“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is a story literally exaggerated to its limit by showing, in the near future, what it means to be equal in every way by having people not being able to show any form of intelligence or creativity whatsoever. When Harrison Bergeron breaks the chains of government oppression, he dies for his failed cause.
He dies because he chooses not to conform to the rest of his oppressive society.His parents, George and Hazel, who are nothing more than two bodies under the government’s mind control, can do nothing to save their son or seek justice for his death. The story is not only a reflection of the author’s concern with controlling the masses through television, but is also an attack on the idea of enforced equality. The use of television of controlling people is a major theme in “Harrison Bergeron. ” Vonnegut portrays television as a “dehumanizing” process in which people will be unable to think for themselves, instead of developing mental sharpness and clarity.Literary critic Joseph Alvarez says about Harrison’s attempt of overtaking the television station, “Harrison’s power to reach the people and make a new reality (declaring himself emperor), Vonnegut agrees, stems from controlling television” (2). Harrison is aware that by going to the television station is the best way to begin his rebellion.
Harrison Bergeron Essay Example
As for dehumanizing people, the violence and murder that occur on television are extreme in Vonnegut’s world it eliminates emotions. When Hazel sees her son murdered on television, she simply says to George it was “Something real sad on television” (143).It is true she cries while watching her son’s murder, but she has become so desensitized that she cannot recall why she is crying. Literary critic Robert Uphaus in his essay entitled “Expected Meaning in Vonnegut’s Dead-End Fiction,” states “The history of mankind, Vonnegut implies in the story, is a progressive desensitization spurred on by the advent of television” (280). The impact of television upon society, with its violence and bloodshed, is making a negative impact upon young viewers.Vonnegut’s view of television is that it has gotten so out of control that America is setting itself up for a huge crisis, which will create a society where citizens will be conformers rather than individuals and intellectuals. The other major theme in “Harrison Bergeron” is the concept of equality.
His world is similar to that of a tyrannical dictatorship, where people have no rights, thanks “to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General” (139).This new world represents total conformity, where people like George must wear weights and radio transmitters which play loud noises to hinder their intellectual development. Vonnegut’s world is the most extreme and horrifying that anyone can imagine. According to Joseph Alvarez, “If everyone were equal in every which way, the various handicaps would not be necessary” (3). Alvarez is making the statement that it is ironic of the government to enforce equality to everyone but themselves. The government does not make themselves equal to the rest of society, but higher than the rest of the population.The Handicapper General displays a slave driver approach, in which they use physical discipline to keep everyone in check.
Insane people enforce the insanity in Vonnegut’s futuristic America. According to literary critic Carl Mowery, “In this society, it is the H-G’s job to neutralize the human attributes that every citizen was given by God” (3). The aspect of equality Vonnegut takes so literally that even a person’s basic rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of choice are nonexistent. The aspect of equality in the story stems from the suppression of the individual’s thoughts and feelings.Equality is an instrument of social control that the government places upon the masses. However, no matter how much oppression takes place, it cannot destroy the human spirit. Harrison is the perfect example of this kind of rebellion.
Although he is only fourteen, “he is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous” (141). Due to his abilities, he is in prison because he is a threat to society. Harrison is aware that a new society must emerge, and he breaks out of prison, removes his handicaps, and for just a moment, shows his individuality.In the government’s eyes, Harrison is a rebel, and rebels are people that have no place in society, and must die. Diana Moon Glampers, who is the Handicapper General and represents conformity, kills Harrison and his selected mate with whom he wanted to rule a more humane America. She then threatens everyone else with force in the television station with a shotgun by “aiming it at the musicians and told them they have ten seconds to get their handicaps back on” (143). Although Harrison’s actions take place, conformity and equality still rule.
In an article in Contemporary American writers, it describes Harrison’s parents after the murder, “They resume their passive, acquiescent lives; having forgotten the entire scene almost as soon as they witnessed it” (2396). This dehumanization is the result of government oppression, as well as the physical punishment that awaits if anyone tries to be rebellious like Harrison Bergeron. No government is able to suppress the individual completely because of the desire of humans to be themselves and not machines. The inner strength of humans is more powerful than ill-conceived laws and firepower.