Harrison Bergeron an
Illustration of false equality
The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal (208). This in a nutshell is the premise of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron. Vonnegut’s title character Harrison Bergeron is a picture perfect human being: very tall, handsome and intelligent. Although our society would deem these desirable attributes, in this story’s 2081 AD setting they are highly objectionable. Kurt Vonnegut uses the character Harrison Bergeron to illustrate the danger of imposing total equality on a diversified population.
In Bergeron’s society uniformity is strictly imposed upon all citizens. Physical adjustments are levied to achieve this uniformity: tall people wear weights, disturbing sounds administered through earpieces deter intelligent thought, and hideous masks conceal beauty (208, 210-211). Handicap Generals continually clear citizens’ minds allowing them to think only in the present. These controls force the suppression of all individuality.
Because of his extraordinary innate attributes, fourteen-year-old Harrison contends with extravagant controls. His seven-foot height dictates he wear scrap metal weighing three hundred pounds. Large headphones, not earpieces, are required to subdue his intelligence. His spectacles cause him to be half-blind and give him whanging headaches (211). In order to offset his looks the Handicap Generals require that he wear a red rubber ball for his nose, shave his eyebrows and cap his white teeth in black. In Harrison, Vonnegut has obviously created an exceptional human being.
When Harrison decides to escape his bonds he is considered an enormous threat. The television station interrupts its normal broadcasts to warn the populous of him, describing him as a genius and an athlete?extremely dangerous (210). Breaking into the broadcast studio he appears Clanking, clownish and huge, Harrison stood in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand (211). Harrison realizes his power, proclaiming Even as I stand here- crippled, hobbled, sickened-I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become? (211). His proclamation reveals the maturity of a fourteen-year-old, but indicates his realization of his potential. Harrison issues the invitation to the first woman who dares rise to her fee claim her mate and her throne (211). A ballerina who has the courage to join him, reveals with the removal of her restraints she is blindingly beautiful (212). Before he is killed and all memory of him is erraticated, Harrison shares with his Empress the ecstasy of pure, unfettered emotion through music and dance. Harrison gives all those who are witnessing this an example of what humans can be, proving he is not an exception.
The almost instantaneous removal of the memory of Harrison and his televised murder from the minds of even his parents is disconcerting. To maintain a status quo equality no past history or future advancements can be allowed in Vonnegut’s scenario. This ultimate politically correct society has no potential for advancement. Medical, technological and aesthetic innovations would come to a halt; the consequences of a stagnant society include vulnerability to natural disasters and diseases. This has happened in past history as well. In the dark ages evolution came to an end. During this period of time people suffered and died because of plague and famine.
Kurt Vonnegut uses the character Harrison Bergeron to illustrate the danger of imposing total equality on a diversified population. Hazards are inherent in a freethinking society; when Harrison realizes his potential his first reaction is to become a dictator. But his next response is to share his newly released sense of freedom. And in sharing it he discovers the ecstasy of creativity and shared emotion. Vonnegut thus reveals the vast potential for human evolution. Harrison’s rapid evolution from a dictator’s stance to sharing his ecstay illustrates Vonnegut’s belief in the potential good of mankind’s ability if given the freedom to evolve. One wonders what kind of society Vonnegut would have created had Harrison not been murdered