HARRISON BERGERON QUICK REVIEW & THEMES. What does the first paragraph of Harrison Bergeron tell us...


Transcript of HARRISON BERGERON QUICK REVIEW & THEMES. What does the first paragraph of Harrison Bergeron tell us...


What does the first paragraph of Harrison Bergeron tell us about society?

How does the government control people?

What is the government trying to prevent?

In this society, what makes a person normal or abnormal?

Why does Hazel not want her husband to remove all of his handicapping devices?

What details about Harrison’s appearance and actions make him seem

like a superhuman character?

What attitudes about equality is Vonnegut mocking in the story?

What statement is Vonnegut trying to make about society?

What are some examples of Irony in Harrison Bergeron?

Why is Harrison Bergeron considered Satire?

So what are the themes in Harrison Bergeron?

1. The Danger of Total Equality

• In “Harrison Bergeron,” Vonnegut suggests that total equality is NOT an ideal worth striving for, as many people believe, but a mistaken goal that is dangerous in both execution and outcome.

• To achieve physical and mental equality among all Americans, the government in Vonnegut’s story tortures its citizens.

• The insistence on total equality seeps into the citizens, who begin to dumb themselves down or hide their special attributes.

2. The Power of Television….and other media.• Television is an immensely powerful force that sedates, rules, and

terrorizes the characters in “Harrison Bergeron.”• Constant presence in the story. Functions as a sedative for the

masses.• The government also uses television as a way of enforcing its laws. • It further turns into a means of terrorizing the citizens when Diana

Moon Glampers shoots Harrison. • The live execution is an effective way of showing viewers what will

happen to those who dare to disobey the law.

3. Exalting the Lowest Common Denominator.• Society that exalts the lowest common denominator (the homely, the

stupid, the mediocre) by handicapping all those with talent, intellect, and beauty, can never help those with natural disabilities.

• Although one may laugh at the seeming absurdity of Vonnegut’s story, he asserts that society has gone far down that road already.

• He argues a society that has been forced to protect the innocent, is noble, but it also must protect the lazy, the incompetent, the mediocre. Ultimately no one accepts responsibility for their actions.

4. We should be lifting people up.

• Human decency demands that society give such people more assistance in reaching up, aspiring to be more than the mere appendages of society.• It is the exceptional people who improve society—the nonconformists, the

dreamers, the different. • Failure to inspire all people will lead inevitably to the destruction of such a

society. • Too often, he warns, people assume that equality means being the same. This

is simply not realistic. • Conformity for its own sake can be frightening, as seen in Nazi Germany,

which attempted to rid Europe of people who were “different”—Jews, Poles, Czechs, gays, and the mentally and physically disabled.

5. We need heroes…and rebels.

• In “Harrison Bergeron,” as elsewhere in his writings, Vonnegut carefully suggests that humanity is at once noble and the cause of much unnecessary suffering.

• Vonnegut implies that a champion will defend these values.

• That is Vonnegut’s point—that society needs rebels to risk everything in order to make life better.

6. Freedom

• As a theme, freedom remains a constant in the background of the story, finally briefly emerging when Harrison escapes from jail.

• Vonnegut argues that freedom can be taken away relatively easily, especially since the forced equality in the story has been authorized by Constitutional Amendments.

7. Civil Rights

• Civil rights have become extinct in "Harrison Bergeron.’’• The culture values mediocrity to the point that the people accept

oppressive measures in the name of equality. • Ironically, no one really benefits from these misguided attempts to

enforce equality.• Those who attempt to “rise above” are immediately punished.

8. Knowledge and Ignorance

• Everyone above average in any way has been forced by the government to bear a physical handicap that makes him or her "normal." • People who are more intelligent or knowledgeable than the average person

have had their knowledge subverted. • “Normal” in the story can best be described as subnormal, incompetent, and

ignorant.• Hazel is a case in point; George’s statement, ‘‘You can say that again.”…and

she does.• In this theme, Vonnegut suggests that an authoritarian government thrives

on the ignorance of the people and on the suppression of intelligence and knowledge.

9. Law and Order

• The Handicapper General uses the fear of competition to make obeying the laws an ethical decision

• Hazel feels sorry for George, who has to wear a variety of handicaps, and encourages him to lighten his load. • George regects the idea of cheating, noting that to do so would

reduce society to chaos.• Vonnegut satirizes the fear of change and of uncertainty: victims of

the oppressive law want to enforce it rather than take their chances without it.

10. Strength and Weakness

• One of the implied reasons Harrison may want to overthrow the government has to do with strength and weakness.• He recognizes the inequality of forcing strong people (those mentally,

intellectually, and physically strong) to give up their strength for an orderly society of equal, law-abiding citizens. • The enforcers of the law do not have to submit to forced equality

themselves; they have no handicaps, which could signify their inherent mediocrity, as does the implied physical resemblance of Hazel to Diana Moon Glampers.• Vonnegut shows that strength can be used to oppress the weak, even in

the name of protecting the weak against the excesses of the strong.

11. Superman

• The idea of the superhuman materializes in the character of Harrison.• His natural abilities do not make him immortal, however; like other

human beings, he can die.• Harrison's attempt to assert his authority neither lasts long nor has any

real effect on anyone.• Truly befitting the superman concept, he declares himself emperor, "a

greater ruler than any man who ever lived’’ (even with his handicaps). • He does not recognize, however, his human flaw: replacing one

authoritarian government with another. Vonnegut suggests that power, whether invested in the government or in the individual figure, corrupts.

12. The American Dream

• The American Dream, best described as upward social and economic class mobility through hard work and education has become an American Nightmare in "Harrison Bergeron.'‘• No one, except the Handicapper General agents, can achieve upward

mobility, either because they bear artificial handicaps or because they are naturally mediocre.• In a scheme that brings anyone who is above normal in any aspect

down to the level of a person who is normal in all aspects, no one can dream about moving upward.

A final question….which is more important

Equality vs. Equity?