Understanding Social Laws and Irony in Harrison Bergeron and The Storm

In thermodynamics entropy is the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system. The world is full of examples that the universe tends towards highest entropy. For example, a campfire shows solid wood inevitably turn into ash and smoke, signifying the foreseeable end of stability, as it transforms into distinct chaotic forms. Humans and societal systems are no exception. Entropy in theory shows that change is inescapable and truly exposes the power of change. Through their stories, Kurt Vonnegut and Kate Chopin demonstrate the monumental effect that a single person can have on a society of people who all, consciously or subconsciously, could benefit from change.

The power of change is a fundamental theme in both “Harrison Bergeron” and “The Storm” In both stories the authors use setting to critique the social constructs that protagonists find themselves entrapped in, revealing their detrimental nature which hinders individuality. Vonnegut and Chopin both suggest that people do not simply “fit” into the rigid architypes that society puts them in, thus endorsing rebellion.

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However, the authors diverge in the outcome of this insurgence. While Chopin demonstrates a smooth resolution after rebellion, celebrating defiance by encouraging individuals to rebel for self-empowerment, Vonnegut exposes the power of difference and individuality, despite its turbulent reaction. In “Harrison Bergeron” and “The Storm,” the setting at the beginning of each story is used to introduce the respective environments inhabited by the characters. Framing these environments allows the authors to highlight and critique the strict societal norms. Long sought out egalitarian principles overtake the society in “Harrison Bergeron,” where in “the year 2081, [.

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. .] everyone was finally equal” (Vonnegut 166).

Television has become a powerful force that sedates and rules the mind of the people of 2081, so as a part of their daily routine, “George and Hazel [are] watching television. There [are] tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’[s] forgotten for the moment what they [are] about” (Vonnegut 166). The simple tone in both of these quotes suggests the naivete that the characters take from their surroundings: they are oblivious to the harmful nature of the constructs around them, as they cannot even think for themselves. The institution of absolute equality is exclaimed with pride, and through Hazel, Vonnegut exposes the true repercussions and harmful effects of this social triumph. Hazel’s unconscious sadness is evident, yet her inability to comprehend the cause of this sadness emphasizes how this egalitarian societal construct has stripped her of power over herself. This state of unawareness is so deep that she cannot even understand her condition, thus not seeing a reason for rebellion. Similarly, the setting around Calixta in “The Storm,” is also used to demonstrate her isolation and confinement. Calixta “sat at a side window sewing furiously on a sewing machine. She was greatly occupied and did not notice the approaching storm” (Chopin 82), while her husband, outside when the storm hits, “sat solidly holding the can of shrimps while the storm burst” (Chopin 82).

Calixta and her husband are separated, a physical parallel to their emotional disconnect. In a time that should scream panic, they both carried on, unaware of the storm and with no thought of each other, alike their oblivion towards their marital problems. Chopin describes Calixta as “sewing furiously,” a task deeply connected to a domestic, historically feminine role. However, by using the word “furiously” to describe her sewing, which carries a more masculine connotation, Chopin subtly illustrates Calixta’s subconscious desire to defy social norms in pursuit of her individuality. This “furiousness” demonstrates something rumbling beneath the surface inside Calixta, just as Hazel has tears on her face, though neither of these characters understand the cause of these emotions. Moreover, their unawareness to the setting around them, in addition to their inability to comprehend the effects that their surrounding have on them, forces them in a state of isolation, and this lack of self-understanding marks a loss of individuality.In both “Harrison Bergeron” and “The Storm,” Vonnegut and Chopin use setting to parallel the characters journey throughout their rebellion, using conflicting images to blur the lines of the social norm versus reality, thus emphasizing the impossibility of these societal expectations. As the storm rages on and quickly approaches, “the rain beat upon the low shingled roof with a force and clatter that threatened to break and entrance” (Chopin 83). Chopin utilizes the weather as a direct parallel to Calixta’s affair. Similar to the rain, Calixta challenges the constrictive nature of marriage, and the strict gender roles that society forces her to embody.

As a woman, Calixta is expected to fill the reserved, classy and submissive mold that society has shaped for women. The affair partakes, it is described that her “eyes still retained their melting quality” (Chopin 84) that they always had before. This defies the characterization of a typical affair, as Chopin fills Calixta’s affair with passion and innocence. The author exposes Calixta’s “white neck,” “white throat and her even whiter breasts” (Chopin 84) as symbols to represent her her vulnerability in this specific affair. The repeated use of “white” sparks marital tones throughout, furthermore emphasizing the defiance of a typical affair where the idea of marriage is utterly lost. Mixing these tones of gentleness with sexual language such as “thrusts” and “mounting,” Chopin subtly illustrates the difficulty and duality of always adhering to societal norms. Furthermore, through Chopin’s unique characterization of Calixta’s affair, the author praises Calixta’s bravery to act on her carnal desires and rebel against societal expectations of marriage. The tone created by the words “mounting” and “thrusts” fuel the denseness and passion of Calixta’s rebellion. Differing from the confinement described in “The Storm,” Vonnegut shackles Harrison with literal chains as “scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was certain symmetry to handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junk yard” (Vonnegut 168).

