Social Injustice in Harrison Bergeron and Slumdog Millionaire
“Two men are accused of murdering a man in an Ogden transient camp after, police say, they went there to “find and harass homeless people.” (Godfrey). “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” (M.L. King). The story Harrison Bergeron, written by Vonnegut Kurt, displays a logical indication of why society should take advantage of people’s natural talents and capabilities. Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup provides the message to not underestimate or generalize people based off of their social or financial status. Instead of suppressing those with remarkable capabilities out of jealousy, or shunning those born in poverty out of ignorance, accept all humans, for we were all born with distinct value, and are equal for it. This is why ableism and classism should be ceased.
Harrison Bergeron is an example of covert affirmative action. “An “ableist” belief system often underlies negative attitudes, stereotypes and stigma toward people with psychosocial disabilities. “Ableism” refers to attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities.” (Ontario Human Rights Commision). However, this stigma applies to rather able-bodied people instead of disabled people. In Kurt Vonnegut’s, Harrison Bergeron, the government has made a law to devalue people by providing specific handicaps to suppress specific abilities and traits. The idea is so that everyone feels equal and jealousy or judgement are not present. Despite the fact that this idea is used for the purpose of forming a utopia, the citizens have animosity towards it. George is dissatisfied with a bland ballet session on television that he is watching with his wife, Hazel. The dancers must wear heavy bags to prevent graceful movement, masks to hide their beauty, and are not allowed to speak unless their voices are unappealing. In fact, it is difficult for George to enjoy anything since he wears handicaps on his ears which release a siren-like noise in his head. Hazel acknowledges the ballerinas by saying, “That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did there” (Kurt 2). George insincerely replies saying, “Yup.” (Kurt 2). “George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped” (Kurt 2). Anyone’s intuition can tell them why handicaps are a blockade in the fictional society at this point. Ballet is a form of art and should not be disparaged. The highest attributed ballerina was forced to apologise for her voice. “And she has to apologise at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody.” (Kurt 3). The notion of extreme equality is not worth what assets, creations, and self-progression could be lost by subduing able-bodied people, as presented in Harrison Bergeron. George’s son, Harrison, was put into prison for being mentally and physically outstanding, thus being a potential threat to society. This is comparable to the many heretics throughout the middle ages who questioned God and the church’s rules. Heretics were far more logical than commoners and were often killed for it, as seen as a potential threat against the power of the church. This goes to show that it is pitiful to suppress humans with prominent value because brilliant ideas and talents can transpire to benefit society. Another example of social injustice is classism, which corresponds with the movie Slumdog Millionaire.
People living in poverty as are often underestimated and considered to be less intelligent or worthless. In the film Slumdog Millionaire, Directed by Danny Boyle, a boy named Jamal has successfully earned two million dollars. He knew all the questions on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” from his experiences through life. Jamal feels confident up to the commercial session of the show, where he his brought backstage, dragged into a van, and chained onto a ceiling to be interrogated. “Tell me how you cheated.” (Boyle). The police as well as the host of the show believe that Jamal is cheating, due to the fact that he comes from poverty and question his sources of knowledge. If a child born from a wealthy family were to progress as far as Jamal has, no suspicion would be drawn. This particular scene is a good representation of classism. The slums have schools and use the same textbooks as any other school does. Jamal is undeniably discriminated for being born into poverty and being a Muslim, thus his life expectations are low, and any notion of success is seen as dishonesty. Slumdog Millionaire is similar to the film Hidden Figures Directed by Theodore Melfi. Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician who works for NASA is a minority. During the beginning of the film, she had to drive 40 minutes to use a restroom, was often ignored, and was treated poorly by her superiors. Despite the hatred she received, Katherine Johnson became one of the leading mathematical engineers in the early days of the aerospace industry. Dorothy deserves respect for her will-power and intelligence, hence it was wrong of everyone to treat her poorly.
Harrison Bergeron is an excellent example of affirmative action and discrimination against abled people. It is set in a dystopia with the involvement of severe equality. Slumdog Millionaire is an excellent example of classism. The movie demonstrates life as a poverty-stricken, Muslim minority striving for a future. Instead of suppressing those with superior capabilities out of jealousy, or shunning those born in poverty out of ignorance, accept all humans, for we were all born with distinct value and are equal for it. If all minorities and those considered to be lesser humans were to live in their own community, would people then realize that their lives are not experiencing any greater significance?
Harrison Bergeron: a Perfect World Does Not Exist
Kurt Vonnegut’s style of writing often leads toward a dark and funny science fiction and literary style as well as classic and cool, which influences his many novels and short stories. With the style of science fiction and initiating equality throughout society, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” presents a dystopian society in which the government imposes numerous handicappers to make every citizen equal.
A handicapper is a device created by the Handicapper General that is used in the short story to limit an individual from being too intelligent, beautiful, or stong. To emphasize Kurt Vonnegut’s work, it depicts a society that aims for a perfect utopia where everyone is equal and no individual is distinguished as being better than the other which leads to a dangerous outcome. In addition, the government aims to achieve the goal for every individual to have the same mental and physical capability and uses the impact of handicappers to reach their achievement while torturing numerous citizens. Additionally, the use of the handicappers resulted differently for each citizen based on their overall quality that makes them better than the average person.
Furthermore, the main character Harrison Bergeron is a protagonist in the story as he attempts to get society concerned with the handicappers and what they make people do, but the Handicapper General acts as his antagonist and does not allow him to reach his goal. Kurt Vonnegut uses his narrator and main character as he considers the issues of the handicappers with how they affect and change the citizens of the utopian society, but the General Handicapper indeed tries to stop the characters throughout his story to get her perfect equal world that is not so perfect after all.
Kurt Vonnegut’s story begins with the character Harrison Bergeron as he is taken away at the age of fourteen from his parents who indeed have handicappers attached to them. The parents, George and Hazel, use handicappers because they exceed the average intelligence of the normal individual, which shows abnormality from how they once were, but now equal to every other individual of society. As the story progresses, the readers can obtain knowledge of how the handicappers work and acknowledge the feelings of the handicapped individuals as their thoughts vanish into nothing. The narrator expresses, “There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she had forgotten for the moment what they were about” (Vonnegut 1). This description shows Hazel being upset about a show she has seen on television but acted as if she was unconscious, because she had no clue as to why tears were streaming down her face. At this point, the handicappers stop individuals from doing most of their thinking because of a transmitter that contributes sharp noises into one ear, which then results in being problematic, because it quickly erases away the individual’s thought process. The Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, enforces the laws of her utopian society through the handicapper devices that alarms the individual from greater capabilities through loud noises or more added weight. In comparison to reality, the Constitutional Amendments protects equal rights, however in the story, the Amendments make everyone equal. However, the people in society do not actually have any rights.
Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca Jordan-Young went onto saying all individuals are equal because of the devices which they are selected to wear, so the people do not attempt a plot to overthrow the government. In their article, Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca Jordan-Young state, “The agent of the Handicapper General enforce the equality laws and anyone considered above average is given a handicap to render them equal to the rest of the population” (3). For example, if someone is intelligent, the government made them wear a device which makes them think short term, if someone is beautiful the government makes them wear a mask, and if someone is strong the government makes them wear a handicap bag which weighed them down. Diana Moon Glampers’ vision of a dystopia is working for her sake but continues to torture her own citizens through these selected handicappers as time progresses. In this case, complications of the Handicapper General’s dystopian world begin to happen suddenly when Harrison Bergeron escapes from jail and believes in himself to make society a better place for every individual. Harrison Bergeron’s face is plastered on numerous televisions of every home of the government stating that he is planning to overthrow the government and that he is an extremely dangerous person.
Nevertheless, the Handicapper General makes an appearance and realizes the handicapper devices are off the ballerinas and musicians, because they intend to listen to Harrison Bergeron. Kurt Vonnegut implies that Diana Moon Glampers is mad as he states in his story, “She fired twice, and the Emperor and Empress were dead before they hit the floor” (8). Not only is the Handicapper General torturing her people with the devices to keep everyone equal, but Diana Moon Glampers is now killing them because she feels threatened about his appearance as well as abilities. Furthermore, the process of equality is still complicated because of the handicapper transmitters and how they affect the people of society. Because every human being is different from the others, the government relies heavily on the transmitters to do their job and keep people from trying to later overpower the government.
As Mark Drummond implies his way of a solution to the problem by saying brains are constantly changing daily due to certain tasks or even interruptions. Mark Drummond claims, “Our brains also change based on whether the information received is primarily verbal or visual and how many times the information being received is interrupted” (1). With the problems of interruptions and trying to concentrate, brains are still able to adapt and help individuals improve performance. Over time, the people in Diana Moon Glampers’ dystopian society will either slowly break away or may change to adapt and every individual come together to overthrow the government once and for all.
Throughout Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, the struggle of values plays a huge role to the people of the equal society. The individuals are not able to take advantage to become who they really are, because they are caught up in handicappers trying to be equal with every other individual. Stephen Moore and Peter Ferrara justify that everyone is too much alike, because the transmitters present a burden on the individuals and makes them suffer as a result. Stephen Moore and Peter Ferrara state, “First, achieving true and comprehensive equality would require violating personal liberty, as the talented and capable must be prevented from using their advantages to get ahead” (1). For example, Harrison Bergeron broke out of jail using his many advantages and danced with a once seen beautiful ballerina whom he shared a kiss with afterwards. Harrison Bergeron uses his many talents to achieve personal liberty and to not have a society limit him from what he can and cannot do.
Overall, in Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, everyone is finally equal in every which way possible towards a person’s ability. A perfect society contradicts itself, because an individual is never perfect based on how they live or what they do. Darryl Hattenhauer simply shows that equalizing people through transmitters will not always be the explanation, because there are times where their brains do think on their own until a noise is so loud that it drives off the person’s thought process. Darryl Hattenhauer explains, “For example, in a society in which no one is more intelligent than anyone else, everyone would be as stupid as the most mentally deficient person in the populace” (391). For instance, if everyone had the same beauty, level of intelligence, or strength, there would not be a point in studying, working out, or wearing makeup. To sum up these accusations, life would be boring, because every individual would be the same.
If the individuals who uses the handicappers begin to slowly take away pieces and parts of their own handicapper gears and get away with it, then others will begin to think it is okay to do so as well. It comes down to the General Handicapper and the handicappers that society may fall apart, because everyone will be cheating on Diana Moon Glampers’ laws of her dystopian society. Harrison Bergeron’s parents, Hazel and George, begin to think about what will happen in the world if people begin to cheat on the laws. Hazel states, “Reckon it would fall all apart” (Vonnegut 4). Hazel firmly believes that society will fall apart if laws become broken and her husband George strongly believes this as well. Diana Moon Glampers fixed her thoughts of an equal society so well in every individual’s mind, that to them it would be quite terrible if everyone was all different and unique from one another.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron,” the narrator shows how handicappers can reflect and change the people of the dystopian society. Harrison Bergeron tries to prove himself by showing the reader that everyone can break free and be themselves if many individuals are willing to try. The handicappers act as a symbol towards the people to keep individuals equal and to limit them from accessing their intelligence, beauty, or strength. The General Handicapper is a symbol of what should be average of the human being and she is an enforcer of her laws in society. Kurt Vonnegut depicts a widely range story to show that striving for equality is not worth applying to a society where everyone is unique, because this causes problematic outcomes and does not allow anyone to be themselves.
- Drummond, Mark A. “Is Technology Changing Our Brains? Jurors Go Cold Turkey on Cell Phones.” Litigation News, vol. 40, no. 3, Spring 2015, pp. 18–19. Academic Search Complete, ezproxy.selu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=a9h&AN=102538059&site=ehost-live.
- Hattenhauer, Darryl. “The Politics of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Harrison Bergeron.’” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 35, no. 4, Fall 1998, p. 387. Academic Search Complete, ezproxy.selu. Edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=a9h&AN= 7239232&site=eh ost-live.
- Karkazis, Katrina, and Rebecca Jordan-Young. “The Harrison Bergeron Olympics.” American Journal of Bioethics, vol. 13, no. 5, May 2013, pp. 66–69. Academic Search Complete, doi:10.1080/15265161.2013.776375.
- Moore, Stephen, and Peter Ferrara. “The Poverty of Equality.” American Spectator, vol. 45, no. 3, Apr. 2012, pp. 26–30. Academic Search Complete, ezproxy.selu.edu/login url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=73910 780&site=ehost-live.
- Vonnegut, Kurt. “Harrison Bergeron.” Full Text of ‘Harrison Bergeron (& Activity)’, 1961, archive.org/stream/HarrisonBergeron/Harrison%20Bergeron_djvu.txt.
