Friday, October 20, 2017

Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

More like, Short Story Review Friday, but this one's been coming up a lot recently, so I thought I'd take it as a sign...

Harrison Bergeron is a sci-fi short story about a world in which the government has made everyone equal through the use of handicaps.  The physically strong are made to wear weights, the beautiful where masks, the intelligent wear devices that interrupt their thoughts.  This misery is all overseen by the Handicapper General.
That is, until Harrison, an extraordinary fourteen year-old, appears at a televised performance of that national ballet, holds the audience hostage and shows the world what life could be like without handicaps.

The Facts

Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 9 pages

Publisher: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Date of Publication: October, 1961

My Opinion

I've always liked this short story, ever since I read it in school.  I'm not sure why I love it so much, but it's probably because the ending is rather sad and dark.  I feel the same way about Ray Bradbury's All Summer in a Day, which is incredibly sad.

The whole concept of Harrison Bergeron is kind of ridiculous.  If you're forced to wear weights all the time, you'll only get stronger.  Even with incredibly obnoxious noises playing in your ears every twenty seconds, you'll learn to think again.  However, this is not the point.  This story is a modern fable, meant to lead our thoughts in a certain direction.  Whether the path it takes is totally logical or not doesn't really matter, just so long as it makes a point.

That being said, what is the point?  This story could be about, as this article in the Mission states, "what happens when people mistakenly pursue equality of outcome instead of trying to equalize equality of opportunity," or it could be about giving governments too much power over our lives, or any number of other lessons.

The short film, 2081 (watch it!), which is based on this short story, seems to lean toward the idea that the handicaps are less for the benefit of the people being equal and more for the government itself, depicting the Handicapper General as appearing in public bearing many handicaps, but later, appearing with none.

The end of this story is sad on so many levels.  It's wonderful.

Should You Read This Book?

Gotta say yes.

If you missed this one in school, catch it now.  I think it might have worked better for kids, since it's a bit fantastical (the rebellion ballet and the Handicapper General's name take a bit of effort to suspend the disbelief for) but the prose is great and the message, and the ending...  Yes.  I think most people could enjoy or benefit from reading this.

Other Useful Information:

Bechdel Test:  Does Not Pass

Helpful Tropes:  Dystopian Edict, Individuality is Illegal, Political Correctness Gone Mad
Links: Welcome to the Monkey House (contains the short story), Goodreads, Kurt Vonnegut Wikipedia Entry



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