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“Harrison Bergeron” is a short story authored by Kurt Vonnegut in 1961. To be precise, the story is classified under the science-fiction genre. The protagonist, Harrison Bergerson, is held by the government due to his extreme intelligence quotient. It is unfortunate that the government forces him to wear a radio that hinders his ability to think (Thomas 162). Vonnegut’s main aim of publishing the story was to debate the elements of equality in contemporary America. Throughout his book, he employs satire in analyzing the issues favored by egalitarians. Vonnegut’s book has been a great influence on those individuals that do not support absolute equality. In point of fact, the book also constitutes of matters concerning the drawbacks of equality (Werlock & James 310-313). This paper critically gives an overview of Vonnegut’s sociological and political analysis of his book.
It is salient to note that the book gives insight on matters of equality in early America; as well as the present day America. The political nature of Vonnegut’s book dictates that all individuals should be rendered equal (Boon 188). Clearly, this upholds egalitarianism which ensures that no one in society is considered more superior to others. The policies of America believe that each person is equal thus they should be treated in the same way. In “Harrison Bergeron”, Vonnegut examines the issue of equality from a broader perspective. He asserts that there are many drawbacks that come from attempting to make people equal (Boon 188). Often, individuals may interpret it in a literal manner hence causing more harm than good. Kurt Vonnegut outlines that the drawbacks may occur when individuals strive to achieve equality in all aspects (Werlock & James 310-313). For instance; they may desire to be equal in social classes or appearance, which is impossible.
As opposed to capitalism, Kurt Vonnegut focuses on the tenets of communism in his book. It is clear to observe the alienation of communists during the McCarthy period. In fact, most Americans faced accusations regarding their allegiance to communism. Also, the era marked the time when supporters of communism would be harassed and questioned by the government. The issue of communism may have also been noted during the Cold War when Americans were in a feud with the Russians. The society present in “Harrison Bergeron” largely focuses on communism and its influence in society (Werlock & James 310-313). It dictates that no individuals should acquire more economic resources than others. Bergeron’s society vouches for a society with no classes or divisions regarding the distribution of resources. Additionally, the society dismisses bigotry based on power. They believe that each person should receive the opportunity of having power bestowed upon them. In point of fact, failure to conform to those communist principles results in punishments or harassment (Kozlovsky-Golan 83-84).
However, the author does not concur with the society’s principles. He asserts that equal distribution of wealth is an insane and fatuous practice. It is beyond possibilities to attempt and distribute resources in an equal manner. According to the author, equal distribution of wealth dictates that the labor of hardworking citizens goes to waste (Boon 188). The equality is unfair when it infringes on the rights of other citizens. Moreover, the author asserts that punishing citizens that do not endorse this form of equality is an uncouth practice (Kozlovsky-Golan 83-84). According to paternalism, individuals should be allowed to make personal decisions that do not interfere with other people’s rights.
There is a distinct relationship between social norms and political systems in Kurt Vonnegut’s book. He relates the story to today’s society whereby there is an elimination of language that offends the minority. This approach has been widely used in an attempt to bring about equality among the citizens of America (Werlock & James 310-313). It is clear to note that Bergeron does not endorse this approach because it fails to eliminate discrimination. In point of fact, it encourages marginalization in different ways. Equality of such groups should not be within themselves but, among the society as a whole. Bergeron’s society asserts that people should employ equality rather than placating the situations of marginalized groups (Werlock & James 310-313).
Kurt Vonnegut’s book may also be sociologically analyzed to delineate the future of the American people. According to the events in the book, they may adopt practices that do not endorse equality of the people (Boon 188). There is a close relationship between drugs and the characters’ inability to think in a rational manner. Also, the characters in the story lack qualities such as passion and intelligence. The absence of these qualities may refer to the consequences of those individuals that have serenity as their priority (Farrell 182-184).
It is salient that Harrison Bergeron acts as a symbol of the selfish and individualistic American culture. They depict characteristics of people against the concept of communism. Also, he has been used as a symbol to describe the cowardly nature of the American people (Farrell 182-184). Bergeron is the opposite of cowardice. His characteristics describe a strong man that strives to achieve greatness in power (Werlock & James 310-313). According to Bergeron’s society, most strong men do not embrace their strengths due to equality. The story delineates that embracing one’s abilities negatively affects the progress of equality. Howbeit, the author emphasizes on avoidance of forceful initiation of equality.
The theme of the dangers of egalitarianism is evident apropos of the debate about equality in contemporary America. As earlier mentioned, the author asserts that full equality often results in more trouble than good. In fact, he outlines that both the initiation and accomplishment of the idea may be a tasking process. The book also depicts the ways in which other citizens are tortured so as to achieve equality among others. The story forces those beautiful individuals to hide their faces to avoid demoralizing the ugly people. In the same way, those intelligent individuals allow different voices to impede their ability to think in a rational manner. It is salient that the strong individuals are also forced to carry heavy weights to ascertain their strength (Kozlovsky-Golan 83-84).
Kurt Vonnegut’s story also delineates that the highly capable individuals often despise themselves to ensure equality within the society. Apparently, portraying their capabilities may hinder equality among the people. It is forlorn that most citizens conform to the government policies to avoid chances of encountering punishments. As earlier discussed, those citizens affiliated with communism were either punished or excommunicated by their governments (Kozlovsky-Golan 83-84). It is, therefore, clear that the struggle for equality is indeed a rough one. The author delineates that the debate about equality in America may give rise to sloths and unproductive citizens. They do not focus on their full potential thus causing a threat to the development of America. It is unfortunate that the governments do not fear to lose intelligent, talented and gifted individuals (Thomas 162). Regardless of the achievement of equality in America, most individuals end up suffering great losses.
Using Harrison Bergeron, this paper has critically explored the debate about equality in contemporary America. The story depicts the need for equality among American citizens. Conversely, the author delineates a different opinion concerning the same. Kurt Vonnegut believes that extreme equality is not the solution. He satirically describes the impossibility of total equality in society. It is indeed ridiculous to attempt and create equality in all aspects. Regardless of the fact that each American citizen is rendered equal, total equality experiences more negatives than positives. It is not possible to have individuals with the same behavior, appearance or social class. For this reason, it is clear that the concept of communism is based on irrational rather than logical thoughts. The paper has also given insight into the effects of not conforming to government policies. In fact, it has explored issues of the McCarthy period in America. Additionally, there is an overview concerning the slow development of the American people. Most of the individuals often prevent themselves from growing to uphold matters of equality. They are forced to conform and comply with government regulations thus, they do not develop. Regardless of equality, it is unfair to hinder people’s freedoms due to their special gifts and talents. Just like Harrison Bergeron, these individuals have no control over their abilities. For this reason, they should not be blamed or punished for the same.
Boon, Kevin A. At Millennium’s End: New Essays on the Work of Kurt Vonnegut. Albany, NY: State Univ. of New York Press, 2001. Print.
Kozlovsky-Golan, Yvonne. Death Penalty in American Cinema: Representations of Criminality and Retribution in Hollywood Film. London: I.B. Tauris, 2013. Print.
Farrell, Susan E. Critical Companion to Kurt Vonnegut: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 2008. Internet resource.
Thomas, P L. Reading, Learning, Teaching Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Peter Lang, 2006. Print.
Werlock, Abby H. P, and James P. Werlock. The Facts on File Companion to the American Short Story. New York NY: Facts On File, Inc, 2010. Internet resource.
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