Does Kurt Vonnegut approve of the society described in "Harrison Bergeron"?

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Kurt Vonnegut does not like the United States in 2081 as he has created it in "Harrison Bergeron." While describing the society in a seemingly matter-of-fact manner, the author's short, dumbed-down sentences in the first paragraph show he is scornful of the society he depicts. After readers have read how dim-witted Hazel is, Vonnegut writes, "Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers." This sentence shows Vonnegut does not think highly of the H-G since he has compared her to the intellectually "average" Hazel. The satirical humor the author uses, especially in the aimless, unfinished, or confused dialogue between Hazel and George, shows how the society's handicapping creates citizens who cannot think. When the author describes Harrison's dance with the ballerina, the mood changes to one of hope and joy, and the author's language takes on much more energy and awe. This shows the author approves of people being relieved of their equality-producing handicaps. By ending the story with a hackneyed joke--"You can say that again"--the author shows how much this society lacks creativity and originality.

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There is nothing about America in 2081 (the futuristic setting of "Harrison Bergeron") that Kurt Vonnegut likes--except for the title character.

This is a world in which 

everybody 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.

Because of the government (through Amendments 211-213 of the Constitution), people are equal in the lowest, meanest possible way. There is no greatness in anything the citizens see, hear, create, or do. Everything may be equal, but there is not much worth living for in this world. 

The fact that the handicaps are ugly is another indicator that Vonnegut does not approve of this world. Bags of bird shot, chains, masks, and more are hung all over people. He describes fourteen-year-old Harrison Bergeron this way:

Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

Clearly the author thinks this kind of a world kills beauty, because he has the infamous Giana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, kill Harrison and the beautiful ballerina during a dance of sheer beauty, freedom, and elegance.

Who does Vonnegut blame for this world? I suppose in the end it is us, for insisting that equal means same, and the government for acting on this ridiculous idea. Equality is the freedom and opportunity to be whomever we choose, not the same as everyone else as determined by the government enforcers. 

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How does the society in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" compare to modern society?

In the short story, America has become obsessed with equality. Every individual throughout the nation is perfectly equal in all facets of life. Talented and beautiful individuals are forced to wear handicaps, which limit their abilities and disguise their beauty in order to be equal with everyone else. Vonnegut's message is clear: individuals with natural talents should never be forced to sacrifice their abilities for the alleged good of society. Vonnegut's dystopian America satirizes and illustrates how civil rights laws, affirmative action laws, and equal employment opportunities committees have attempted to equal the playing field at the expense of rejecting more talented individuals. While these laws were instituted to promote equality in the workplace and end discriminatory practices directed toward those of different races, religions, and genders, a new set of problems was created. Affirmative action laws and policies force companies to set targets and quotas concerning the number of minorities and women they hire. As a result, qualified and talented individuals may be rejected simply because they are not minorities or female. This is also seen in participation awards being given out to children who lack the talent and ability to win meaningful prizes and in the small number of lazy citizens undermining and taking advantage of the welfare system. America's attempt at creating equal opportunities has an obvious downside. Overall, Vonnegut's dystopian America warns readers of the dangers involved in limiting and restricting talented individuals for the alleged good of society.

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How does the society in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" compare to modern society?

Whenever you read speculative fiction, it's important to look at the story's themes and see how they are related to our world. Although Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" was written about 50 years ago, many of the themes in the story are relevant today.

Perhaps the idea from "Harrison Bergeron" that is most relevant today is the idea of equality. In the story, society has chosen to blind itself to the fact that certain individuals have greater athletic, intellectual, and aesthetic abilities than others. In order to make this law, the government passed several amendments. The story makes it clear that most in the society agree with the laws. At one point in "Harrison Bergeron," Hazel Bergeron tells her husband, George, that he should make his handicap a little bit lighter to ease his burden. George snaps back, "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."

The idea George states is very evident in our world today. Whether we're looking at participation trophies for youth sports or letter grades in school, we are conditioned to believe anyone who makes us feel as though we are not special is a problem. Additionally, instead of praising extraordinary talent, we often feel the need to tear it down, with the exception of sports. As a teacher, I often see students who expect the highest grade for the least amount of work possible. All of these ideas are reflected in "Harrison Bergeron."

Now, some have used "Harrison Bergeron" to promote an agenda of anti-affirmative action, anti-civil rights, and anti-equal opportunity policies. I don't think this is Vonnegut's purpose in writing this story, though. I believe Vonnegut is clearly suggesting that we as a society are afraid of the exceptional and that we make ourselves feel better when there is no one who is exceptional.

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What serious statements does Kurt Vonnegut make about society in "Harrison Bergeron"?

The most serious statement Kurt Vonnegut makes in "Harrison Bergeron" is found in the opening lines of the story:

The year was 2081, and everybody 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.'

This futuristic world has achieved what some people want more than anything else--for all people to be absolutely, unequivocally, and strictly equal. And it is a colorless, unproductive, ugly, and unsatisfying world.

