Explore some of the many aspects of American society as viewed through Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron.”

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Kurt Vonnegut's biting satirical short story "Harrison Bergeron" presents a future society in which nobody is special or exemplary. In fact, the characters in "Harrison Bergeron" are actively prevented from being remarkable by the government and its insistence that individuals must be blocked or handicapped from being too smart, strong, or beautiful. It is a society where everybody is "equal," but in order to reinforce this status quo everybody must be average.

Vonnegut's commentary is incredibly pointed and poignant because this story subverts the typical tropes of utopia tales. Indeed, everybody is equal, but only because they are forced into a homogeneous, monotonous life. When Harrison Bergeron and his stunningly beautiful "Empress" ballerina threaten this conscripted sense of normalcy, they are gunned down on national television and the status quo is reinforced. Everybody goes back to their unremarkable lives, and the homogeneous, boring order is restored. 

Vonnegut's short story becomes a critique on America. I argue that Vonnegut's dystopic vision skewers the movement in America to become more "politically correct." Vonnegut uses this story to show how the desire to treat everybody the exact same could be taken to an extreme; how even an idea as ingrained in American culture as the equality of all men could be misconstrued and turned into something negative. In doing so, he also exposes the homogeneous nature of American culture, and how so many desire to fit in, no matter the cost.

Vonnegut also examines the bureaucracy inherent with America's political system. In Vonnegut's story, there is a "Handicapper General" that ensures that nobody rises above mediocrity. Additionally, he points to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution as the cause of all of this conscripted equality. This emphasis on the sheer number of Constitutional Amendments illustrates two aspects of American society in the story. First, it demonstrates the considerable changes that America has been through. Next, this allows Vonnegut to humorously point out that this change could not be achieved through just one amendment, but had to be stretched out over three separate amendments, and thus reinforces his argument against pointless bureaucracy.  

Finally, Vonnegut explores what he perceives as Americans' acceptance of mediocrity. Nobody questions the validity of Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General herself. They accept a subpar quality of life because they desire to conform to societal standards, even if it is ultimately detrimental to their health or well-being. 

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