What is the difference between the dystopian American culture and politics in the stories of "Harrison Bergeron" and "The Veldt"?
Both Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" and Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" are cautionary tales. They each took themes and trends already present in the United States at the time they were written in and pushed those trends forwards into the future. In the process, they both sought to illustrate the dangers that might result from those trends. However, they remain two very different stories, posing very different warnings for society.
Vonnegut's message is much more political than Bradbury's. He is focused on the subject of egalitarianism, which he takes to its extreme. Moreover, however, this is an egalitarianism which is specifically supported and maintained by the government's monopoly of force. This is a world where political power forces equality upon the entire population through the use of handicaps, dragging the exceptional into mediocrity. It is noteworthy that Harrison's own rebellion against this system is ended by an act of government sanctioned violence (with Harrison and the ballerina executed by the State). That single image is a brutal statement of how this society operates and is maintained: through active coercion and the use of force.
Whereas Vonnegut's story combines the social and the political, Bradbury's is much smaller in its scope. Vonnegut is warning about large-scale government suppression and the kind of society that might ensue. Bradbury, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with the continuing march of technology and what we risk losing along this path.
"The Veldt" focuses on the negative aspects which arise from consumerist societies. In it, technology has replaced genuine human interaction, with tragic effects. Unlike in Vonnegut's story, however, the government does not force its population to adopt certain behaviors. Rather, these behaviors emerged from the societal forces at work within the consumer economy itself. The Hadleys purchased this state-of-the-art automated home, presumably in order to live in greater leisure (at one point, Bradbury describes the house as "this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good for them").
However, by surrendering their own responsibilities and obligations to one another, they have destroyed the integrity of their family unit. It is the house, not the parents, which has raised the children, and it is therefore the house, rather than the humans, which the children regard as parent.
There are similarities at play: both stories are very topical to the societies that produced them. However, they diverge sharply in subject and tone. Vonnegut tells a story about egalitarianism and what happens when the State goes too far in ensuring equality. Bradbury warns about what happens when our reliance on technology goes too far and threatens to dissolve our human connections.
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