Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

The first critical responses to "Harrison Bergeron'' did not appear until 1968, when the story was reprinted in Vonnegut's collection Welcome to the Monkey House. Many reviewers, like Larry L. King in New York Times Book Review, who called the collection ‘‘old soup,’’ were decidedly unenthusiastic. Some of the stories had already been published in an earlier collection titled Canary in a Cat House (1961), and others had been first published in commercial, "slick" magazines, thus bringing into question their literary value. Criticizing "Harrison Bergeron,’’ King claimed, ‘‘I know nothing of Mr. Vonnegut's personal politics, but extant Goldwaterites or Dixiecrats might read into this the ultimate horrors of any further extension of civil-rights or equal-opportunity laws.’’ The term Goldwaterites refers to admirers of former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican candidate for President, who was known as ‘‘Mr. Conservative.’’ The term Dixiecrats refers to white Southerners who stood strongly (and sometimes violently) against extending civil rights to African Americans throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, by the time of King's review, political conservatives who stood against federal government civil rights laws had already appropriated the story for William F. Buckley's National Review magazine (November 16, 1965). King's early review identified what has become one of the most...

(The entire section is 595 words.)