Think about the criticisms of society made in “Harrison Bergeron.” What aspects of today’s society seem open to Vonnegut’s criticisms?

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stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Many of the concerns raised by Vonnegut in "Harrison Bergeron" are still evident and causing concern today.

Individual freedoms and the ways in which they are being restricted or curtailed continue to be a basis for public debate, action, and dissension. Do women have the right to have an abortion - and if so, under what circumstances? Do employers or landlords have the right to exclude applicants based on sexual preference?

The acceptable extent to which the government should be able to control individual lives and activities is an area of conflict. Should the government be able to require all persons to have health care insurance? Is it permissable for the government to require persons riding motorcycles to wear helmets? Is the use of drones a good thing for enhancing public safety or an invasion of individual privacy?

The influence of the mass media is becoming an increasingly widespread concern as technology and social media expand into new areas. What are the physical, mental, and psychological results of teens watching and playing violent video games for hours every day? How far should profiling of individuals based on their use of computer technology be allowed, and who should have access to that information?

Vonnegut would be able to use many of the same demonstrations of concern about certain topics from "Harrison Bergeron" if he were writing the story today.

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shake99's profile pic

shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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One of the themes to Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" is the idea that all people should be forced into a mold that makes them equally "successful." That's why we see weights attached to ballet dancers and masks over beautiful faces. 

Vonnegut is playing on the idea that people cannot cope with the notion that others might be more talented than they are. To combat this problem, the government intentionally handicaps the best and brightest in society.

So what relevant social comment was Vonnegut making? Vonnegut could have been criticizing the idea that government can force equality. One modern day example of this might be affirmative action. Affirmative action seeks to elevate the traditionally under-represented in terms of education and employment. While this program has undoubtedly helped many disadvantaged citizens, it has also, in some cases, prevented more qualified individuals from gaining admission to certain colleges or getting certain jobs.

It may be more likely that Vonnegut was criticizing the idea that we should try to mold ourselves to society's expectations and to suppress our own innate abilities and desires. Vonnegut's characters in "Harrison Bergeron" were forced toward the middle—their uniqueness was burdened to the point of nonexistence. Perhaps this is what society does to us in the name of socialization and conformity.

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