Because everyone is not created with equal talents and gifts, something must be done to equalize the playing field for those who have something someone else does not have--which is everyone. Unfortunately, the level at which everyone must become equal is the lowest level. For example, those who have the ability to sing well must be handicapped until they sing no better than anyone else. Now, in this world, everyone is a terrible singer. The same is true in other areas of life: beautiful people have to wear masks, good thinkers have to have their thoughts disrupted, and those with pleasant speaking voices must apologize and try to make them unpleasant. 

These handicaps make everyone clownish and unproductive, and the greater the natural gifts and abilities the more cartoonish his appearance. At the age of fourteen, Harrison Bergeron is seven feet tall, and he is clearly a young man who was blessed with more of everything.

Harrison's appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.
Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

Harrison gets fed up with his hindrances and handicaps, and he wants to show everyone what he can do--which gets him immediately killed.

Vonnegut is obviously making the point that being equal is not a matter of being the same; that is only a kind of ridiculous surface equality which is impossible to achieve even if it were sensible or desirable. Instead, Vonnegut advocates celebrating individual differences (re-read the passages with the ballerina and Harrison and you will see it there).

Equal opportunity and equal rights are much different than strict and rigid equality in all things. This future world is not the world the author wants; it is the world he fears.

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Describe fully the society in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron."

Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" is a rather pessimistic take on society many years in the future.  In this story, he asserts that our society becomes so sensitive about not hurting anyone's feelings ever that they go to extreme measures to force everyone to be as equal as they possibly can be.  In this society, government enforces equality by requiring people to wear handicaps that mask any qualities they have that might make them exceptional.  After all, if there is a girl that is more beautiful than you are, that makes you feel bad about yourself, right?  Well then, that beautiful girl should wear a mask to hide her beauty--then, you won't have your feelings hurt.  That is what this society tries to do--mask any talents or beauty so that those without that talent or beauty don't feel bad.  So, if you are unusually strong or athletic, you have to carry around weighty bags of birdshot to keep you from running fast or gracefully.  If you are above-average in intelligence, you have to wear earpieces that emit loud, piercing sounds at random moments to keep you from thinking straight.  If you have a beautiful voice, you must make it sound ugly.  And so on, and so forth.  And, the government in this society enforces these handicaps with force.  Harrison, who escapes the confines of his many handicaps, is shot to death with a shotgun for breaking the rules, after he was imprisoned for his rebellions.  If you don't "equalize" yourself through the required handicaps, it's to prison with you, and to further punishment.

It is a rather extreme take on society, but does reflect on truths that do exist in small ways in our society today.  Often, being nice is more important than being successful or reaching one's potential, and sometimes there are laws and regulations put into force to "level the playing field" and try to make everyone more equal on one level or another.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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Explore some of the many aspects of American society as viewed through Vonnegut’s story "Harrison Bergeron."

Kurt Vonnegut's biting satirical short story "Harrison Bergeron" presents a future society in which nobody is special or exemplary. In fact, the characters in "Harrison Bergeron" are actively prevented from being remarkable by the government and its insistence that individuals must be blocked or handicapped from being too smart, strong, or beautiful. It is a society where everybody is "equal," but in order to reinforce this status quo everybody must be average.

Vonnegut's commentary is incredibly pointed and poignant because this story subverts the typical tropes of utopia tales. Indeed, everybody is equal, but only because they are forced into a homogeneous, monotonous life. When Harrison Bergeron and his stunningly beautiful "Empress" ballerina threaten this conscripted sense of normalcy, they are gunned down on national television and the status quo is reinforced. Everybody goes back to their unremarkable lives, and the homogeneous, boring order is restored. 

Vonnegut's short story becomes a critique on America. I argue that Vonnegut's dystopic vision skewers the movement in America to become more "politically correct." Vonnegut uses this story to show how the desire to treat everybody the exact same could be taken to an extreme; how even an idea as ingrained in American culture as the equality of all men could be misconstrued and turned into something negative. In doing so, he also exposes the homogeneous nature of American culture, and how so many desire to fit in, no matter the cost.

Vonnegut also examines the bureaucracy inherent with America's political system. In Vonnegut's story, there is a "Handicapper General" that ensures that nobody rises above mediocrity. Additionally, he points to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution as the cause of all of this conscripted equality. This emphasis on the sheer number of Constitutional Amendments illustrates two aspects of American society in the story. First, it demonstrates the considerable changes that America has been through. Next, this allows Vonnegut to humorously point out that this change could not be achieved through just one amendment, but had to be stretched out over three separate amendments, and thus reinforces his argument against pointless bureaucracy.  

Finally, Vonnegut explores what he perceives as Americans' acceptance of mediocrity. Nobody questions the validity of Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General herself. They accept a subpar quality of life because they desire to conform to societal standards, even if it is ultimately detrimental to their health or well-being. 

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