The Differences between Harrison Bergeron verses 2081
“The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else.”(Kurt Vonnegut Jr.) This is a quote from both the story “Harrison Bergeron”, and the film 2081, which greatly describe the theme that both these stories share equality. However, these two stories can be set apart by a few differences including plot, characters and character roles, and dialogue.
Firstly the short story Harrison Bergeron and the film 2081 are very similar but there are a few minor differences that set the two apart. These two plots both have the same general storyline such as Harrison gets taken away from his home, breaks out of jail, and appears on stage at the live-streamed ballet. The first major difference in the plot that I discovered was the film adaptation where George is looking down the hall towards Harrison’s former bedroom where he was taken out of, but he has trouble remembering because of his handicaps that are maybe causing him to forget that Harrison was even their son. The biggest difference would be the film addition to the plot which is the bomb. In the film, Harrison threatens the audience not to move with the detonator to the bomb that is apparently below the stage. The handicap general then has to send in a team to disable the bomb before they can shoot Harrison. After we find out that the detonator turned back on the live stream after they turned it off so the people watching wouldn’t see Harrison getting shot. The short story had no mention of the bomb whatsoever. A few other small changes in the plot would be how they announced Harrison’s breakout of prison. In the film, a news report interrupted the ballet who was a guy who had a very poor speaking voice, and then another guy came into his place and read the report normally. While in the story, the man with the bad speaking voice came on the stage of the ballet but was overtaken by one of the ballerinas who was said to have a beautiful voice. The last small difference would be the handicaps themselves. In the story they were described as a canvas bag with many led balls inside, however, in the film, they seem to be futuristic devices strapped to their bodies.
Secondly, the characters between the story and the film are the same, but the roles that the characters play are a bit different. Both the film and the short story start with Hazel and George sitting in the living room watching the tv. In the story it is George that gets u and leaves to the kitchen, however in the film, it is Hazel who leaves to wash the dishes while George stays to watch the TV. This is significant because in the film it was George who watched the whole broadcast of everything that happened at the ballet, including their son Harrison getting shot and killed. In the book, Hazel can’t remember her son’s death due to the fact that the live stream cut off. However, in the film, Harrison turned the live stream back on but George couldn’t remember we are guessing to do his handicaps. This difference in the film makes you question if this does happen often but nobody would remember because everybody could be brainwashed to forget from the handicaps. Another example of this would be earlier when George was getting flashbacks about Harrison being taken away but couldn’t quite remember. A difference in the character roles also ties in with the plot which is when they announce the news report of Harrisons escapes from jail. In the short story, a ballerina takes over the report on the stage after the news reporter could’ speak properly. However, in the film, it was another guy who looked to be a producer or stage manager who took over at the news station instead of at the ballet. The next difference that I found in the characters was Harrison. Harrison was the same all around except for his appearance in the film which was different from the story. The short story explained that Harrison was a fourteen-year-old, seven-foot giant when he was taken from his home and also escaped from jail that same year, however in the film it explains that Harrison was taken at fourteen and escapes six years later, and you can also clearly tell that he is not 7 feet tall. Another difference to Harrison would be that he is made less ugly in the film, as in the story he has a clown nose, shaved eyebrows, glasses, and fake teeth. In addition, I would prefer the short story better in this aspect because being fourteen, and basically a superhuman symbolizes him more than the film would.
The final difference would be dialogue. There are only a few small differences in the dialogue since the film follows the exact narration that the short story does. The first key difference was when Hazel and George were talking about George resting his handicaps. In the story, Hazel tells George to rest his handicaps because of how tired he has been, and goes on to say that she wouldn’t mind if that meant that they weren’t equal, and then George goes on to say that he doesn’t want to take them off because he would get accustomed to not having them on. In addition, up to this point, the plot, dialogue, and narration have stayed fairly the same, however, the difference n dialogue would be what Harrison says when he gets on stage at the ballet. Firstly, there he had nothing to say about the bomb under the stage because it was non-existent in the story unlike in the film, where it made more of a bigger deal. As well as that, the whole statement about Harrison being the emperor and him choosing his empress was also non-existent in the film.
The Dangers of Government Control in Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, Harrison Bergeron, features the dangers of government control combined with individuals’ obliviousness. Vonnegut proceeds to foresee the aftereffects of such a move. The most striking topic is that of absence of opportunity in American culture. Vonnegut likewise explains how loss of social equality is getting with Americans. What is the consequence of all these? There is a high likelihood that America will wind up in an oppressed world. In outline, Vonnegut discusses how loss of opportunity and social liberties would prompt America’s oppressed world.
As previously mentioned, Americans love opportunity and this is confirmed by Harrison’s activities; he escapes from jail, proceeds to expel his debilitations, and lastly attempts to impact everyone around him. ‘Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so that you can rest your handicap bag…?” (Vonnegut, P. 216).
The administration affixed this impairment sack around George’s neck; in any case, Harrison is advising George to ‘rest’ it, as an indication of resistance and push for opportunity. All things considered, in Harrison’s reality, this opportunity is no more, and individuals can’t settle on decisions since they are better than expected in all things and thus, they are crippled. For example, the individuals are masked to guarantee that “nobody would feel like something the cat drug in” (Vonnegut, P. 216).
Everybody is equivalent due to “the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution…the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General” (Vonnegut, P. 218). The ‘Handicapper General’ guarantees everybody is equivalent and the individual has no privilege including right to life. George says, “Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out” (Vonnegut, P. 216).
George here discusses the outcomes of removing the ‘handicap’ that the legislature has put around his neck, proof of loss of social liberties. George even watches a girl on television, and he can’t focus on the television.
This goes well with “the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General” (Vonnegut, P. 216). Despite the fact that loss of opportunity in contemporary America isn’t as terrible as in Harrison’s general public, American specialists are gradually removing opportunity. For example, smoking guidelines put open spots is a move of its sort. To this one may say some things about living still aren’t quite right.
In conclusion, Vonnegut attempts to feature how government control would gradually change over America into an oppressed world country. Notwithstanding the affection that Americans have for opportunity, Vonnegut is worried about the possibility that this is being removed and individuals will have, “a little mental handicap radio in their ears tuned to a government transmitter” (Vonnegut, p. 218). This would remove opportunity and social liberties would languish a similar destiny over the individuals who go against the set mandates.
