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Cassandra Awalt

May 18, 2015

Harrison Bergeron Reaction Paper


Dystopian society can include a number of different factors, but in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.s
Harrison Bergeron, published in 1961, it displays a period where the government has total
control over its citizens, forcing all to be equal regarding appearance, intellect, and physical
ability. The main ideas, strengths and weaknesses, and my personal opinion regarding this piece
tie together to make Harrison Bergeron and influential, thought-provoking work of literature.
Harrison Bergeron takes place in the year 2081 where the world and everyone in it is
under control of a dystopian government. The story follows a married couple where the husband,
George Bergeron, is subjected to wear a headpiece and neckpiece that handicaps him for his
above-average intellectual ability. This causes him to be subjected to be equal to everyone else,
which was forced upon civilization as a result of the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the
Constitution. When an individual is too advantaged over the rest of civilization, they are
considered a danger and imprisoned, such as Georges son, Harrison Bergeron.
Vonnegut uses this to warn, or show the danger of, total equality or an excess of
government control. The primary supporting ideas include that, by reprehending any individuals
that might speak out against the government by sending ear-splitting noises through them every
twenty seconds or so, the government is much like the though-police in 1984 by George Orwell,
eliminating any threat to total government control. Vonnegut wants to inform his readers, and
provoke their thoughts so they are not oblivious to what is happening around them, as the
citizens in Harrison Bergeron are.

Cassandra Awalt
May 18, 2015
Initially Vonneguts piece seems like a fictional tale of a different world where things are
so terrible that we are unable to comprehend. Looking deeper, the reader realizes the underlying
meanings and warnings presented. I also believe that, since in the 1960s the United States was
right in the middle of the Cold War and tensions with the Soviet Union, the story was a dramatic
representation of communist control. Not only communist control, but the situation of the United
States government having too much control over the people in the future that is a fear still
present today. When looking at the piece, the reader doesnt realize that it is an over-exaggeration
of our own civilization.
We, as the mass majority, or proles as stated in 1984, are ruled by a select few that have
total power over us. Even though we have more freedoms that the citizens in Harrison Bergeron,
such as freedom of speech or the ability to have natural competition and advantages with others,
some leaders opt to remove some rights that are written in the Bill of Rights. Take, for example,
the right to bear arms, a hot topic of discussion and debate over the last few years is to take away
firearms from the population. Even though the piece could use more description or background
regarding why life was like how it was, it could have possibly been the purpose of Vonnegut, to
leave interpretation of events leading up to that life up for discussion. The piece itself was
overemphasized, and Vonnegut obviously favors the regular person over the leaders of the
country.
Since I personally am very fond of dystopian settings and the lessons they teach , this
piece was an interesting read and interested me immensely. Personally, however, I would have
liked more background of the story, like how long the world had been under such government
control, what lead to it, and the initial response to the policies being implemented. Also, hearing
more about the background of the son of George, Harrison Bergeron, and the exact events of

Cassandra Awalt
May 18, 2015
how he ended up in jail would be interesting to read. If I had the ability to speak to Vonnegut, I
would discuss his underlying meanings of the piece and what exact events he was afraid of
occurring. Reading the piece engaged my mind to reflect on our own government, and pinpoint
things that Vonnegut might warn readers about. Harrison Bergeron reminds me of the reading
of The Second Treatise of Civil Government by John Locke, which is a more direct piece with the
same mindset of Vonnegut. Locke promoted natural rights of the citizens and limited
government, stating that the citizens should control the government and not vice versa, which is
what Vonnegut is expressing in Harrison Bergeron. However, Locke also favored equality of
citizens, which Vonnegut doesnt seem to favor quite as much considering intellectual and
psychical ability. Opinions regarding equal rights considering freedom of speech, religion, and so
on do not seem to be expressed by Vonnegut, but the idea of total equality is something that he
opts against.
The main ideas, strengths and weaknesses, and personal reflection on this piece shows
that Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is an incredibly thought-provoking and
influential piece of literature that outlines the fears of government and outlines the over
exaggerated possibilities of the future of the United States of America.

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