What is the theme of "Harrison Bergeron"?

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mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary theme in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" is that human beings will always reject control and oppression of their individuality. The handicapper general, a woman by the name of Diana Moon Glampers, enforces this desire to reduce individuals to a generic person without individual thoughts in the name of "equality." However, the eponymous Harrison Bergeron rejects and strips himself of the "handicaps" placed on him by Glampers, but ends up dead.

In this story, Vonnegut is successfully able to weave two competing ideas: the human desire to be an individual and the political desire for control. Despite the fact that citizens seem to prefer control in order to be "equal" (George Bergeron tells his wife this when she suggests removing some of his handicaps: "If I tried to get away with it ... then other people'd get away with it—and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn't like that, would you?"), there also seems to be the incorrigible human desire to express oneself. When Harrison arrives in the TV studio, he finds a dancer and musicians willing to remove their handicaps in order to create something beautiful. Even Hazel Bergeron, who has no handicaps because she is already at the lowest common denominator, cries when Harrison is shot because she understands that something "sad" has just occurred.

There are many sub-themes here, including the questions surrounding this idea of equality, but the primary theme is definitely the human desire to express one's individuality and talents regardless of oppression.