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Published in 1961, Vonnegut's satirical short story "Harrison Bergeron" reflects the concerns of America at that time. Here is the Historical Context commentary from enotes:
- Vonnegut recognized that the way communism was practiced led to the failure of its basic promise of providing a workers' paradise of equality in a classless society.
- Vonnegut's use of the issue of equality in the story ignores the racial context on the surface, but it clearly invokes the fears of many, mostly white citizens who feared the federal government would in some way propose schemes that would enforce equality of outcome
- Vonnegut suggests that television serves the same purpose for normal people that the mental handicap radios serve for those above normal in intelligence.
- Th[e] realization that the government can and does lie to its citizens, for ill or for good, serves as the premise for distrust of government power in "Harrison Bergeron.''
With the historical concerns of the 1960s and the push for social equality enacted by the government, along with the covert actions of the government, Vonnegut's fears that totalitarianism could become a true threat are certainly suggested in his narrative. Added to the U.S. government's actions of the 1960s have been the deception of the activities surrounding the Vietnam Conflict of the 1970s, the sweeping passage of the Patriot Act (that before 9/11 failed to be passed under another name) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the No Child Left Behind law, the unfettered voting "rights" of undocumented citizens and other acts of legislation, there is, indeed, a fear in many American citizens that individual rights are being eroded.
In the public schools and in society there are indications that everyone is as good as others. Trophies are awarded to all who participate, no matter how poorly they have performed; children of limited abilities are placed in the classrooms of those with superior talents, illegal foreigners are afforded the same health care and public education as citizens. (e.g. In border towns of Texas, students come out of the public school and cross the country's border to go home.) If people do not have the "conventional wisdom" about political issues, they are called pejorative names and made to seem ignorant and narrow-minded. Certainly, "political-correctness" is a type of mind control. When the youth are inhibited from developing their talents in public schools or when they are prohibited from jobs because they do not fit the "category," when people can be fired from jobs for using pejorative words for some people, and when they are restricted from critical information by the media, or they are instructed how to interpret what the president or other political persons have said, there is, indeed, reason to fear that Vonnegut's dystopian society can become a reality.
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