America’s Future is Communism
A world where everyone is equally beautiful, intelligent, and strong is an ideal world that everyone fantasizes about and strives for. In this world, not only would no one have to worry about being judged by their physical appearance or intelligence, but everyone would equal. In the short story“ Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, America’s future is looking magnificent: everyone is equal, and no one has to worry about how they physically appear to others or how smart they may be. The “above average” people are required by law to wear “handicaps” that essentially make their above average traits more prominent. Smart people are required to wear hearing devices that essentially blasts ear deafening sounds into their ears every 20 seconds to prevent them from thinking. Beautiful people have to wear mask in order to hide their beauty.
In a world like this, citizens are basically tortured. This is very similarly to a communist society in a sense that the story shares traits such as citizens being tortured for disagreement with the government. The story was written during the “Red Scare”, 1961 because of this, a theme of communism is shown within the story, communism is defined as “A society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.” (Dictionary.com). Communism is seen at its extreme when people, their abilities and their freedom are taken from them. The story also shows an oppressive government not allowing its citizens to think freely with the use of handicaps. A handicap is supposed to make above average traits appear less prominent, however, the way that it is portrayed in the story, these handicaps only make the above average traits appear more prominent because characters in the story would realistically stand out more with these handicaps.
For example, the story states Harrison had to wear a clown nose and ugly mask, a typical person who saw this would understand that Harrison must be a good looking male because the government found a need to have to censor how he looked. In this scenario, the handicap that Harrison is put in turns into an advantage. A female would more likely go after a male wearing an uglier mask because it is a symbol that he must be really good looking if the government found it necessary to put an extraordinarily ugly mask on them. This also works vice versa, if a girl is wearing an extremely ugly mask, then she must be really beautiful, males would more likely chase after a women who has an uglier mask. This America that Harrison lives in is very similar to what a communist society is like because of the way characters act. In a communist society, people cannot freely speak, anything that is deemed to be offensive against the government essentially means certain death for the person who mouthed those offensive words. The government is believed to always be right and everything they do is an order that must be followed, even if it means suicide.
There have been many people who have gone against the orders of the government and spoke against the government only to meet death. People who revolt against the government or learn too much about the outside world and decide to leave are punished. In the story a young man named Harrison Bergeron previously was imprisoned for being too smart and too good looking, this relates to how a communist society would treat their citizens. In the America that the story takes place in, being too good looking and too smart creates an imbalance which in turn may affect government operations. In a communist society if anyone is deemed a threat to the government or creates an imbalance in society, they are executed. Harrison escapes prison, as soon as he escapes a public warning is broadcasted onto every TV with Harrison’s face on it. Harrison’s father, George, recognizes that Harrison was the person who has escaped from prison, however, as soon as he recognizes this he is blasted by a dreadful sound into his ear causing him to forgot his train of thought. This is done so that anyone who is smart enough to even think of revolting against the government would not be able to do it because they cannot physically keep their train of thought. As soon as George forgets his train of thought, the author puts the Harrison back into the spotlight. The reader is introduced to a scene where Harrison takes off and runs into a studio where a live broadcast of a dance was occurring to shout, “I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook.” (Page 4). Harrison has multiple handicaps on him which means he must be a bit more than just above average.
Harrison removes his handicap harness that could hold five thousand pounds and smashes his ear piece, breaks his head harness and spectacles. Once Harrison removes these handicaps he can finally do things that he could never have done before. Similarly the citizens of communist societies can become what they can instead of what the government says they can become if they were to also revolt against their government and take off their form of “handicaps” of restricted speech and 24/7 monitoring through their tapped phones and surveillance cameras everywhere. In the story, Harrison not only screams that he is the emperor, but he also screams that he is going to pick his empress by picking whoever dares to raise their feet first which is himself declaring a revolt against the government. It’s amazing that a girl actually put her foot out knowing full well that the consequences of associating herself with a criminal could be fatal. Many communist societies where some citizens would create uproar and start a revolt. After picking his empress, he snaps her handicaps as well as snapping the musician’s handicaps in order for them to play better. While all of this was happening, it was being broadcasted live on television where everyone at home could see. Shortly after the music began, both the emperor and empress start dancing, they dance to the point where the laws of gravity no longer defined them and they started floating. As they floated in the air, they started kissing, for a very long time. It was then that the handicapper general, Diana Moon Glampers, comes into the studio and shoots them both to death on live tv. People at home saw everything, Harrison’s parents were included in the crowd that saw what had happened. Harrison’s mother started crying and when asked why by George, she replied she didn’t know why . This is due to the brain numbing from the government. Communist societies are very similar in this aspect of brainwashing and even turning family against each other.
A Social Inequality According to Harrison Bergeron By Kurt Vonnegut
Completely Equal Society is a Myth
Since the genesis of time people have strived to achieve complete equality. We have tried to give people “equal rights” nonetheless; it has failed to create perfect uniformity. Now imagine the world where the government has created rules and regulations that bring people down to the same level. Imagine what would happen if the government decided to create equality through regulating people’s intelligence, wealth, power, and attractiveness. It might sound like a perfect place to live in until we don’t go into the depths of this ideal society. Imagine how a government would accomplish this mission of creating a society which upholds equality and uniformity while putting down outstanding behaviors and traits. The answer to that question can be found in a short dystopian fiction story called (Harrison Bergeron), written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The story sets the plot in 2081. Keeping in mind the story was first published in 1961, the plot is set way ahead in the future where the world is not progressing. The reason for this stoppage in progression for the society as a whole is the fact that equality is being imposed forcefully. The story revolves around a Handicapper General named Diana Moon Glampers, who is responsible for maintaining equality amongst people. Glampers has achieved this task by requiring strong, intelligent and beautiful people of the society to wear handicaps of ugly masks, earphones or radios, and heavyweights correspondingly. This brought people that were intelligent, beautiful and strong down to the level of people that were less intelligent, ugly and weak. A glimpse of the world Diana Moon Glampers created can be seen when Kurt Vonnegut Jr., quotes in his story “Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.” (Harrison Bergeron). On the other hand, Harrison Bergeron son of Hazel and George Bergeron is trying to gain his freedom by breaking loose from his handicaps. However at the end, Harrison has to pay for his desire to outstand with his death at the hands of Handicapper General, who once again restores equality in the society. The story shows us how having an ideal equal society would do more harm to individuals than do good. By taking away our emotions, knowledge and individuality, the society is devoid of outlandish creativity and thinking. Thus, the world that is equal in every way possible is just not the right world for us to live in. Limiting our creativity and stopping us from being different from the person next to us, will only cause harm. Regardless of the pros and cons of having a uniform equal world, it is just not possible to achieve such a goal. It is human nature to express and be different from the person next to us. If this desire to be different is chained, sooner or later human nature will resist this idea of equality as shown by Harrison Bergeron.
