How does TV function in the dystopia of Kurt Vonnegut's story "Harrison Bergeron?" What effect does this have on George and Hazel?

2 Answers | Add Yours

sensei918's profile pic

sensei918 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" is a satirization of an "idealized" society where everyone is equal. Of course, he is playing with the idea of what equality means in the eyes of the government and the individual. What ends up being created is a dystopian society where equal means that everyone must be the same, not necessarily equal under the law. Anyone with either extreme strength, beauty, or talent must be handicapped to the level of those who are not gifted. But at least they still have televison. The TV is supposed to provide a bland, soporific kind of entertainment that will, in addition to the handicaps, keep the people in line and make them forget how awful their lives are. This is a double-edged sword for George and Hazel. George is strong and smart; he is forced to be severely handicapped with weights and noises going off in his head. Hazel is average, and she does not have to wear handicaps. The irony here is that George, who would have understood what happened to his son, is distracted by loud noises at the moment Harrison is shot. Hazel, the average, actually watches and does not understand what happens.

zheimerl's profile pic

zheimerl | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

The TV in Harrison Bergeron acts as a double-edged sword: It both placates the masses by keeping them in their homes and entrancing them with its glow, but it also acts as vehicle for Harrison to communicate to everyone watching that he is special and that he cannot and should not be "handicapped."

However, one side of this double-edge is blunted when Harrison is killed by the Handicapper General. By killing Harrison in front of the TV audience, including his parents, she communicates to everyone exactly what will happen to those who step out of the boundaries established by society. This single act shows that descent will not be allowed and that it will be met by extreme force.

The dystopia is further reinforced by the TV audience members, represented by his parents, and how they respond to the shooting. Limited by either their own stupidity or by the handicaps imposed on them by society, they forget why they were ever sad and continue through their blunted, limited, eternally dystopian experience -- all in the name of "equality."

We’ve answered 317,600 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question