What tendencies in present-day American society is Vonnegut satirizing in "Harrison Bergeron"? Does the story argue for anything? How would you sum up its theme?

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Kurt Vonnegut begins "Harrison Bergeron" by remarking that in the year 2081, everyone was finally equal:

They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or...

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Kurt Vonnegut begins "Harrison Bergeron" by remarking that in the year 2081, everyone was finally equal:

They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.

The satire here is directed not at equality, but at a misunderstanding and misapplication of the concept. There are two ways in which Vonnegut thinks many of his contemporaries misunderstand equality. The first mistake is suggested in the initial sentence of the quotation above. To say that people should all be treated equally under the law is very different from asserting that they are all the same. Some people are more intelligent; some are more beautiful; others can run faster. Equality before the law simply means that these differences do not matter when assessing legal responsibility. The second mistake is to confuse equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. In "Harrison Bergeron," these two mistakes have ensured that the lowest common denominator prevails in every area of life.

The positive message of the story is clear from the brief moment of sublimity when Harrison dances with the ballerina:

It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it. And then, neutralizing gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

Though Harrison may seem somewhat brusque in his methods, he creates beauty in a world where stifling mediocrity has been universally enforced. The story argues for the power of art and individuality and against the tyranny of conformity. This argument also provides the story's central theme.

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