What is the rhetorical question for Harrison Bergeron?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A rhetorical question is:

a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point rather than to elicit an answer--

A rhetorical question that could be asked with respect to the narrative of "Harrison Bergeron" is:

  • Why does everyone have to be equal?

Kurt Vonnegut's narrative simply begins with the sentence "It was the year 2081, and everybody was finally equal." No explanation is given; all that is added is that two Amendments to the Constitution demanded this "equality." Moreover, to be "average" means that an individual is unable to think about anything except in short intervals. Those with intelligence above normal have a handicap radio which is placed in their ears; this device transmits a sharp noise that interrupts any kind of higher level thinking.

Clearly, the society of Harrison Bergeron, who has been imprisoned for violating the demands of wearing handicaps, is a repressive one that has "dumbed down" its citizenry in order to maintain totalitarian control. All individual rights have been sacrificed in the interest of keeping everyone "equal." Thus, there is no good reason for everyone to be "equal" and the rhetorical question can be asked.     

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