Sunday, May 15, 2016

Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

“Harrison Bergeron” begins, “THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal.” Upon reading that and knowing that this piece was dystopian, I braced myself for any horrific practices or polices within this society. So it was not to my surprise that striving for equality in this society was taken to extremes. Equality meant that everyone was literally the same in every way due to new amendments and the United States Handicapper General. These amendments made it possible for people to have the same intelligence by having a mental handicap radio or if someone looked very different from everyone else, they’d have a physical handicap, or both. 
As I was reading this, I thought back to Ayn Rand’s Anthem, wherein their society also strived for equality by taking away individualism and controlling for every aspect of the citizens’ lives— from what their jobs were, to when they mate, where they live, etc. However, there was no physical handicapping that took place within that society as opposed to the one in “Harrison Bergeron.” It was interesting, but at the same time creepy to read about a society where the government strips people of their individuality by making them physically unable to do things that would make them seem more than average. This included making it difficult for citizens to think for themselves, or by concealing their true heights or beauty through metal handicaps. While in Anthem, the government tried to prevent citizens from rebelling by placing them in jobs that did not suit their intelligence; in this literature, the government prevented rebellion by having a loud sound go off in the citizens’ heads that they considered smart, every time their brain was trying to make sense of what was going on. There was no doubt that this was a dystopian society because natural human rights and individuality was taken away.
One thing that was very different in this piece as opposed to other dystopian literature was the fact that the protagonist, Harrison Bergeron, was not successful in trying to break free of the government. While he tried to make a scene in front of the television broadcast and rip off all of his handicaps, he only ended up getting shot and killed by the handicap general. His own parents could not even react to what happened because the handicaps produced a distraction making them forget what they were watching and their train of thought. When Harrison was shot, his rebellion died instantly. In most dystopian literature, the protagonist is able to either break free of governmental control by running away, as seen in Anthem by Ayn Rand, “Welcome to the Monkey House” by Vonnegut and other works. The protagonist also usually has a longer life span. The only other dystopian literature that I have noticed sort of connects with what happened to the protagonist is Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. In the novel, the protagonist ended up being tortured by the government (The Party) until he believed in everything The Party said. In both cases of Harrison and the protagonist in Nineteen Eighty-Four, their attempt to open the eyes of the citizens to the truth of the government failed.
I liked this piece a lot because the brutal truth of the society’s governmental control was introduced right away. It was enticing as well as horrifying reading about a society that strips individuality by physically altering its’ citizens. While this piece screams collectivism; it takes a different approach compared to other dystopian literature because the focus was mainly on a person’s physical appearance and mental states being fixed so that everyone was equal. Of course this would never happen in real life because it is inhumane to place metal handicaps on people, but to imagine it happening in our own world is something to really think about.

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