What makes "Harrison Bergeron" so memorable for you?
Vonnegut is a master of satire, and depending on when they are first introduced to it, many students respond because they've never seen a story like it. We use it in our high school freshmen English courses, and the language is simple enough to be accessible, yet the concepts are challenging enough to provoke discussion. At this level, students have rarely read dystopian stories or novels, and I think the idea of equality vs. equity appeals to their sense of identity in adolescence.
While this country may be moving toward mediocrity as the norm, I see it more as a result of media and popular culture, rather than the fault of any government adminstration. One look at popular TV shows and movies or music that dominates the charts reveals how our culture has transformed. Even literature, which is traditionally labeled as "high brow" entertainment, has degraded with regards to what's popular. I believe that this push is a result of media exposure, rather than government involvement.
My current students enjoy the story because many of them at this point in their lives (11th and 12th graders) want as little interference as possible from their parents and government. They identify with Harrison, and several this year have discussed more than in any past year the similarities between Vonnegut's government in the story and the direction in which the United States' government seems to be headed.
In answer to Post 5, hyperbole is certainly present as a satirical element. The idea that a government would go so far to promote mediocrity is exaggerated (perhaps not for long though!). Vonnegut also employs the satirical element of reversal through characterizing a young boy as the only one in his society to stand up against the intrusive government. Even his parents are stifled.
I've taught this story several times (wishing now it had been more often!) and cut it for a reader's theatre performance in competition one year. What a great use of satire to remind us that our differences are what make us creative and beautiful and interesting. Harrison's mother's tears--the same for both the bad ballerinas and the outrageous death of her son--are so extraordinarily pathetic and horrific at the same time.
What I remember most about my reaction is the exhilaration of that soaring leap of beauty and defiance which Harrison and the ballerina make. I was cheering him on in his disregard for "equality'--until he got shot. Like a punch to the gut. Not something I've ever forgotten.
I first read this story ten years ago when it was included in the grade nine English curriculum that I was teaching that year. I still remember the story vividly because the description in the story left a clear picture in my head. I also recall the story often when I think about how people view each other's differences. We as a society are hesitant to applaud people's differences and are much more comfortable showing how we're equal. We're not equal, nor should we be. Our beauty is in our difference, and this should be respected.
I love to use this story in my classes because like Kwoo said, it generates a lot of discussion. I have a huge gang culture at my school so the discussions sometimes become very heated when we talk about equality on this scale. We discuss lots of hypotheticals in our class and it gets pretty interesting. It's a great story to kick off lessons about tolerance and why it's great to be different.
I think as others have eloquently put it that what makes this story interesting is it presents us with a world where differences and uniqueness have been disposed with. This really causes us to think about our own talents and abilities in a radically different way, coming to have a new appreciation of who we are and the way that we have been made.
As we've discussed in some of the other groups, our society seems to promote mediocrity, which is at the heart of this story. What stands out for me is how above-average people have to be handicapped by wearing bags of birdshot so they'd be no better than the average person. I wonder if this satire might actually be prophetic!
Very interesting responses. :) I also find the students get into discussions about this story as it satirizes government and the control they exercise over our society. This never fails to bring in good discussion!