In the short story, ‘Harrison Bergeron’, the author Kurt Vonnegut has presented his views concerning the nature of American society. The author has presented a critique of the possible future of the American society.
The main theme of this story is egalitarianism. Through this story, the author mocks at the attempt to bring uniformity by ironically presenting the method of bringing equality between the individuals in the American society. However, it is important to remember that imposed uniformity or equality destroys all individuality and creative abilities.
This story can be considered as the critique of the idea that the greatest ideal is to establish equality, by using any means, between individuals in the society. This criticism of the contemporary society is brought out when the author begins the story with the statement that : “The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal”. (Vonnegut, para 1). This statement can be considered as the thesis of the author that egalitarianism is not that acceptable as it destroys the creative abilities of the individuals.
The government, according to this story, introduced amendments to the constitution, according to which all beautiful, capable, and talented individuals were required to reduce their rare abilities in order to establish an egalitarian society.
The charge of bringing about this equality is given to given to United States Handicapper General. The term ‘handicapper’ is significant because it implies that the people with less abilities were given the power to reduce the strengths of those people who possessed greater abilities. It is interesting to note that instead of improving the ability of people, the administration attempts to lower the abilities of people, and perhaps this is the only way to build an egalitarian society.
The author refers to the family of George and Hazel Bergeron and their son Harrison. Hazel “had a perfectly average intelligence” (Vonnegut, para 3), which was ideal for the present American society which demanded less from the people. On the other hand George, who was intelligent, “had a little mental handicap radio in his ear”. (Vonnegut, para 3)He was supposed to wear this transmitter as there was a possibility of George taking advantage of his intellectual abilities. The reference to Hazel and George is the perfect example of the attitude of the government towards the people who possessed better intellect. George’s intellectual ability was reduced by the transmitter given by the government. On the other hand, Hazel did not have any obligation to wear such instruments, as she possessed lesser abilities.
George and Hazel are presented as discussing the TV program, and the problem caused to George due to the instrument that created noise in his ears. However, Hazel is jealous of George because she was not given the facility of wearing such an instrument. However, George is not able to get rid of the mental handicap because this may encourage him to compete with other people, and according government laws, it is not proper to compete with other individuals in the society. It is stated that: “…pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else”.(Vonnegut, para 29) This statement shows that competition is forbidden in such a society where one can find perfect law and order situation.
The description of ballerina shows that she possessed great talents, but she was compelled to wear “handicap bags” which were “as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men”. (Vonnegut, para 40)
The TV announcement gives information pertaining to Harrison Bergeron who possessed genius like talents. He was considered by his parents as abnormal. A person who possessed extraordinary physical and intellectual talents was considered as abnormal. Harrison was not yet handicapped, and this had increased his capacity to threaten the society which gave importance to equality among individuals. It is mentioned that Harrison was imprisoned for his abilities, and the bad news was that he had escaped from the prison. The TV announcement shows the photograph of Harrison in order to inform the viewers that dangerous Harrison may destroy the stability of the egalitarian American society. The government had attempted to reduce the beauty and positive qualities of Harrison as the author makes the statement that: “…but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds”. (Vonnegut, para 45) These lines show the attempt made by the government to reduce the abilities of the individuals. In the meantime, it is found that Harrison was able to attack the TV studio.
The author presents Harrison as the person who tried to protest the attempt of the government to reduce his abilities. Harrison smashed his handicap bag, and destroyed the headphones and spectacles which had created problems for his physical and intellectual freedom. Harrison showed his contempt for government laws by dancing and enjoying the music. He also removed the mental and physical handicaps of ballerinas and musicians. However, in the end the Handicap General appears in the scene with double–barreled shot gun,and she killed Harrison and his companion. With this, the government had gained upper hand over those people who tried to abandon the law of the land.
This short story has provided the critique of those people who demanded special concessions for the people with lesser abilities in order to create equality among different individuals in the society. The author has indirectly criticized the attempt of the modern government and other people to destroy racial, gender, and other differences. This story presents a hypothetical picture wherein the government controlled by the people with lesser abilities may destroy the ability of others in order to protect their selfish motives. It criticizes the government’s attempt to interfere in the relationship between individuals in the society.