Sunday, May 29, 2016

Harrison Bergeron response - Nancy Shtarkman

Nancy Shtarkman
  Professor Weimer    

            While reading Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”, I couldn't help but connect it to Brave New World. In the latter novel, the citizens are meant to live in a utopian society. This is greatly contrasted in the short story of “Harrison Bergeron”, where the citizens live in a dystopia. The main characters, George and Hazel Bergeron, parents to Harrison Bergeron, are forced to be extremely limited in their knowledge. Whenever George attempts to think of something that strays from the governments’ way of thinking, he gets loud noises in his ear, which interrupts him from his train of thought. For example, when George starts to think about his imprisoned son, loud noises arise in his ears that resemble pots and pans clanking, which is abnormally loud and meant to stray him away from any feeling or emotion.
There are many similarities between “Harrison Bergeron” and Brave New World. In the latter novel, a Utopian society is created in hopes of eliminating all sorts of emotion and individuality, similar to “Harrison Bergeron”. In the latter short story, George isn’t allowed to think of his son because every time he does, an alarm goes off in his head to veer him away from the emotion of love. He also isn’t allowed to question the idea of the law because as soon as he thinks about the fact that the ballerinas shouldn’t be handicapped with masks, another siren goes off in his head. He was also wondering about how beautiful and graceful they might look if the masks were removed. However, as soon as he did that, another siren went off. The point of this society was to create equality amongst folk in all possible ways to eliminate desire and jealousy. The ways in which these people are created equal is dystopian. The citizens have to wear physical weights in order for everyone to be equal. These physical weights are symbols of both physical and mental burdens these citizens must face. These burdens is what makes this story dystopian. This was similar to Brave New World. In this novel, it was okay for a multitude of people to have orgies with each other where nobody could get jealous or upset. This way, emotion and desire is eliminated because everyone is free to have sex with whomever they want without feeling guilt or remorse for their actions or whomever they might hurt in the process. However, these citizens are relieved of their physical and mental burdens, which is what makes Brave New World utopian.
Furthermore, in Brave New World, the use of Soma, made these characters oblivious to love and emotion. They couldn’t see what was wrong with society because they were essentially all “high”. The “Handicaps” that the characters in “Harrison Bergeron” wore could be paralleled with Soma. Handicaps can take different forms. For example, an athlete might have many weights on his body so he won’t be physically stronger than anyone else. This was seen with Harrison Bergeron. A wise person may have headphones with loud noises whenever he thinks of ideas that rival those of the governments’. This was seen with George Bergeron. The handicaps were meant to do away with emotions and individuality, much like Soma was intended to do. In Brave New World, Lenina drinks Soma after she visits the Reservation and sees the horrible conditions the residents live in. Soma is meant to steer her away from any emotion. In addition to being addicted to Soma, the characters must drink this in society or else there are repercussions. This is similar to the Handicaps in George’s ear. As soon as he starts thinking about his son and the potential beauty hidden behind the masks of the ballerinas, the noises released by his headphones veer his train of thought away from these emotions. These handicaps can be removed but there will be repercussions. This is similar to the drinking of Soma. The residents in Brave New World must drink Soma.
            Another connection between “Harrison Bergeron” and Brave New World is between the two main characters. Harrison attempts to change society when he breaks out of prison. He interrupts a ballerina dance show by exclaiming to society that he wants change. He proceeds to take off all of his handicaps and is soon shot by the Handicap General. In Brave New World, John exclaims his distress with the World State by saying that by eliminating all of these feelings, humanity isn’t created but it is lost in the process. He couldn’t comply with these rules and he kills himself. Both characters are distressed with society and aren’t able to overcome it.
In this short story, the characters are encumbered by heavy weights and masks in the hopes of creating an equal society. This idea is paralleled to the idea of censorship nowadays. In modern day China, regular citizens cannot freely go on the Internet and search what they please. There are restrictions on the types of Internet searches that can be conducted. Another parallel I saw with the dressing of weights on the characters with the use of speed cameras in today's society.  Although this doesn't seem important, it potentially is. Safety is the number one concern. However, these hidden speed cameras never used to be prominent as they are in society now. Police officers used to be on patrol, keeping watch, and giving tickets when they saw people speeding. Nowadays, this human effort has transgressed into a computer effort. The speed cameras take a picture of your car, license plate, speed, and then you receive a ticket in the mail within two weeks. This can be paralleled to the ways in which the government keeps track of what is being said and done by the citizens in Harrison Bergeron.
            “Harrison Bergeron” is a dystopian novel because the citizens are always fighting internally with each other. Brave New World is a utopian novel because the citizens are oblivious to everything and as a result, they exemplify the motto, “ignorance is bliss”.

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