Hello my name is Ashlyn Tharington and I will be analyzing the short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut.
This short story takes place in a dystopian society where a decree ordered by the government forces all citizens to be equal through the use of handicaps. Harrison is an exceptional young man who has been placed into prison due to his complete disregard to governmental rules. George and Hazel are Harrison’s parents, and they watch from their living room as Harrison attempts to advise watchers to overthrow the government. When Harrison is shot and killed for his disobedience, his parents don’t even care due to the fact that they are so brainwashed by the government. A combination of paradoxes and exaggerations regarding the intense rules of the government portray the inability of total equality being achieved peacefully, while a series of grim symbols such as biased propaganda and technology enforce the danger of this unattainable society as well. These elements are incorporated into this short story in order to develop a family that is a prime example of citizen’s facing violence due to the danger that comes with total equality.
Contradictories throughout “Harrison Bergeron” emphasizes how attempting to achieve total equality actually ends up in violence, not peace. The US government refers to “nobody being better than one another”. The usage of the pronoun “nobody” symbolizes that this decree actually harms the citizens, as they are restricted from their individuality and are forced to be reduced down to a “nobody” The government uses “handicaps” in order to make exceptional people normal. For example, intelligent citizens are given sound-producing headphones that disrupt their thoughts. the use of negative terms and items to bring about peace is extremely paradoxical and enforces the danger of total equality.
Vonnegut dramatizes the rules and actions taken by the government in a way that gives this story a satirical tone, further alluding to the fact that the idea of obtaining a peaceful level of total equality is too ridiculous to be true. The story introduces the “United States Handicapper General”. A fictional position that Vonnegut created based off of the actual governmental position of the “United States Surgeon General”. the United States Surgeon General is charged with protecting and improving the health and safety of the American people, while the United States Handicapper General goes on to publicly murder Harrison Bergeron and his dance partner later within the story. The irony of the stark differences within the purpose of these two positions that are supposed to be based off of one another merely exaggerates the satirical extremities of the government within their goal for equality.
By broadcasting the death of Harrison Bergeron on live television, the government is sending the message to all citizens that they will be die if they do not participate in the actions it takes to be equal with everyone else; therefore, this violence highlights that total equality can only be achieved in a forceful and dangerous fashion, and the government employs technology to instill fear into and warn citizens of potential consequences After Hazel Bergeron witnesses the brutal murder of her son on live television, she forgets the reason for the tears streaming down her face only a couple of seconds after the broadcast ends. The government has used electronic handicaps and the power of propaganda run over the television in order to brainwash the citizens to such an extreme extent that Hazel does not even remember that her son died merely a minute ago before her eyes. Harrison Bergeron represents the defiance within society and refuses to adhere to the equality decree, and this leads to his public death by the Handicapper General. Hazel and George Bergeron are severely handicapped and totally stripped of their individuality, ultimately causing them to not appropriately register the death of their son because they are so brainwashed by the government. Although Hazel, George, and Harrison face different consequences due to this decree, all of their consequences end in suffering and torment; therefore, these characters extensively depict the danger of a society that attempts to impose total equality onto its citizens. This conclusion may very well apply to today’s society, as limiting our creativity and stopping us from being different from those around us will only cause harm.
HHS Office of the Secretary,Office. “About the Office of the Surgeon General.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 14 May 2019, www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/about/index.html.
Vonnegut, Kurt. “Harrison Bergeron.” Tnellen, HARRISON BERGERON. Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. New Jersey: Robert Mills, 1961.