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Upon what 5 points is the society in "Harrison Bergeron"  based? 

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especial | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 15, 2013 at 7:58 AM via web

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Upon what 5 points is the society in "Harrison Bergeron"  based? 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 15, 2013 at 4:29 PM (Answer #1)

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Although the setting is completely imaginary and resembles no real place, readers soon detect that the narrative is concerned with some of the most powerful and poltical questions in American culture.  In "Harrison Bergeron," with black humor, Kurt Vonnegut takes social values and political bents to their logical and horrifying conclusions.

The society of "Harrison Bergeron" is based upon the following points

1. There is forced equality for everyone. This rigid ideal of equality outweighs the rights of individuals to excel. For example, those of superior abilities are made to wear handicaps that suppress their intelligence so that others will not feel inferior, while those of physical abilties and beauty are also handicapped for the same reason.

2. Mediocrity is the standard. One of Nietzche's greatest fears was that, tired of life and weak-willed, man would take no risks and seek only comfort and security.  Indeed, George Bergeron, Harrison's father, becomes what Nietzche called der letzle mensch (the last man) and is afraid to remove his handicaps that cause him great agony.  

"If I tried to get away with it,...then other people'd get away with it--and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else."

3. There is a totalitarian government to enforce the "equality."  People are severely punished when they violate laws. For instance, Harrison is put in jail because he is merely suspected of plotting to overthrow the government. Yet, the news reporter describes him as "a genius and an athlete...and [he] should be regarded as extremely dangerous."

4. Technology is used to control and desensitize the citizens of the society. Hazel Bergeron inanely watches the television, but cannot remember what she has seen moments later.  The news media tells the people only what the government wants them to know. If something occurs that is unexpected, the picture goes off.

5. There are tyrannical reprisals against offenders of the law. When Harrison and the beautiful ballerina throw off their handicaps and declare themselves Emperor and Empress, Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, enters the studio with a double barreled .10 gauge shotgun and fires at the two young people, who are "dead before they hit the floor."




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