What is the irony in "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut?

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The ironies in "Harrison Bergeron" include the fact that radical inequality is required for one person to impose equality on others, and the misunderstanding of the concept of equality, which, in a democracy, means that people are treated in the same way, not that they are forced to be exactly the same. Also, when the story was published, Soviet Communism was dedicated to producing world champions, whereas in the story, a Communist system lowers the abilities of Americans.

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Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" is full of irony. Perhaps the most glaring irony is the idea of imposing complete equality on a population through state power. Anyone who has the power to do this is clearly grossly unequal to everyone else in the society and violates its central principle. This point is made when Diana Moon Glampers, who has no special abilities herself, is able to get rid of Harrison at the end of the story simply by shooting him.

Germane to this is the idea Vonnegut raises in the first paragraph when he mentions equality "before God and the law." This is the type of equality that liberal democracies have typically valued and which clearly means acknowledging that everyone is different but treating them all in the same way. To try to make everyone the same is a radical misunderstanding of the principle of equality.

Another irony is the fact that within the story, a Communist system has reduced everyone in American society to the lowest common denominator. In the 1960s, when "Harrison Bergeron" was published, the United States was locked in fierce competition with the Soviet Union, which was dedicated to producing world champions in every area, from athletics to chess. Any country which has to fend off international competition must encourage excellence. However, Vonnegut suggests, the reductio ad absurdum of Communism is possible only when a nation has triumphed over all others and can then concentrate on destroying itself through insane policies.

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The irony in “Harrison Bergeron” is how the dystopian society in the story defines “equality”.  To the government and its citizens, “equality” means to make everyone the same.  We tend to see equality as guaranteeing the same rights for all people, and that includes allowing someone to be an individual.  However, the society in which George, Hazel, and Harrison live handicaps its people in order to ensure that no one is better than anyone else in anything.  If you’re smart like George, you have loud noises pumped into your ears through small ear buds that cut off all thought.  For Harrison who is young, handsome, tall, and strong, he is weighed down by 300 lbs of metal, has ear buds, and wears thick eyeglasses. 

The society does not believe in the values of equality like free speech and personal freedom.  Instead they view equality as making everyone identical with no one having unique abilities or gifts to become superior.  The irony lies in the way Vonnegut portrays the society’s definition of “equality”.

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One of the major ironies within “Harrison Bergeron” is that in their society’s attempt to not make people feel bad they still cannot mask, pun intended, that some people are superior to others.

In the world of Harrison Bergeron, beauty is seen as an unfair physical attribute that is countered by making people wear masks. 

“…their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in.”

The use of masks, however, does not keep people from knowing that the person is beautiful. For example, the text refers to one of the ballerinas:

“She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous.”

If the true purpose of the mask was to make people equal and not feel bad, then the mask would have to prevent people from knowing how beautiful the person was. As seen in the quote, the uglier the mask the more beautiful the person.

An additional irony is that physical handicaps become obsolete and have to be replaced. In seeking to eliminate physical superiority in an individual the handicap only serves to make the individual stronger. Again the irony is exposed through the description of the ballerina when the text reads,

“And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.”

Since we are able to make a comparison of handicaps worn by individuals, it is possible to know their true abilities, negating the purpose of the handicap.

Together the masks and the weights are intended to hide and hinder the beauty and skills of the ballerina, yet they only serve to let the audience know how beautiful and strong she really is.

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There are several examples of satirical irony in "Harrison Bergeron." First, when Harrison is younger, his parents do nothing when the H-G men come to take him away. They simply follow along with whatever they are told to do, and even if Hazel would have protested, she would have soon forgotten where Harrison went because of her lack of intelligence.

Additionally, in most societies people who are beautiful, strong, intelligent, etc., are valued and have easier lives.  In "Harrison Bergeron," however, Vonnegut creates a society which seeks to make people uglier, weaker, and dumber so that they will blindly follow the regime.

Finally, it is ironic that in handicapping Harrison with heavy weights, the government has made him stronger; and even though, he meets an untimely demise at the story's end, he most likely lived more in those few minutes of rebellion than any of the government workers or his own parents did.

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What is the setting of "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut?

Vonnegut's celebrated short story "Harrison Bergeron" is set in the futuristic United States, which has transformed into a dystopia. The specific time setting of the story takes place in 2081 CE. America is depicted as an oppressive nation, where every citizen is completely equal in all facets of life. The Constitution has been amended to create a uniform society, and the agents of the Handicapper General ensure equality by forcing talented, attractive, and intelligent citizens to wear cumbersome handicaps that severely limit their natural abilities. The story is also set in George and Hazel's home, which is depicted as a typical 21st-century residence. George and Hazel sit on the couch in their living room while they watch television together.

