An impartial society: Utopia or Hell?
What would happen to the world if the people were literally equal in
every aspect of their lives? In the
futuristic short story, “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the world
is finally living up to America’s first amendment of everyone being created
equal. In this society, the gifted, strong, and beautiful are
required to wear handicaps of earphones, heavy weights, and hideous masks,
respectively. Thus, these
constraints leave the world equal from brains to brawn to beauty.
With the world constantly pushing for equality among people, Vonnegut
reveals a world that society is diligently working toward.
Through this foreshadowing of the future, Vonnegut attempts to use Diana
Moon Glampers and Harrison Bergeron as mechanisms to reveal and warn of the
dangers of the two extremes--too equal or too unjust.
Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, symbolically portrays the
idea of fairness in a society. She
is the one in charge of lowering the capacity of a bright and intelligent person
to the level of a normal and unaware being.
In the beginning of the story, the reader is given a picture of the world
that Diana Moon Glampers watches upon:
year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal.
They weren't only equal before God and the law.
They were equal every which way. Nobody
was smarter than anybody else. Nobody
was better looking than anybody else. Nobody
was stronger or quicker than anybody else.
All this equality was due to the…Amendments to the Constitution,
and…vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Moon Glampers is the one who maintains the idea of "checks and
balances" among the society of 2081. In
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Glampers is portrayed as a
"sixty-year-old virgin who, by almost anybody's standards, was too dumb to
live….No one had ever loved her. There
was no reason why anybody should. She was ugly, stupid, and boring" (Vit).
Diana Moon Glampers is the epitome of every possible low in the world,
and this allows her to hold such a high position in this futuristic society.
Since everyone is created equal, her ugliness, stupidity, and boringness
all play this major role in earning her such a high position as Handicapper
General. She makes sure that no on is better than her, thus making everyone
equal in "every which way" possible.
Glampers represents the fairness that society is continually striving for
to obtain. In this world, everyone
stays at the same level-- no one is different, no one is jealous or fearful of
anyone, and no one is trying to impress or overtake the next.
In this sense, it is actually quite a positive point to be exactly equal
in every way, or is it?
Equality is a great idea that the world should extend and embrace;
however, absolute equality is another issue in which too much of a good thing
may cause matters to go wrong. In a
world of absolute equality, each human being would never be looked upon as
anything more or less than the person beside him or her.
Unfortunately, this advantage may only go so far.
For example, how can an intelligent being be given as much credit as the
simple minded human beside him? This
is the case with Harrison Bergeron's parents.
Harrison's mother, Hazel, is described as having "perfectly average
George['s]…intelligence was way above normal" (Vonnegut 234).
In order to stabilize their intelligence to the same level, Harrison's
father has to wear "a little mental handicap radio in his ear" (Vonnegut
234). This society's method in
maximizing complete equality is to have the intelligent people wear earphones
(which give off horrible sounds) to distract one's trail of thought, which in
turn, may unfairly give him the better advantage over the simple minded--such as
Glampers and Hazel. Diana Moon
Glampers symbolizes this world by not only being the one to support these
customs, but by also shooting down and killing the one who is considered the
symbol of freedom and difference--Harrison Bergeron.
Through Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General and the murderer of
freedom and individuality, Vonnegut is warning society to not lean completely
towards being "equal in every which way" or else society loses its
chances to excel past what it has become. He
satirically suggests that in order for everyone to be equal, the ones who exceed
the mark must be brought down to the standard.
As a result, there is a loss of the exceptional talent and beauty.
Moreover, just as Diana Moon Glampers represents the fairness of society,
Harrison Bergeron symbolizes the individuality in the world.
In a society of excessive equality, Harrison Bergeron is the one who
represents uniqueness through his physical and mental characteristics.
Harrison is no ordinary being of society.
In fact, he is described as "a genius, an athlete,…and should be
regarded as dangerous….Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he
wore a tremendous pair of ear phones, and spectacles with thick wavy
lenses….Scrap metal [is] hung all over him….he wear[s] at all times a red
rubber ball for a nose, keep[s] his eyebrows shaved off, and cover[s] his even
white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random" (Vonnegut 236).
His physical appearance alone would definitely offset him from the rest
of the crowd. Just by walking down the street, one could sense his
greatness by his excessive handicaps. Furthermore,
his mental capacity is great enough to override the annoying sounds that the H-G
men create. The reader can
obviously see that Harrison has something more to offer, yet his society is
binding him down and taking away his individuality: "Harrison's only
crime was taking control of the television studio, but his motives outweighed
the crime. He was shot for exposing the world to beauty" (Marton).
In this sense, Harrison
represents uniqueness of an individual. He is the one willing to exploit his society and have
variation as being a celebration of oneself not a crime, or is this possibly his
Although Harrison symbolizes the individual, he--just as Diana Moon
Glampers--reveals that too much of a good thing may cause matters to go wrong.
Harrison reaches freedom and takes it to the extreme.
When he takes over the Television studio, he exclaims, "I am the
Emperor! Everybody must do what I
say at once!" (Vonnegut 237). Harrison
completely takes away equality. He
creates this caste system with him and his queen at the top, which is then to be
followed by his loyal subjects. His
mentality only brings him to a downfall where he literally tries to bring back
anarchy. Moreover, Vonnegut tries to warn today's society of too much
inequality. Although differences in
brains, beauty, and brawn are a matter that should not be tied down, there needs
to be a limit. Vonnegut shows that
individuality can be a downfall because humans do tend to become envious and
power hungry. He makes this point
in the beginning when Hazel and George were discussing "the dark
ages…with everybody competing against everybody else" (Vonnegut 235).
People need some type of equality so that one will be able to be an
individual and remain just as equal as the next.
presents both extremes of equality and inequality and implores society to choose
the median. If this median is not
met, the world may become a Hell. In
one corner, there is the equality that Diana Moon Glampers represents--equal in
every way possible; in the opposing corner, there is the inequality Harrison
Bergeron symbolizes--one king and his many subjects.
Both extremes have extremely destructive consequences; one takes away
individuality, the other takes away equality.
As the future draws nearer, the only true Utopia that society should
strive for is the type of equality that allows and commemorates individuality.
Marton, Adam R.
"Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…".
Marek Vit's Kurt Vonnegut Corner.
11 March 2002. Online
Posting. 8 October 2002. <http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/4953/kv_ask_not.html>.
This is an essay written on "Harrison Bergeron".
Marton talks of Vonnegut's ongoing themes satirizing the government and
the destruction of individuality. He
also makes a point when he says that it is the government forces
"characters to do evil in the name of good".
Marton also uses other works from Vonnegut to prove his thesis.
"Uniformity and Deformity in 'Harrison Bergeron'".
Marek Vit's Kurt Vonnegut Corner.
11 March 2002. Online
Posting. 9 October 2002.
Vit writes an essay about "the fact that uniformity (of any kind)
leads to the loss of individuality, and therefore to absolute deformity of
humanness". Proves his thesis
by incorporating the motifs of "Harrison Bergeron"--everyone is equal
in every way. Vit also uses other sources (other works written by Vonnegut)
to prove his point.
"Harrison Bergeron". Literature:
An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama Eighth Edition.
Ed. Dana Gioia and X.J. Kennedy. New
York: Long man, 2002. "Harrison
Bergeron" is about a futuristic society in which every one is created equal
in every possible way. Harrison, an
extremely strong, smart, and handsome young man escapes from prison and tries to
take over the world. However, in
the end, the Handicap General shoots down and kills Harrison for trying to
disrupt the social system.