Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Short Story, ‘Harrison Bergeron’

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In Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s short story, ‘Harrison Bergeron’, the setting contributes significantly towards the meaning of the story. Set in the year 2081, an alternate reality in which the future USA government achieved “equality” among all citizens by enacting amendments that handicap those whom surpass other citizens in strength and talent. Vonnegut gives a satire tone towards America’s desire to have equality and fairness. Vonnegut criticizes the idea of absolute equality in “Harrison Bergeron” and argues permitting political leaders to make laws that prohibit the citizens individuality and competitive nature. The short story “Harrison Bergeron” introduces the son of the two main characters, George and Hazel Bergeron, and has been taken at the young age of fourteen. Later in the story, Harrison returns, interrupting a broadcast of which is found out that he has remarkable strengths and intelligence, as an escapee from jail wanting to overthrow the government and help the citizens of the society.

Vonnegut’s point of view helps me understand his short story, the satire tone ridicules the idea of the United State wanting absolute equality. Vonnegut mocks the government for letting the amendments, that would create absolute equality, be enacted. The power of the government can be dangerous and condemning if the citizens empower their leaders to restrict citizens’ rights in any manner. For example, from the passage, ‘Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.'( Vonnegut 1) Those that had above average intelligence are limited to be equal to the rest of society. I believe his tone indicates a displeasure for the citizens that let their leaders become over powered.

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In the extreme case of society in 2081, they attempted and succeeded in eliminating all the stress associated with performing and having to be competitive. For example, when George and Hazel are watching ballerinas on television, he observed them as, “They weren’t really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway.” The reason was because of the limitations even professionals were under. ‘They were burdened with sash weights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in'( Vonnegut 1). I think this means that the people also did not want to feel like they were less attractive to their spouse or loved one. Those of whom were known to have above average intelligence had mental restrictions along with those that were physically better than others.

The consequences of letting political leaders become too powerful can be a great. People knowingly adopt amendments that would give the government the right to develop and use technology to monitor citizens is far-fetched. These laws were implemented because not all citizens were aware or because most were just afraid. From the story 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'( Vonnegut 2). of which George replied, ‘Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out’ (Vonnegut 2). The fine for alleviating the weight from a person would result in hefty fines. It seems to me that the intelligent are also watched in their home so they do pose a threat. The narrator’s point of view is mocking the idea of the government creating absolute equality.

The Vonnegut then brings Harrison back into the scene. He reintroduces Harrison by using a breaking news report while George and Hazel where watching TV. Later to find out he is a fugitive with incredible strength and an intelligent mind because and he does not want to where limitations. As this man claimed to be the new emperor and started to free those around him, “the United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor” (Vonnegut 5). Vonnegut illustrates Harrison as a revolutionary that want freedom for the citizens. Harrison was too dangerous for a government with little patience for those that broke the law. For example, from the passage, ‘Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on” (Vonnegut 5). Even though it was Harrison that broke them off, the Handicappers saw the musicians as a threat without the limitations.

In conclusion, Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s satire tone in the short story suggests he argues against the idea of absolute equality . He ridicules the protagonists because they rather live with the limitations then have freedom. Vonnegut’s story is an alternate future reality were we head down a path where our government is taking power away from the people by implementing laws and passing bills that would favor their longevity. The improvement of technology is making this possible as well as the underlying greed most leaders have.

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Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Short Story, ‘Harrison Bergeron’. (2021, May 24). Retrieved from


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