In addition to George and Hazel's home, the setting of the story also includes a television studio. Shortly after escaping prison, Harrison Bergeron breaks into the television studio and announces that he is the Emperor. Harrison proceeds to strip his heavy handicaps from his body and chooses his empress from among the masked ballerinas. Harrison and the graceful ballerina leap into the air and hover near the ceiling before they kiss.

While they are floating in mid-air, the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, bursts into the television studio wielding a shotgun and kills Harrison and his empress. Overall, the setting of the story takes place in a futuristic America, where everyone is completely equal.

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What is the setting of "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut?

The setting of Kurt Vonnegut's story entitled "Harrison Bergeron" is a futuristic America in the year 2081. In this society, new Constitutional Amendments have been passed to enforce the equality of everyone. Agents enforce the laws that make mediocrity mandatory. In this way, everyone is the same.

Those who are naturally mediocre are the most fortunate because they do not have to wear any handicaps. Among this group, Diane Moon Glampers has been appointed the Handicapper General.  She enforces the mandatory wearing of handicaps by those who are smarter or more talented than others. George and his son, Harrison, are among those forced to wear heavy handicaps. When they have independent thoughts, such ideas are immediately removed by the transmission of noises sent through their mental-handicap radio. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter sends out a piercing noise, such as the sound of a riveting gun so that they lose their thoughts.

The narrative of "Harrison Bergeron" depicts a society set in a time in which there are no longer any civil rights, and technology desensitizes people. When Harrison, "a genius and an athlete," escapes from prison, he enters the setting of the television station viewed by citizens of his society. There, he attempts a coup as he declares himself emperor. He then takes a beautiful ballerina, who has been dancing with others, frees her of her handicaps, and claims her as his Empress. However, it is not long before Ms. Glampers ends the rebellion. With a double-barreled shotgun, she shoots the Empress and the Emperor. Then, after reloading, Ms. Glampers points this gun at the musicians who have taken off their handicaps. She then orders them to replace the handicaps on themselves, putting an end to any civil disobedience.

When the invasion of the broadcasting station by Harrison occurs, George Bergeron is away from the television in his home. His wife Hazel has watched, though, and she has seen Harrison on the screen. However, by the time George returns, she has forgotten why she is crying. Consequently, George does not learn of the fate of his son.

Of the two elements of setting (time and place) in Vonnegut's story, time is the more important one. In the year 2081, individual rights have been lost; mediocrity is the law. Bizarre handicaps such as bags of birdshot are worn around the neck; masks are worn by people who are more physically gifted than others. Mental-handicap radio signals send charges to the brain, shifting thoughts and ensuring mental mediocrity. Individual rights have been stripped from the citizens by Amendments to the Constitution and by the use of technology. 

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What is the setting of "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut?

The first line of "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut gives readers the most important details about the setting of this story:

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal.

Immediately we know that this story is set in the distant future, in a place where everyone is now equal. 

As the story continues, we have two specific settings. The first is Harrison Bergeron's house and the second is a television studio, and they are connected. Harrison is doomed for trouble because, even at the age of fourteen, he is far beyond others in most ways, and the government has run out of ways to try to equalize (lower) him to the same abilities and skills as everyone else.

As Harrison's parents are sitting and watching the television, they see a news bulletin that announces Harrison's break from jail. Soon the news shows Harrison breaking down the door to the television studio, which is the only other setting for the story. 

What the house and the television studio actually look like is unimportant; what is important is that both exist. Obviously the most significant aspect of setting for this story is not place but time and mood; the place is the future and the mood is a time when an oppressive government tries to make everyone equal. 

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What is the setting and irony in "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut?

It shouldn't be too hard to find this information.

For setting: Remember that setting is the time/place in which a story takes place.  Since a specific numerical year is provided in the opening of the story, you're all set with time.  The opening paragraph also provides the name of the country the story takes place in, so place is covered.  You should also consider ways in which to describe the place in which your characters live.  For example, a story could take place in a spooky setting, an urban (city) setting, a historical setting, etc.  What kind of setting does "Harrison Bergeron" have?

For irony:  Remember that "irony" could mean one of two things.  In this case, dramatic irony seems to apply.  Dramatic irony is present in a story when the audience knows things that the characters don't.  What things does the audience know that Mr. and Mrs. Bergeron do not know?

Irony could also have to do with the unexpected.  For example, it would be ironic to see a bulldog run away from a chihuahua.  What happens in the story that might be unexpected?  What are the unexpected results of the government's attempts to create a society of equals?

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