How does the society in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" compare to modern society?

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In the short story, America has become obsessed with equality. Every individual throughout the nation is perfectly equal in all facets of life. Talented and beautiful individuals are forced to wear handicaps, which limit their abilities and disguise their beauty in order to be equal with everyone else. Vonnegut's message...

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In the short story, America has become obsessed with equality. Every individual throughout the nation is perfectly equal in all facets of life. Talented and beautiful individuals are forced to wear handicaps, which limit their abilities and disguise their beauty in order to be equal with everyone else. Vonnegut's message is clear: individuals with natural talents should never be forced to sacrifice their abilities for the alleged good of society. Vonnegut's dystopian America satirizes and illustrates how civil rights laws, affirmative action laws, and equal employment opportunities committees have attempted to equal the playing field at the expense of rejecting more talented individuals. While these laws were instituted to promote equality in the workplace and end discriminatory practices directed toward those of different races, religions, and genders, a new set of problems was created. Affirmative action laws and policies force companies to set targets and quotas concerning the number of minorities and women they hire. As a result, qualified and talented individuals may be rejected simply because they are not minorities or female. This is also seen in participation awards being given out to children who lack the talent and ability to win meaningful prizes and in the small number of lazy citizens undermining and taking advantage of the welfare system. America's attempt at creating equal opportunities has an obvious downside. Overall, Vonnegut's dystopian America warns readers of the dangers involved in limiting and restricting talented individuals for the alleged good of society.

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Whenever you read speculative fiction, it's important to look at the story's themes and see how they are related to our world. Although Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" was written about 50 years ago, many of the themes in the story are relevant today.

Perhaps the idea from "Harrison Bergeron" that is most relevant today is the idea of equality. In the story, society has chosen to blind itself to the fact that certain individuals have greater athletic, intellectual, and aesthetic abilities than others. In order to make this law, the government passed several amendments. The story makes it clear that most in the society agree with the laws. At one point in "Harrison Bergeron," Hazel Bergeron tells her husband, George, that he should make his handicap a little bit lighter to ease his burden. George snaps back, "If I tried to get away with it...then other people'd get away with it—and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else."

The idea George states is very evident in our world today. Whether we're looking at participation trophies for youth sports or letter grades in school, we are conditioned to believe anyone who makes us feel as though we are not special is a problem. Additionally, instead of praising extraordinary talent, we often feel the need to tear it down, with the exception of sports. As a teacher, I often see students who expect the highest grade for the least amount of work possible. All of these ideas are reflected in "Harrison Bergeron."

Now, some have used "Harrison Bergeron" to promote an agenda of anti-affirmative action, anti-civil rights, and anti-equal opportunity policies. I don't think this is Vonnegut's purpose in writing this story, though. I believe Vonnegut is clearly suggesting that we as a society are afraid of the exceptional and that we make ourselves feel better when there is no one who is exceptional.

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