The short stories “Examination Day” by Henry Seslar and “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, both examine the idea of a world where governments have total control over its citizens. The main characters in the stories are Dickie Jordan and Harrison Bergeron. In “Examination Day” discrimination against intelligence is portrayed through Dickie who is eliminated because his “intelligence quotient [was] above the Government regulation.” This quote depicts the governments authority in its society and how the government eradicated the people who questioned them through an intelligence exam. The irony of this examination is that success was seen as negative. Whereas, “Harrison Bergeron” explores the theme of forced equality in American society in the not so distant future. Right in the introduction, the three main issues concerned throughout the story are given, ” Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution.”
Thus, absolute equality in intelligence, physical beauty, and athleticism have been ratified into law by the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, respectively. Both stories share a conflict in regards to person versus society and both the protagonists die at the end. In “Examination Day” Dickie is on his own when it comes to the test given by the government. Before the test when Dickie asks his father what the test is for, his father tells him”the Government wants to know how smart [Dickie] is.” Later on, the story ends with an automated message from the government with the reason for his death and preferred funeral arrangements. In “Harrison Bergeron” Harrison knew better than to follow government regulations and tried to make a difference. In the end, he was killed as “Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled gauged shotgun.
She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.” This quote shows the government’s control over what is accepted and what happens to those who exceed government regulation. Harrison wanted an end to the absolute equality so he stood up for the citizens of the country who did not realize how absurd their society was becoming; in the end, he died trying to make a difference. In “Examination Day” the setting invokes sympathetic feelings towards Dickie. Dickie , a week after his twelfth birthday, was sent from his “little apartment” to the “great pillared lobby” within the “polished” governmental building. This contrast of settings invokes sympathy for Dickie because he is limited to living in a small home while all the money is used by the government to develop large, modern government buildings. Also, Dickie is taken to a place that is foreign to him, with large intimidating architectural masses which makes him seem insignificant and isolated.
The story compares the “dim” and “cold” room within the government building to the “warm”, “bright” house that Dickie lives in. The cold, clinical description of the government building is symbolic of distinction being taken away from humanity. It demonstrates the idea that Dickie is being taken from the comfort of his home and into the control of a frightening, overpowering government. Contrary to Harrison in “Harrison Bergeron” who is a fourteen year old boy that poses such a terrible threat that he has been shackled with more handicaps than anyone else. Giant earphones instead of the small ear radio his dad has. Large glasses to obscure his vision and give him headaches.
So many weights that he “looked like a walking junkyard.” On top of it all, he is so handsome that they gave him a clown nose, shaved off his eyebrows, and blacked out his teeth. Also, Harrison is so frightening that he is arrested “on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government.” The government’s news bulletin describes him as “a genius and an athlete, […] under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.” In conclusion, both “Examination Day” and “Harrison Bergeron” examine the idea of a world where the government has total control over the government and individuals living within the government.