Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

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K. V's HB, is a satiric prediction of the dangers of equality and mediocrity, and offers a dark insight into the development of a deliberately misguided society. A few simple characters, mainly George and Hazel Bergeron, provide an example for the blueprints for an entirely corrupted country. These characters establish K. V’s futuristic and societally unconscious world with their low key reactions to evident rebellion and repression. It is through the routine of these characters that Vonnegut is able to portray the extent of control a government can have over the lives of its citizens and the way in which the democratic society of America can rationalize dictatorship.

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The government’s use of distraction as a means of oppression is illustrated through the average behaviour of the characters. Radio interference is enforced upon the mentally alert to diminish basic thought and communication. George Bergeron’s numerous attempts to have a comprehensive opinion suggests that, to the totalitarian government, individual ideas are seen as counter-productive to a “progressive” society (Aldous, 2011). Thus, the capacity for change is left to the unintelligent members of society, who dominate conversation instead of those with handicapped intelligence. The shocking backwardness of the mediocre being the single voice of society suggests that V’s dystopian society, directed propaganda is a pessimistic one.

In HB, the totalitarian leader, DMG, convinces the society of America to trade their individuality for what she claims is “total equality”. Through the use of characterization, V explores the consequences of Americans’ unconditional loyalty toward the government. The author describes Hazel as an avid supporter of DMG, regardless of the fact that she is responsible for the removal of her son, Harrison, and the repression of her husband. Hazel even voices the opinion that she wishes to become handicapper General as she believes that “[she will] make a good Handicapper General” (Vonnegut, 1961), even though she is aware of how the handicap hurts George, seeing him flinch when his ear radio transmitter goes off. Regardless, Hazel continues to admire DMG along with her construct of an “equal” society. This doublethink is the basis for the controlling propaganda influencing 2081 America. The effect of this propaganda is that citizens can surrender their abilities, family and life to benefit the government. V reveals Georges and Hazels neutral attitude toward the removal of Harrison due to his talent; instead of opposing his removal they are trained to “forget sad things” (Vonnegut, 1961) for the sake of building a society that DMG believes to be equal.

In his story, Vonnegut reveals the ways in which the Handicapper General uses the fear of competition to make citizens believe that obeying the laws is an ethical decision. Hazel, feeling sorry for George, who is required by law to wear forty seven pounds of birdshot around his neck, suggests he lightens his load by removing some of the lead balls. George dismisses the idea with a recital of the punishment; “two years in prison and two thousand dollars for every ball taken out” (Vonnegut, 1961), he continues by explaining how others would cheat the law if George himself could do so. He states that this would result in society returning “back to the dark ages, with everybody competing against everybody else” (Vonnegut, 1961), and that cheating laws would reduce their society to chaos. In HB, Vonnegut satirizes the fear of change and uncertainty: the people would rather maintain their oppressive laws as opposed to taking their chances without it.

Vonnegut’s tale provides an amusing prediction for the direction of mankind, of an approaching world order, one attempting to dehumanize its people. The few simple characters he creates are able to convincingly play out his sarcastic prediction for the consequences of equality and mediocrity. With HB Vonnegut creates a fictitious political landscape, littered with propaganda that creates questions for our own time. 

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