't like it they can decide not to get it put on their body.

    My mother hates my Vonnegut tattoo saying it's stupid to 'destroy my body' with a tattoo based on books written by 'a crazy man' and every time I have to remind myself that tattoo's are in extrinsic expression of an intrinsic life motif. No explanation needed

  6. MackDCamp says

    Also, Andy, I just reread your narrative about the tattoo and was blown away when you mentioned Slapstick. I got the daffodil added to my birdcage based on Slapstick. Nice to know someone else is as nuts about KVJ as me.

  7. Ashley says

    ah i also have a vonnegut birdcage tattoo – but on the back on my neck. i’ve had it for going on 3 years now and never realized that others had it as well. neat!

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