Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Harrison Bergeron-Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Harrison Bergeron takes place in the not too distant future; the year 2081, in fact. In this new world, everyone is “equal.” No one is smarter, better looking, stronger, or quicker than anyone else. This is not because of genetics; it’s due to Amendments to the Constitution. Law states that no one person can be better than another!

We are introduced to the Bergeron family, George and Hazel. We learn that their fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, has been arrested, although we aren’t sure for what at first. As we observe George and Hazel, we are quickly shown the absurdity of the new laws and how they are implemented. If you’re smarter than someone else, you have to wear an earpiece so that your thought-process is constantly interrupted by harsh noises. The idea of constant loud noises in my head all day every day would be enough to drive me crazy! At one point, Hazel expresses her jealousy of the noises and wishes she could hear them. I think she feels this way because the noises make George different from her, something she is unaccustomed to in such a stale society. Hazel does not have to wear an ear-piece because she has a “perfectly average intelligence.” However, when you continue to read the story, you see how dumb Hazel is. I found myself wondering if she was retarded. Everyone also has to wear burdensome bags of birdshot so that no one is faster or more athletic than anyone else. Even the ballerinas George and Hazel watch on TV wear the bags. It’s a wonder they can even dance with the bags on.
 As we continue to observe George and Hazel, we realize that they talk aimlessly and pretty much talk about nothing. Conversation is dull and not stimulating, and conversation is also often forgotten shortly after a topic is brought up.
As the story continues, an alert comes on TV announcing that Harrison Bergeron has escaped from prison and that he is not to be “reasoned” with. The announcement is soon interrupted as Harrison takes control of the TV station. Harrison comes on the TV and announces that he is the Emperor, and there has never been a greater ruler than he. He proceeds to break all of his ‘handicaps’ and take a ballerina as his Empress. The two dance together, breaking all the laws of the society they live in, even defying the laws of gravity and physics, and kiss each other in midair, until the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers enters and shoots the two of them and then the TV blacks out. After the event, the two parents cannot remember what they’ve just seen and are completely oblivious to the fact that their son was murdered.
This piece reminded me a lot of Feed and the book The Giver. All of these works present the idea of conformity and loss of identity, and involve a character defying these ideas. Is conformity and sameness what we as a society are moving towards today?
Another thing I’d like to discuss about this piece is the symbolism of Harrison. He is an anomaly and rebel in a society where everything is the same. For one, he is a freak of nature. A 7 foot tall fourteen-year-old? I think the number 7 has significance here. 7 is considered a holy number and has biblical ties. I think Harrison was supposed to be the savior of society.  All of his handicaps were more extreme than everyone else’s. He was made to wear more weight than everyone else, had to wear headphones instead of an earpiece, had to wear glasses, and had to wear a red ball on his nose which made him look like a clown. His intense persecution reminded me of Jesus. Why did Harrison say he was an Emperor instead of explaining what was going on logically to the viewers? Is it because actions speak louder than words? Or was Harrison actually nuts?
This work also presents the idea that the government controls everything. While everyone else lives in conformity, people in the government like Diana Moon Glampers don’t have to wear any handicaps and can just go around and shoot people without repercussion. Does the government run things in today’s society? If not, are we moving towards the day that they do?


  1. It reminds me of The Giver too! I forgot about that book, but great connection! I hope we are not moving towards this today! ugh that would be awful! Also great connection to the number 7 and religion! I would have never thought of that, but I think that you are definitely right! I really hope we don't have to wear things like that. I think Kurt is very creative in coming up with these inventions, and I think that they are made to look extreme to almost warn us about our society and it's values.

  2. Your connection to number 7 is interesting because in the bible that number denotes perfection in relation to God's view. He was one of the few that were willing to be different, just like Jesus, and no matter the consequences he was going to stand up for what is right. I guess the fact that he says he is the Emperor because he does believe that he will be the sovereign ruler once he changed the way life was.