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.
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