What details in "Harrison Bergeron" establish a sense of place?

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The science fiction short story "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is a dark dystopian comedy in which everyone is "equal every which way." To accomplish this, a branch of the government led by the United States Handicapper General forces citizens to wear heavy weights, headphones that emit headache-inducing noises, masks, and other impediments to ensure that no one is stronger, smarter, or better-looking than anyone else. The story's main characters are a couple named George and Hazel, their son Harrison, who is a prodigy of strength and intelligence, and Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General. There are also ballerinas, musicians, and announcers in the TV studio where the ending of the story takes place.

A sense of place in literature involves the time period, locations, and other aspects of environment in which the story occurs. In "Harrison Bergeron," Vonnegut takes a minimalist approach to the setting. He says only what is absolutely necessary to help readers imagine the characters within the scenes.

In the first paragraph, Vonnegut offers background information that offers a general sense of place. The year is 2081. The story takes place at some unspecified location in the United States. By the time of the story, the U.S. Constitution has over 200 amendments. As of April 2020, the Constitution has only 27 amendments, so we see that the US government has become much more oppressive and legalistic.

The story then zooms in on a scene in George and Hazel's living room. Vonnegut does not offer many descriptive details about the room. He leaves it to readers to imagine it for themselves. George and Hazel are watching television. We know that they have a sofa with pillows, because Hazel suggests that George should rest by stretching out on them. Near the end of the story readers learn that George and Hazel have a kitchen, because George gets up and goes to get a beer from it. These are the only descriptions that Vonnegut gives of George and Hazel's home. He may have kept it deliberately vague so that readers could more easily empathize with George and Hazel. With so few details, it is easier for readers to imagine the setting as being similar to their own homes.

The second half of the story takes place in the studio as observed from the TV in George and Hazel's home. Here, too, Vonnegut provides few details. Readers learn that ballerinas, some of them heavily handicapped, are dancing on a simple stage. The announcer, who has a speech impediment, is nearby, because a ballerina is able to walk over and read an announcement for him. Handicapped musicians sit in chairs and play mediocre music. Readers learn that the studio ceiling is 30 feet high, but Harrison and the ballerina he dances with are nevertheless able to leap up and kiss it. No more details of the studio are provided.

We see, then, that Vonnegut establishes the time period, location, and specific settings using minimal descriptions, leaving it up to the imagination of readers to fill in the gaps.

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