Kurt Vonnegut is praised by many critics as stated “…many critics continue to praise Vonnegut as a ‘masterly stylist,” a jazz improviser in prose, and an author who has reinvented the American novel” (Kurt Vonnegut). Although Kurt Vonnegut was a talented writer, he has not made an effort to describe characters in a way most short-stories would. Moreover, the flow of the story is monotonous and there is little plot setting. This is because the story is based on the world that is equal in every single aspect, which has taken away peoples’ uniqueness. The fact that everyone is the same, just limits the ability of creativity and outstanding behavior to protrude not only in the world, but also in the representation of the story. This leaves little to no space for Vonnegut to create a fabulous character with exaggerated traits. In the story, Hazel did not wear any handicaps, although George wears a radio in his ear and weight around his neck because he was more intelligent and powerful than Hazel. Hence, proving that everything is not equal even in a world where perfect uniformity is the top priority. Moreover, the characters in the story were able to learn about the strengths of other people through their handicaps. This was because the characters knew what strengths each handicap, issued by Handicapper General, was supposed to suppress. A handicap such as the Earphones symbolized that a person was smart; the Mask symbolized a person was beautiful, and the Weights symbolized a person was physically strong. Bigger and conspicuous handicaps meant that a person was more exceptional than the rest of the society. Thus individuality cannot be extinguished as Benjamin Reed writes in (Teaching American Literature: A Journal of Theory and Practice) “The attempt to achieve forced equality through social engineering—by delimiting positive qualities rather than ameliorating shortcomings—is futile, because individuality is inherent and only incompletely repressible.” This is true because the handicaps acted as a symbol of a person’s abilities, hence individuality still survived in the characters subconsciously. It is quite ironic how the Handicapper General set out to limit individuality but ended up helping it standout even more.
There were handicaps that were made to suppress abilities in people, which took away curiosity and emotions from them. While being handicapped by these instruments, a person became really monotone and mundane displayed by how conversations became dull and less intriguing between Hazel and Gorge. This can be seen in the story when George would reply to Hazel mostly with ‘Yup’, ‘Huh’ and ‘Um’. This shows how effective communication was hindered by the thought suppressing handicaps. Moreover, in the story, it is seen multiple times how George’s thought process was interrupted by the excruciating sounds the radio in his ear would play. Joodaki, Abdol Hossein, and Hamideh Mahdiany in their journal quote “E. J. White in her article on “A Philosophical and methodological route to dialogue and difference” says “….the dangerous consequences on mono-logism are “the loss of freedom.” (Joodaki and Mahdiany). This was the case seen in this story, through the monologue of the characters and dull dance showed on the television Kurt Vonnegut was able to depict a society which has lost its freedom of speech and expression. However, some parts of the story suggest that even with handicaps, George who possessed greater intellectual abilities than Hazel had not lost his power of reasoning and imagination. As it can be seen when Hazel suggests George to make a hole in his weight bag and take out some bird shots in order lessen the weight, to this George replies “Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out, I don’t call that a bargain.” (Harrison Bergeron). This proves the latter statement to be correct as George was still able to reason his way out of that predicament because if he did not have the ability to reason he would have done what his wife suggested. Furthermore, through the language used by George, it can be said he still had the power of imagination. For an instance when George thought about ballerinas being beautiful and graceful he was able to think that because ballerinas were masked and burdened with birdshot bags. His power of imagination can be seen again when he describes Harrison as a walking junkyard, or when he described the sound of his ear radio as “somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,” (Harrison Bergeron) All in all, these examples show and relate back to the point of when imagination and creativity are chained, the individual is still able to think and reason even though he is not supposed to. This shows how creating an equal society by imposing such laws would just not work as the human mind and nature lean towards individualism and rebel when being contained.
The emotions, however, were deeply affected. Emotions are the medium through which we generally feel the intensity of an event. Throughout the story, the conversation between Hazel and George remained dull and flat. There were no emotions between them whatsoever; there were no highs and lows in their pitch or their statements. The uniqueness of an individual was indeed present but was subconscious. The environment of an “equally handicapped America” was unappealing, cold and emotionless. The music had lost its appeal, as it was made to sound average. Music gained back its appeal on when Harrison forced the musicians to play his desired music. Lastly, Harrison’s parents witnessed his death but they quickly forgot what had happened, George forgot it due to his handicaps and Hazel due to her short-term memory. Kurt Vonnegut through these symbols and the story wants the readers to realize that a place that is ‘perfectly equal’ might just become a place without love and individuality. As no love was seen in the conversation between George and Hazel, there was no sympathetic appeal seen after Harrison’s death and it was as if nothing happened. Nonetheless, emotions were still there as musicians knew how to play good music and Hazel cried when she witnessed her son’s death. This, once again, shows how even though individualism and emotions are sought to be eliminated but they are just suppressed and are ever present, ready to resurface at any given moment.
On the other hand, Harrison proved to be rebellious; a quality which people of his time had lost. People were portrayed to be too scared of the Handicapper General and her men. The example can be seen in the story when everyone quickly wore their handicaps in mere five seconds given to them by the Handicapper General after Harrison’s death. Harrison was constantly outgrowing his handicaps. He was described as very powerful, athletic and smart. Harrison’s part in the story was the only time the story outgrew the shades of black and white in which it was painted. Kurt Vonnegut showcased his writing abilities to create drama and analogy when the joy Harrison’s dance bought in the melancholy world was described by him as “They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun. They leaped like deer on the moon” (Harrison Bergeron). Alas! Harrison was killed for trying to be himself. Moreover comparing this notion with today’s society one might see a small degree of similarity as society generally does not accept people that are ‘different’. Even though the world was brought back to equality, through Harrison’s ill-timed death, it still leaves a void behind to be filled. It makes one wonder that if Harrison turned out to be a rebel, what if there are others like him and what if they come out to protest together with a greater strength than Harrison. Bravo! Kurt Vonnegut proves his writing skills once again by leaving behind his point-of-view through Harrison.