Through Harrison Vonnegut points out the irrationality of egalitarianism. In a society deemed to have every individual to be equal, Harrison is described as an exception to all, similarly to Chopin’s use of Calixta. Vonnegut’s tone explores the irony behind the concept of equality, stating that true equality is simply delusional, but a mere false sense of equality is the only thing that can be achieved. While handicaps attempt to deteriorate superiorities to create equality, the magnitude of these handicaps accentuates an individual’s difference. Both Harrison and Calixta are used to prove the absurdity of the hindering social laws, as Vonnegut and Chopin stress that an individual’s will power is stronger than anyone’s loyalty bound towards these laws. In both “Harrison Bergeron” and “The Storm,” the authors endorse rebellion, demonstrating the monumental benefit it holds in empowering individuals, and though the authors diverge in the success of the character’s respective rebellions, they both emphasize the importance of change and individuality. In Chopin’s “The Storm”, after the affair has passed, “the sun was turning the glistening green world into a palace of gems” (Chopin 85). Chopin fully endorses the rebellion, as the setting provides another parallel to Calixta. The tone is bright and revived, just as Calixta is after the affair. The tones around an affair would stereotypically be racked with guilt or remorse; however, in using these bright tones, Chopin emphasizes the benefit for characters to challenge the social constructs that surround them.

In addition, these abnormal tones utilized demonstrate that although Chopin does not advocate for infidelity, she does disregard Calixta’s sin and instead focuses her critique on the hampering institution that is marriage. After the storm passed and the world settled, “Calixta was preparing supper. She had set the table and was dripping coffee at the hearth. She sprang up as they came in [...] she had clasped Bibi and was kissing him effusively” (Chopin 85). This comes to a smooth and happy ending, despite the classically defined “catastrophic” event that partook in the arc of the story. Calixta willingly retook her traditional housewife mold as she is captured setting the table and cooking; however, Chopin illustrates Calixta with a newly found aura of happiness and relief. As demonstrated by her “springing up” as her family came in or the “effusive” kisses she gives to Bibi. Calixta is empowered through her rebellion of societal roles, and Kate Chopin suggests the everlasting positive external effect on the world around her and her internal self by the genuinity of Calixta’s new affection towards her family. Though Calixta’s rebellion would be deemed successful, in “Harrison Bergeron”, Vonnegut emphasizes that even without lasting effect, difference is power. “Neutralizing gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long long time” (Vonnegut 170). Vonnegut uses a rebellious scene to break and flood the ongoing confined and monotonous setting with passion and freedom. Their physical suspension speaks to their internal liberation of all that was literally and symbolically weighing them down, suggesting that these uplifting tones and description accentuate the power in defiance.

Back at the Bergeron’s house George turned to Hazel, “‘you been crying?’ he said.” Hazel confirmed, yet she had forgotten the reason, but reassured that it is “‘something real sad on television.’ [...] ‘Forget sad things,’ said George. ‘I always do,’ [replied] Hazel” (Vonnegut 170). This shows how frightening and threatening difference and individuality can be to these societies. There is no long-lasting effect to Harrison’s rebellion, but the power in difference still persists. Vonnegut utilizes the parent’s inability to retain thoughts amides an externally imposed construct to emphasize that those blinded and confined by societal expectations can never celebrate or embrace their individuality. Although the settings vary from Vonnegut’s futuristic dystopian egalitarian society, to Chopin’s interpretation of a Louisiana upbringing, both protagonists inevitably rebel against the rigid architypes that confine them. While Vonnegut utilizes the irony of handicaps in “Harrison Bergeron” to expose the absurdity of social institutions, Chopin demonstrates how turmoil does not follow a storm by paralleling a literal storm to Calixta’s journey. Through their stories, both authors deeply critique and expose the irrationality and uselessness of social norms that attempt to define individuals. Similarly, Entropy suggests the uselessness of societal laws as it reassures that change and defiance is inevitable; but what would society be without these rules? Could humanity exist without them?

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Understanding Social Laws and Irony in Harrison Bergeron and The Storm. (2024, Feb 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/understanding-social-laws-and-irony-in-harrison-bergeron-and-the-storm-essay

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