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How does Vonnegut use irony and satire in "Harrison Bergeron"?

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awatts14 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:23 AM via web

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How does Vonnegut use irony and satire in "Harrison Bergeron"?

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cetaylorplfd | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:33 AM (Answer #1)

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"Harrison Bergeron" is structured as satire to offer a critique on people's claims that we should all be equal.  Through the story, Vonnegut questions the assumed benefits of having a truly equal society.  Throughout the story, ironic situations work in the service of developing the story's theme.  For example, Harrison is an extraordinary person:  he is physically attractive and strong, he is incredibly intelligent, and he is talented.  As a result, he is forced to wear a series of handicaps to make him "equal" to those who are different from him.  Ironically, Harrison is able to break free of those handicaps and still be the person who he really is.

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hilahmarca | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:07 PM (Answer #2)

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One needs to look now farther than the first paragraph to realize that Vonnegut's tale is laced with irony and satire.  The strongest hint is when he mentions that there are over 100 ammendments in the Constitution.  All these ammendments are designed to make society "perfect."  Later on George and his wife Hazel are discussing how George's handicaps, the bags of birdshot tied to his legs, are terribly inconvenient and painful.  Hazel suggests George break a law and remove the bags since he isn't competing against anyone at home.  George replies that if he broke the law so would others and they'd end up right back in the "Dark Ages".  These examples depict there is no such thing as a perfect society.  Equality (in looks, strength, intelligence, etc.) does not bring about perfection and competition is essential for a thriving economy.  In every society there are winners and losers.  There is no way around that.

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