Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Harrison Bergeron

“Harrison Bergeron” is a short story written by Kurt Vonnegut that mirrors the concept of crab mentality, and its dangers. In the story, people who are inherently smarter, more attractive, and just overall better are given handicaps to level the playing field of society and create total equality. It also serves as a warning of the risks involved when everyone becomes completely equal to each other, because no one in the story is lifted up, other people are only brought down.
            Crab mentality is the thought phenomenon of, “if I can’t have it no one can.” The concept references several crabs stuck in a bucket, trying to escape. If one crab comes close to the top of the bucket, and is capable of escaping, another crab at the bottom of the bucket will spitefully grab and swat it back down in an effort to thwart its escape. The competitive nature hinders any progress, and guarantees that all of the crabs will die.
            This crab mentality can be seen in “Harrison Bergeron” through the leveling handicaps. No one person can be better than another, and as opposed to bringing those at a disadvantage up, society brings anyone who is better down. In essence, all this does is ensure that absolutely no one will succeed.
            When it is revealed that Harrison and his Empress are both beautiful, talented people, Vonnegut raises the question, “are natural abilities and attributes somehow unfair?” Harrison and his Empress are forced to wear masks and weights to conceal and impede features that are out of their control. Can it be considered an unfair advantage even if Harrison has no control over it? Harrison is said to be attractive, tall, and incredibly smart- all qualities bestowed upon him when he was born, and all qualities that are out of his control.

            At the end of the story, Harrison and his Empress are killed by the Handicapper General, and everyone returns to their lives and handicaps. There is a running theme throughout the entire course of this type of futile resistance. In nearly every piece of dystopian literature assigned in class, when the protagonist defies the government or speaks out, nothing comes of it; either the character dies, or submits to the powers that be. This story did not deviate from that, but it had the most striking ending, in my opinion. Not only is Harrison killed on television, almost instantaneously everyone forgets about it.                 

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