Harrison Bergeron Questions and Answers
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Harrison Bergeron book cover
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Compare and contrast the setting of "Harrison Bergeron" with that of Brave New World.

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Both "Harrison Bergeron" and Brave New World are examples of dystopic literature. Vonnegut's short story depicts a future in which society's concerns with egalitarianism have become oppressive in its effect. Meanwhile, Huxley's vision of the future is based largely in Utilitarian principles, depicting a society which weighs the desire for social stability and comfort above all other concerns. In both cases, we are looking at highly conformist societies, in which individual freedom has been suppressed, so as to (allegedly) benefit the group.

The differences are significant, however. For one thing, the dystopia imagined by Vonnegut is much smaller in scale when compared with that of the World State. (Vonnegut's dystopia only encompasses the United States, in sharp contrast with Huxley's.) Furthermore, it is worth noting, its ideal of equality is actually quite different from the values of the World State (consider how the World State adheres to a Class Structure). Additionally, the World State exhibits far subtler tools of social control. Vonnegut's future United States ultimately imposes its vision on society through the government's monopoly on force. Citizens who show above average qualities must wear various handicaps to drag them down to mediocrity, and meanwhile, acts of rebellion are answered with the use of government sanctioned violence. The World State's methods of coercion, however, are much more insidious, with children genetically engineered and conditioned from an early age. In that respect, the World State has little need for the kind of overt brutality seen in "Harrison Bergeron," given that its methods of control and manipulation are so much deeper and more powerful to begin with.

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