The Morality and Irony in Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

Ancient German philosopher, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg once said, “Equality which we demand is the most tolerant degree of inequality”. For centuries, humankind has worked towards an equal society, but at what expense and limit? In the short story,” Harrison Bergeron” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. depicts a futuristic United States, set in the year 2081 where people are granted equality in the literal sense. In this new era, no one was authorized to be smarter, better looking, or even stronger. People were equal not only before God and law, but “they were equal in every which way”.

Citizens who possessed qualities that made them different or not average were obligated by law to wear handicaps to terminate the aspects which differentiated them from the rest of society, thus working to make them equal to everybody else. The forms of handicaps included ugly masks for the overly attractive, weights for the remarkably strong, and mental devices for the exceptionally smart. In a world where beauty, brains, and strength were deemed an abomination, Harrison Bergeron, who was the protagonist of the story and possessed all such qualities, was subjected to an intense ordeal of unfair treatment as his capacities and abilities were far above anybody’s.

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Harrison understood that the equality that had been granted was all a mere illusion, so he refused to cooperate with the laws implemented by the government. Through a dystopian theme, Kurt Vonnegut argues that equality is an ideal which harshly dehumanizes and destroys people’s individualities.

When government officials arrested George and Hazel’s 14-year-old son Harrison Bergeron, they were mentally incapable of demonstrating strong feelings of distress or resistance, which was uncanny as parents are supposed to protect their children in the presence of danger.

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Nonetheless, instead of securing their son's wellbeing, Hazel and George were enthralled by the ballet being broadcasted on television. Television played a very important role in this new world, as it can be described almost as a hypnotizing magnetic pull that tranquilized and diminished troublesome thoughts of citizens, thus depriving them from expressing normal human reactions. For instance, moments after Harrison had been taken by officials, Hazel had tears on her cheeks but because she was so focused on the television, she couldn’t remember why she had been crying. Similarly, when Hazel witnessed Harrison die on live television, she didn’t demonstrate feelings of grieve rather she said she was crying because she had seen, “something real sad on television”.

Moreover, George and Hazel represented the sociably acceptable and conformist. Hazel exemplified the normal human being, average intelligence, naïve, and helpless. George exhibited above average intelligence and strength, thus subjecting him to wear a mental handicap radio in his ear to stop him from exceeding his intellectual capacity. Any instance George’s thoughts deviated from what was acceptable the mental handicap radio in his ear would go off. Through the use of hyperbole, George emphasizes how disturbing the sounds the radio emitted were,” sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer, said George”. The intensity of these absurd noises served to prevent people like George from developing profound thoughts, as when one starts to think one starts to question, and questioning was not something the government desired or permitted. Nevertheless, George viewed these restraining devices as fair because he was afraid of the world going “bad” again. He demonstrates this belief when Hazel suggest he take his devices off and he replied by saying, “if I tried to get away with it, then other peopled get away with it. Soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else”. This was a very ironic comment. Furthermore, unlike his son, George was a coward and submissive, he followed all the governments' regulations because he believed they were morally correct.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Morality and Irony in Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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