The short dystopian story written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has a very dull tone yet it is intriguing, perhaps because everyone wants to know what a ‘perfectly equal’ world would look like. The author does a great job by occasionally including hyperboles and analogies which do a great job in keep the readers intrigued. The symbolic characters, such as Glampers being the oppressor, Hazel and George being the oppressed and Harrison being a freedom fighter, showed how the world has lived under oppression and fought against it with the little ‘freedom fighter’ they had inside them. Through the dystopia, the story is able to make one appreciate the individuality, emotions and love they have. “Harrison Bergeron” makes its readers appreciate their freedom of speech and expression, which furthermore makes a statement that their individuality, emotions and uniqueness cannot be completely taken away from them. The story makes the readers live through a nightmare so that they acknowledge the importance of their uniqueness and think about a superior and greater meaning of equality.
A Dystopian Society in Harrison Bergeron Story
Known for publishing numerous satirical works, Kurt Vonnegut continues this writing trend in his short story “Harrison Bergeron”. Vonnegut writes about a dystopian society in the future and although the events in the story are serious, it can be found humorous when comparing the story to reality. For example, the idea of handicapism is constantly brought up. In the story, handicapism is when a member of society who is above average, wears a government product to create equality, forcing him or her to be average. Complete equality, however, may not be as good as it sounds. In “Harrison Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut exposes the many negative aspects of an overly equal society through the use of humor, irony, satire, and symbolism. These literary devices allow the reader to easily identify its downfalls while naturally drawing parallels to our own society.
Imagine a world where everyone was equal; not one person being smarter or stronger than the other. In Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”, the Handicapper General created a system for equality to ensure that not one person has an advantage over another. The year is 2081 and all who are intelligent are required to wear radios that play sounds frequently to interrupt the train of thought, forcing them to think averagely. People who are stronger than the average person, must wear weights on his or her shoulders to be sure that his or her strength is equal to average. Someone who is attractive even has to wear a mask on his or her face which is shown during the televised ballerina production. As far as the readers know, this system is effective until George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen year old, Harrison, rebels. Harrison was taken from his family because of his superiority. He was assigned to wear 300 pound weights, huge earphones, glasses to blind him and induce headaches, a rubber nose, caps for his teeth, and his eyebrows are shaved. Harrison escapes from the government, goes to the ballerina performance, rips off all of his handicaps, and takes charge. He announces “I am the emperor! Everybody must do as I say at once!” (Vonnegut 234). Harrison selects an empress who removes her handicaps as well until Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicap General, kills them both with a shotgun.
Kurt Vonnegut’s writing, in general, is considered humorous. P. L. Thomas refers to Vonnegut in his article Lost In Adaptation, as a “jokemaker”. Thomas also refers to Vonnegut clarifying that his humor is not intended to offend any of his readers. Vonnegut proclaims, “Laughter is the soul seeking some relief” (Thomas 85). Vonnegut creates humor in “Harrison Bergeron” by almost poking fun at the meaning of being handicap. When a person is handicap, it usually is not by choice, it is something one is born with or develops due to a potential tragedy. In the story however, handicaps are forced upon the above average to create equality in order to the below average from feeling bad about themselves. This concept is so clever that it is humorous. The handicaps and humour also tie together when George and Hazel are watching TV, and see their boy get killed, but due to Hazel’s natural stupidity and George’s handicap, the couple is unable to remember what caused the feelings of grief and sorrow. It’s as if Hazel and George almost forget their son exists.
Some may be a little confused when reading “Harrison Bergeron” because of the idea of handicapism he or she may already have. Handicaps generally create sympathy and people who suffer are encouraged to overcome his or her handicaps. Ironically, this idea is twisted in this overly equal society. The handicaps are supposed to encourage the inferior to feel better about themselves, by making others feel worse about themselves. One of the most messed up parts to this concept is that the Handicap General is clearly superior to all, but isn’t required to wear any handicaps. She is pushing for a equal society by simultaneously looking down at everyone else because they are below her. In Anderson’s “American Humor, Handicapism, and Censorship”, she explains how some may poke fun at the disabled and will look down on them (Anderson 79). However, in “Harrison Bergeron”, society almost looks up to people with handicaps. Those people are the ones who are originally superior. Society will also look up to the average or below average. For example, Hazel notices how the reporter had to pass the microphone down to a ballerina to read the news because of a speech impediment. Hazel makes a comment about how the reporter deserves a raise for trying even though he couldn’t complete his job (Vonnegut 233). Using irony, Vonnegut portrays the negative aspects of being too equal.
Satire is used throughout “Harrison Bergeron” and found in many of Kurt Vonnegut’s literature. It can be described as using humor and irony to expose and criticize. “In Harrison Bergeron the theme of this satire is that attempts to achieve equality are absurd” (Hattenhauer 387). Hattenhauer idea that the attempts to achieve equality are absurd relates to my thesis. I find it very hard to believe that a society would allow someone to take over and tear people apart by degrading them with weights and radios. Of course, this is only fiction, but leave it to Vonnegut to go beyond. Hattenhauer also compares this story to politics. He says that it tends to favor one side while attempting to maintain equality. In this case, the Handicapper General is being favored because she isn’t directly affected by her laws (Hattenhauer 388). Although Vonnegut is being humorous, he is indirectly pointing out a flaw in reality in the case of politics, doing so using satire.
Many traces of symbolism can be found in this short story if one is looking close enough. For example, on page 232 of “Harrison Bergeron”, Hazel suggest that on Sunday’s, she would make sure chimes were played on the radios in honor of religion if she was the Handicapper General and would make them real loud so the people hearing the noises can’t think. Symbolically, it has been said that churches brainwash to enforce ideas and beliefs. Kevin Boon shares a similar thought in his book, “At Millennium’s End”. He explains the idea, “if religion is chimed in our ears loud enough, we will lose the ability to think, and we will all become the same” (Boon 189). In the long run, losing the ability to think for oneself or being smart, how is a society supposed to grow? In the next generations, the members of society will be completely brainwashed and dependent on a leader, but who is to lead after Diana Moon Glampers passes away since no one is smarter than another. It seems that the society will die out and it was only a matter of time before someone noticed this and rebelled [Harrison]. Hopefully, some were able to catch on from the audience at the ballet and start a revolution in honor of Harrison Bergeron since he is longer able to. Harrison, himself, symbolized an uprising by showing that someone else can be a leader and that it is unnecessary to have that much equality. Vonnegut uses symbols to show the dangers of an overly equal society.
Through the use of humor, irony, satire, and symbolism, “Harrison Bergeron” can be better understood by connecting and comparing to reality. This society is a dystopia meaning it is an imaginary, unpleasant place. Vonnegut does a good job of showing the ridiculousness of this society through humor and satire. He also connects the noises that are heard through the radios and the meaning of church bells using irony and symbolism. By comparing this society to the United States of America, it can be concluded that many would rebel just as Harrison Bergeron did.
