Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” describes a “family of equals in a society of equals” (Bozeman and Hirsch, n.d.) where the government promises equal opportunities by placing the gifted at a disadvantage. The storyline is brief and provides the foundations for debates on equality and the implication of equality on the society. Vonnegut presents a idealistic foundation in “Harrison Bergeron” as the story is unswerving in its political roots and customs of the United States as a society. It contradicts the values and historical perspectives of the American’s policy of independence and equality based on the beliefs in Social Darwinism. The story was first published in 1961 and is a classic paradigm of Vonnegut’s skill of bringing together science fiction and satire. In new world of “Harrison Bergeron” the government enforce laws that “forced each individual to wear "handicaps" to offset any advantage he had, so everyone could be truly and fully equal” (Moore & Ferrara, 2012). Attractive people wore unattractive masks to conceal their beauty, while strong people wore weights to keep them slow.
Critics point to the fact that the story does not discuss politics as it occurs in the “real-world”, yet the story is one of the best tales of instruction on the values of unconditional equality. Vonnegut’s uses satire to show the forced power and equality of the Handicapper General, while showing the effect of television on the people in the society in America at the time. Critics note that the Vonnegut’s ideas were influenced by Newton Minow’s speech in 1961 which looked at the equality as it existed in the programs on the television. The sounds of the gun in the final stages of the story echo popular comic lines from comedians such as Gracie Allen and George Burns. The H-G men are the agents of the Handicapper General and they represent a suggestion of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Secret Service agents as G-men, ‘government’ men.
Freedom is a recurrent theme in the story and presents itself through when Harrison breaks out of jail. The “futuristic society” shows that “freedom is no longer a bedrock” with American values. One social value resulting from this is that the law places those who are “above normal” on the same level as those who are “normal”. The reader realizes that it is easy to lose one’s freedom to competition and the Amendments to the Constitution. “Harrison Bergeron” is devoid of civil rights. People accept the oppression based on the mediocrity of cultural values and the acceptance of equality. However, no one gains from these misguided attempts to impose equality, apart from those who were seen as ineffectual. Within the society, the oppression is even clearer as anyone who deviated from the expectations of the society, is killed. Harrison is killed as for rejecting mediocrity as he attempts to rise above this social status. Vonnegut shows the civil rights of the individual which cannot be sacrificed, even for the common good.
Bozeman, B., and Hirsch, P. (n.d.) Science, Technology, and the Distribution of Outcomes:
Alternative - Theories of the “Handicapper General” Web. Accessed May 27, 2014 http://archive.cspo.org/rvm/publications/pubs
Khawaja, Z. (2011), Socialism, Communism, & Harrison Bergeron Web. July 14, 2011.
Accessed May 27, 2014 http://zainabkhawaja.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/harrison-bergeron-an-interpretive-essay/
Moore, S., & Ferrara, P., (2012), The Poverty Of Equality – The American Spectator, Web,
Accessed May 27, 2014, http://spectator.org/articles/35897/poverty-equality