What is the tone of "Harrison Bergeron"?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tone in "Harrison Bergeron" is casual, sarcastic, and even irreverent. 

Vonnegut tells us that everyone is "finally equal" in 2081. Yet, no one has figured out a way to control or affect the weather. The author's candid and sarcastic tone reflects his disdain for the United States' misguided campaign of equality.

Vonnegut's description of Hazel and George further exemplifies his sarcastic and irreverent tone:

Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear... Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

Here, the author's tone reinforces his contempt for the kind of equality that is fostered through a system of oppression and persecution. 

Later in the story, Hazel proclaims that she would replace the excruciatingly jarring sounds in George's ear radio with the sound of chimes if she was the Handicapper General:

If I was Diana Moon Glampers," said Hazel, I'd have chimes on Sunday-just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion.

"I could think, if it was just chimes," said George.

George agrees with his wife. Vonnegut's farcical tone reinforces the ludicrous nature of Hazel and George's conversation. The people in America in 2081 appear to enjoy less freedoms than those from earlier centuries. Yet, Hazel and George (by way of their handicaps) fail to recognize this. Both are focused on the superficial (chimes versus dissonant sounds in ear radios), rather than the stark reality before them (the loss of democratic freedoms they once enjoyed).

Vonnegut's sarcastic and irreverent tone throughout the story demonstrates his contempt for the idea that equality can be legislated with any sort of credibility or efficacy.

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. writes this dystopian short story with a very wry, dry sense of humor in a matter-of-fact and straightforward way.  For example, take a look at the first line:  "The year was 2081 and everyone was finally equal."  That is very factual and dry, but the addition of the word "finally" is very sarcastic; it implies it was what everyone's goal was all along, and that it was indeed possible.  He writes with that same sardonic tone throughout, and it adds a feeling of humor and sad derision.  Take for example, a line soon after the one listed above:

"Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime."

He comments on that darn April, that just won't stay in line like everyone else has.  He is trying to be funny, but to express the seriousness of the actual society, because they really think that way.  It is using satire to point out the absurdity of having a society that is truly equal through artifical and enforced means.  Even though we know that April can't be tamed, he indicates that the people in the story feel it should be.  We feel a gap in perspective there, which lends itself well to the bemused tone of the piece.

So, through the use of sarcasm and black humor, and a dry, straight-forward tone, Vonnegut creates a tone of serious mocking and storytelling wit.  I hope that helps a bit; good luck!