What is true equality? In humans, it would mean everyone is the same, but in nature, it is practically impossible to have true equality. Writers have often attempted to write about true equality within a utopian society. Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Animal Farm by George Orwell, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley are a few examples. However, in their writing, the authors end up portraying the opposite, a dystopian society. In Harrison Bergeron, Vonnegut uses the setting to show the role of a dystopian society in order to illustrate that true equality is anything but that.
The first example of this equality is seen in the home of the Bergeron’s. “Hazel had perfectly average intelligence… And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio” (Vonnegut, 1). Handicaps, mental and physical, are placed on those with higher intelligence, in this case George Bergeron, in order to keep them at equal intelligence with their inferiors. Physical and intelligence handicaps make equality and, therefore, Vonnegut’s utopian society. Yet, a utopian society is described as “A community or society possessing highly desirable or perfect qualities” (British Library). Obviously, neither stupidity nor weakness are desirable and especially not perfect qualities. This is where the utopian idea begins morphing into that of dystopian.
Moving later in the story, more dystopian characteristics begin to emerge. Oppression appears when Harrison Bergeron returns to the plot. Harrison bursts into the scene yelling,” I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once! (Vonnegut, 5). Another trait of utopian society is that its rules and ways of life are perfect, but with Harrison’s rebellion, the sense of oppression becomes even greater. If a society’s rules were perfect, there would be no need for an uprising. Harrison also talks about “selecting his empress” daring a woman to claim the title (Vonnegut, 5). When one ballerina rises, a sense of supremacy is felt from her. Even under oppression, this woman sees herself superior to the other ballerinas. In a utopian society, people would accept themselves as being equal without having thoughts of superiority. With Harrison and his empress’ actions, the utopian basis of
equality begins to unravel.
The consequences of a dystopia are shown when the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, arrives to stop Harrison’s uprising. Glampers arrives and immediately guns down Harrison and his empress and tells everyone else,” they had ten seconds to put their handicaps back on” (Vonnegut, 6). Glampers is without handicaps herself, so equality is not necessary in special cases. Oppression is demonstrated once again as the Bergeron’s TV dies, not allowing to see what occurs next. Though it does not matter, they have already forgotten about the death of their son that occurred moments before. This is the final example of oppression that shatters the ruse of a utopia.
Vonnegut’s setting in Harrison Bergeron shows that true equality is anything but that. This idea originally stems from the story’s utopian setting. However, as the story progresses, oppression and inequality reveal the true dystopia beneath the faux utopia. The idea of equality stems from ignorance, handicaps, and control, but the government’s oppression and Harrison show the true inequality. The final act of oppression by Glampers reveals the true dystopia of the setting.
“Harrison Bergeron.” Word Fight. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. . “Utopia.” THE BRITISH LIBRARY – The world’s knowledge. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. .