Harrison And Maggie in Harrison Bergeron: a Truly Opposite Characters
When shopping at a thrift store, sometimes one may find a specific piece right away, but most of the time one must dig through racks of clothing to find the right piece. When contrasting characters from different stories, the same logic applies; opposite qualities in characters can either be noticeable or harder to find. The short stories ‘Harrison Bergeron’ and ‘Everyday Use’ are very different from each other, especially the main characters Harrison and Maggie. The two characters are different for obvious reasons, but also in ways which one can only find by deep analysis. Harrison and Maggie show opposite qualities: Harrison is independent while Maggie is a rule follower, Harrison uses his disabled appearance to become stronger while Maggie lets it bring her down, and Harrison is logical while Maggie is slow.
The ability to follow authority differs in Harrison and Maggie; Harrison prefers to be independent while Maggie would rather follow the rules. In ‘Harrison Bergeron’, Harrison is an escaped convict who wants to get back the ruling government for taking away his freedom. He wants to start a revolution and in order to kick it off, he plans to interrupt a ballet and declare himself Emperor. After he strips of his handicaps, Harrison insists on being the new ruler by saying, “ ‘Do you hear me? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!’ ”(site) The government in the story is overly strict with equality, so strict it deletes personal originality and freedom. Harrison is a free spirited teenager who does not agree with the ways of the government. Instead of being controlled, he would rather change the rules to please himself, even if the consequences are dire. On the other hand, Maggie does not have the strong urge to go her own way like Harrison. In ‘Every Day Use’, Maggie’s sister, Dee, is visiting home for the first time after being away for an extensive period of time. Maggie is intimidated by her sister’s overpowering demeanor; therefore, she tries to hide when she first sees her sister. Mamma explains, “Maggie attempts to make a dash for the house, in her shuffling way, but I stay her with my hand… and she stops and tries to dig a well in the sand with her toe.”(site). Instead of continuing to go inside the house Maggie listens to her mother and stops against her will. Her body language of “digging a well in the sand with her toe” shows how Maggie does not want to stay, but is not comfortable with disobeying her mother. Harrison and Maggie show difference when it comes to authority because Harrison would rather take the lead and Maggie decides to follow orders.
Harrison and Maggie are both disabled in their appearances, but Harrison uses his disadvantage to become stronger while Maggie lets it affect her confidence. In ‘Harrison Bergeron’, the government created handicaps to decrease the intelligence of those who are smarter or more logical. From a red clown nose to oversized glasses, three hundred pounds of humiliating and excessive metal overpowers Harrison in handicaps from the government. As Harrison tries to take over, he says, “ ‘Even as I stand here… crippled, hobbled, sickened- I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become.’ ”(site). Harrison then proceeds to strip of his handicaps in front of an audience and live television. He uses this as an example to show how much power he has inside of himself, despite his horrid appearance. Harrison uses his weakness the government has bestowed on him as motivation to become stronger; he does not let his handicaps get in the way of his goal of becoming Emperor. Maggie also has a disability in her appearance. She was a victim of a terrible fire which gave her gruesome burn scars that stain her body. In ‘Every Day Use’, when Dee is coming home, Maggie’s lack of self-confidence appears more prominently during this period. Mamma acknowledges this lack of self-confidence and says, “Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs.”(site). Maggie is always self conscious of her deformed body, but she notices it even more when she sees her sister. Dee is beautiful and exotic, it is hard not to compare. Being more aware of her scars makes Maggie want to hide in corners instead of facing the world. She is not able to stand up tall and do something great while she believes she is ugly, unlike Harrison who used his handicaps as motivation.
Knowledge between Harrison and Maggie is contrasting because Harrison is intelligent, while Maggie is feebleminded. In ‘Harrison Bergeron’, Harrison was able to use his smarts to escape prison. His parents, Hazel and George, are watching the television while an announcement regarding Harrison appears. Frantically, the ballerina describes Harrison for the public, “ ‘He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as highly dangerous.’ ” (site). Harrison was able to use his intelligence to break away from the overbearing government. For a single man to be able to do that requires great skill, logic, and planning. No ordinary citizen would be able to perform a task of this magnitude, especially since all the intelligent citizens are forced to be simpleminded by the handicap inventions. The fact that Harrison was under- handicap and was able to escape prison was highly unlikely. His knowledge exceeds the government’s system, and that is why he was able to escape. Maggie, on the other hand, is not very intelligent compared to Harrison. In ‘Every Day Use’ the mother is describing Maggie and is very blunt in her description. Mamma plainly says, “She knows she is not bright. Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by.” (site). Maggie herself knows that she is not the smartest or quickest, and knowing that this information is true only brings down Maggie’s self esteem. Maggie’s lack of knowledge inhibits her to do great things, make something of herself, and create a successful life. Harrison was able to use his knowledge to his advantage by escaping prison, but Maggie’s slowness causes her to live a life of simplicity with her mother.
Harrison and Maggie deal with authority, feel about their appearance, and possess knowledge differently. Harrison prefers to go against rules and be in charge while Maggie follows what others tell her to do. Both characters are deformed in their appearance, but Harrison uses his handicaps to show his strength and Maggie falls behind her burn scars. Lastly, Harrison is said to be a teenage genius and Maggie is only a simple minded girl. The differences between these two characters could be considered obvious, but on the other hand some do not jump off the page immediately; nevertheless, Harrison and Maggie are truly opposite characters.
Equality in America Represented in Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
In Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” “The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal” (Vonnegut 233). The idea that every American is equal seems almost mythical. Numerous societies over the centuries have tried to achieve this unattainable goal, and none have succeeded, so what happens to a nation when a government’s strategies become too radical? The story parallels with communist governments throughout history, in countries such as China and Soviet Russia. “Harrison Bergeron” is a perfect illustration of how government extremes, and manufactured equality are dangerous.
America’s government, in this story, stripped every person of their natural abilities and individuality to accomplish the ultimate mission of equality. People were forced to wear handicaps to level them to a standard set by the government. George Bergeron was forced to wear radio transmitters in his ears “…to keep people like [him] from taking unfair advantage of their brains” (Vonnegut 234). The transmitters would blast unbearable sounds in his ears, so he would not be able to think. There was an established fear of people with intelligence; they risk the government being overthrown.
