What kind of change do you think Vonnegut is trying to bring about in "Harrison Bergeron"?  

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stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Vonnegut uses the story of "Harrison Bergeron," first and foremost, to present an ironic illustration of the absurdity of attempting to make all people "equal every which way." In the story, this admirable goal has been achieved, but the price of doing so has been the creation and implementation of handicapping devices that prevent people from using their inherent strengths. Vonnegut, an outspoken supporter of the right of individuals to have and exercise free speech, demonstrates his position that it is possible to go too far and to damage society in the process of attempting to achieve equality.

Vonnegut is also cautioning against allowing government to become too strong, allowing it to assume or take over too much authority and control of the society it should be serving. The Department of the Handicapper General has, by virtue of its control of the handicapping devices required by law and enforced with severe penalties for those who disable or modify a device, become the supreme centralized power in the United States. Such uncontrolled power, Vonnegut suggests, leads to destruction of personal freedoms and society as we know it.

Vonnegut is also expressing concern about the potentially mind-numbing influence of television, representative of mass media in general. George and Hazel have no appreciation of anything they watch - George because his handicapping devices prevent him from being able to concentrate and retain any idea longer than "twenty seconds or so;" Hazel because "she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts." Vonnegut suggests that television serves as another type of handicapping device, preventing the public from developing and pursuing any independent thought processes.


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