Kurt Vonnegut Jr. gave us a glance in “Harrison Bergeron” of the United States in the year 2081. The United States had become a dystopian nation, where everyone was considered equal before God and the law. The citizens were physically altered, so all of them have the same ability and strength. They are required to wear a mask if they are beautiful, given handicap radios if they are too smart and to wear extensive weights at all times if they are strong. In today’s world, it is quite common for everyone to strive for equality; however, Vonnegut made a wonderful case that this could be detrimental if taken too far.
George and Hazel were the main characters; along with their son named Harrison Bergeron. Although George does not completely agree with the law, he follows it unconditionally. Both George and Hazel were having an interesting conversation when Hazel said “If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.” George then replied, “The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?” (Vonnegut 196). I found the statement by George ironic, if not comical. The government is trying to turn its citizen into robots and is about to murder his son on television, but George is more focused on being obedient, instead of standing up to a corrupt and oppressive government.
Can you imagine living in a world where we all are equal in every facet of our lives? Tila Tequila once said, “I think every person has their own identity and beauty. Everyone being different is what is really beautiful. If we were all the same, it would be boring.” Vonnegut did an exceptional job relaying a political message. He wanted us to see the harmful results of being alike, but he also showed us that we needed to have the aspiration to be different from each other. Our founding fathers never intended for the government to have too much power or control over its citizens.
One of Vonnegut main character in the short story was Harrison Bergeron. He was a prisoner in the ruthlessly egalitarian society. He was the youngest character, the smartest, more athletic but wore the heaviest handicaps and weights. According to the text, “Harrison looked like a walking junkyard” (Vonnegut 197). It was clear that Vonnegut wanted his readers to know that, no matter of your age, you can be brave and fight for what you believe. While Harrison had the heaviest of headphones, he still had the determination to do what no other man did. He showed the willingness to defy the authorities but paid the ultimate price. Although Harrison was murdered, there is a valuable lesson for all of us. Vonnegut was successful in making us feel that no matter the struggles and burdens we carry, we still can strive for greatness.
While watching the Kurt Vonnegut interview: “So It Goes”, Vonnegut stated that his father was demoralized and grumpy during the great depression. Vonnegut’s father was working as an architect but lost his job during the great depression (Kurt Vonnegut: “So It Goes”). It must have been a discouraging time for Vonnegut’s father, but I wonder what effect it had on Vonnegut himself. Take into consideration that the great depression lasted for approximately a decade. I think it had to have some effect on the kids also. Vonnegut stated in the interview that science fiction writer writes about the most important issues of our time (Kurt Vonnegut: “So It Goes”). “Harrison Bergeron” was published in the year 1961, during the time of the Vietnam War. I strongly believe that Vonnegut was using irony to mock the attitudes and behaviors of the citizens and the government during the time of the Vietnam War. He also used his writings to give a vision into his mind and to make observations of what’s happening around him and to tell a story using satire and comedy. While reading another of Vonnegut’s book: Slaughterhouse-Five, I definitely saw how he used the same mechanics to accomplish his goals.
During the Vietnam War, there was a public opinion being ‘fought’ on television also, as a lot of Americans were disenchanted with the War. Vonnegut knew the importance television has on society. I don’t think it is an accident that most of the story took place while George and Hazel sat in front of the Television. Television was used as a method to further petrify the citizens. The killing of Harrison Bergeron on live TV was an effective way to show all the citizens what would happen to anyone who tries to defy the law. Hazel saw her son murdered on TV by Diana Moon Glampers but was too incoherent to process what had happened. Television has been used for many years to shape our worldviews. Just like Hazel, I believe society has become numb to some of the things being shown on TV today. The amount of sex and violence that I was exposed to as a child while watching television is like night and day compared to what our kids see nowadays.
When all is said and done, Vonnegut left us asking; is total equality worth striving for? If we are to achieve equality, are we to subject ourselves to government castigation? If we adhere to social norms, forced to be normal or allow the government to have its will on the citizens, then we as humans will become robotic and cowardly. If there is one thing we all can agree; it was clear that Vonnegut was trying to get across that we must stand up for what we believe in spite of the dangers. As it is the honorable, just and necessary thing to do. Vonnegut uses a short story to make an excellent case by implying that it is impossible to have a normal and functioning society where its citizens are all equal.