Not only was intelligence a concern of the authorities, but beauty and physical strength were as well. The ballerina’s had to wear masks to cover their alluring facial attributes. Harrison, the ballerinas, and George all had to wear weights to physically wear them down. People with stamina were considered a threat to those who were weaker. The news reporter, “like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment”, to prevent him from being to gifted at his job (Vonnegut 235). The ideal is to not be physically fit, attractive, or intelligent enough to make anyone feel inferior, much like Hazel Bergeron, a rather senseless character, whom did not need a handicap. Hazel happens to be similar to the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, whom also does not wear handicaps. However, Diana Moon Glampers did not wear a handicap, because she symbolizes the superiority of the regime. There always has to be someone on top, better than equal, and Diana takes that role.
The effect of the government’s policy created a country filled with people unable to reach their capabilities, ensuring the halt of innovation, development, and creativity. Not only did the government kill the potential of the nation, but they instilled fear among the American people. When George mentions, “Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out….we’d be back right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else,” it is easy to understand how internalized the goals of the government are in the citizens (Vonnegut 235). The belief that equality comes with the expense of liberty and personal achievement is what ultimately leads to the rebellion of Harrison Bergeron.
Harrison, represents the glimmer of individuality still left in some souls of the American people. As Harrison “…tore the straps of his handicap harness…smashed his headphones…flung away his rubber-ball nose…” he unleashed his true self (Vonnegut 237). Many people were longing to do the same, and Harrison inspired them for a short while to look beneath their handicaps. The brief revolution suggests that citizens are responsible for change in society, and must be brave and take a stance against the rules and standards in place. Harrison, whom is strong, good-looking, and smart, not only represents personality, but defiance. He has no regard for the authority, and risks his life to prove it. The tragic murder of the beloved protagonist implies that there is no room for resistance; although there is a disobedience in the nation, Diana Moon Glampers (and other government officials) will not stand for it. The slaughter of Harrison Bergeron is just a warning to other Americans.
Despite the trials that nations have gone through to achieve equality, and their egalitarian views, “Harrison Bergeron” has demonstrated extremes in government policy can sometimes lead to devastation and tragedy. Manufactured equality is hazardous, and even more so when it affects the people’s’ basic rights and freedoms. It is unrealistic that a country could set all of it’s citizens to an equilibrium, let alone without rebellion, so it is important to know that people are different from each other, and our differences must be appreciated.
Individuals Status in the Society
Although both “D.P.” and “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut are situated in starkly different time periods, these short stories touch upon the same idea of the individual’s status within society. “D.P.” takes place in an orphanage runs by Catholic nuns in the German village of Karlswald on the Rhine, while “Harrison Bergeron” takes place in a futuristic society; here, individuals are stripped of free will in a dystopian society similar to that depicted in George Orwell’s 1984. In both cases, the protagonist is seen as restricted; Joe is unable to leave the orphanage and seek his father, and George Bergeron is unable to fully cultivate his mind. Despite such disparities, Vonnegut consistently touches upon themes of society and human nature, and the intermingling of an individual and his respective authority.
From the onset of “D.P.”, the restriction of freedom of the “Eighty-one small sparks of human life” is made evident, as the children are “kept in an orphanage”, and “Marched […] through the woods, into the village and back, for their ration of fresh air” (Vonnegut 161). The manifestations of order that the children are confined in, and the manner in which Joe is shielded from the topic of his father when the nun constantly digresses to the topic of the sparrow, demonstrate the hindrance of knowledge that bars the children from understanding the world around them. During a time in which the children should experience parental love, nurturing, is replaced by an abnormal lifestyle as they are sheltered from the real world. The title, which may stand for “displaced persons” (Vonnegut 167), also shows the effect of war on the development of the young. In a sense, Vonnegut satirizes war and the effect it has on innocent children in society, who are also exposed to a form of racial profiling, when the village carpenter and others in the village speculate “the nationalities of the passing children’s parents” (Vonnegut 161), and feeding Joe information about a “Brown Bomber”, “American soldier”, and “more water than you have ever seen” (Vonnegut 163). When Joe attempts to pursue knowledge and search for his father, he is sent back by the troops. Interestingly enough, the troops treated Joe much kindly than did the orphanage, giving him chocolate, and commenting, “By golly, I don’t believe the boy’s ever seen chocolate before […] Talk about displaced persons […] this here’s the most displaced little old person I ever saw. Upside down and inside out and ever’ which way” (Vonnegut 167). In the end, Joe is filled with false hope for the return of his “father.”
In “Harrison Bergeron,” George Bergeron is a puppet in society in which socialism seems to be the goal – a twisted form of socialism, where extreme attained equality ironically results in a restriction of rights and thus an inherent inequality. In this dystopian world set in 2081, the United States Handicapper General is the Big Brother of this society, where each individual is placed under the constant scrutiny of the “H-G men,” and where intelligence and beauty are scraped down to a bare minimum in order to ensure “equality”. In this sense, Vonnegut blatantly satirizes enforced equality and a socialistic society. Although in a theoretical sense, achieving full equality is a positive notion, Vonnegut presents the shortcomings. George and Hazel are subdued to a meaningless life; “Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else […] George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear […] to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains” (Vonnegut 7). Rather than protest, George completely obeys the restrictions placed on him, while oblivious to the arrest of his son. Individuals in this society who are too beautiful, too strong, and too intelligent, are given “handicaps” to render them average, which ironically is not “equality”, as they are not given the freedom to exert their natural-born abilities. Harrison Bergeron encapsulates a character who stands out as an anomaly to society, much like Winston, who realizes the manipulation of the government. The hindrance of the grace and beauty of the ballerinas with the lighthearted tone of the story seemingly gives a touch of twisted humor; at the end, all is well and normal life is resumed. The robotic nature of life and the lack of variety gives off a sad sympathy in the reader. It is interesting to note the symbolism of Harrison’s appearance on television; although it is very obvious that something is wrong, his parents do not notice, symbolizing the utmost power of the dystopian government.
In both narratives, the father-son relationship is the most interesting, although these relationships are different in both scenarios. Vonnegut’s treatment evokes a feeling a sadness and pity, as both stories show how a corrupted society (or just society in general) tears apart families and the lives of individuals. The oblivion and false optimism shown in George and Joe is heartbreakingly sad, as they are blissfully unaware of what they are truly missing in life. Joe yearns for a fatherly figure, and is unable to escape the orphanage, while George is unable to escape the society that he completely succumbs to and believes to be perfect and deserving. Ultimately, the negative impact that society and warfare have on an individual is exemplified in both protagonists.