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What attitudes about equality is Vonnegut mocking in the story "Harrison Bergeron"?What...

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jaxpi | Student, Grade 9 | Honors

Posted September 1, 2011 at 7:14 AM via web

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What attitudes about equality is Vonnegut mocking in the story "Harrison Bergeron"?

What statement is he making about individuality?

Consider the character of hazel and the comments she makes.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 1, 2011 at 8:58 AM (Answer #1)

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While Kurt Vonnegut may be ridiculing the fears of many citizens of the early 1960s in the United States who feared the federal government would in some way propose schemes that would enforce equality of outcome, the story "Harrison Bergeron" has been more prophetic that Vonnegut could have supposed.  For, the U.S. government did, indeed, impose quotas on hiring in the 1970s and established Affirmative Action. During George W. Bush's administration, the No Child Left Behind Law was enacted, a law which the reader could perceive as being satirized in Vonnegut's story by having the bright and talented students wear handicaps so that the slower can compete with them intellectually and physically.

At any rate, what Vonnegut ridicules mostly is the government's idea that it must be the one to ensure equality.  This attitude precludes the ability of individuals to rise on their own even when social restraints are eradicated.  So, in Bergeron's society there is the failure to acknowledge the innate differences in people and the failure to allow people to excel if they have talent.  To restrain and punish others for their talents is as criminal as not allowing someone to excel because of his race or nationality or other characteristics. Vonnegut takes political correctness and equal opportunity to extremes in order to get people to understand the dangers of some well-meaning programs.

In addition to satirizing the notion of handicapping people to enforce equality, Vonnegut also ridicules the failure of rebellion, authoritarian government, and the apathy that occurs in people who watch television.

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