Theme of Harrison Bergeron

Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron highlights the perils of governmental control coupled with people’s ignorance. Vonnegut goes ahead to predict the results of such a move. The most striking theme is that of lack of freedom in American society. Vonnegut also explicates how loss of civil rights is catching with Americans. What is the result of all these? There is a high probability that America will end up in a dystopia. In summary, Vonnegut talks of how loss of freedom and civil rights would lead to America’s dystopia.

As aforementioned, Americans love freedom and this is evidenced by Harrison’s actions; he escapes from prison, goes ahead to remove his handicaps and finally tries to influence those around him. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so that you can rest your handicap bag…?” (Vonnegut Page 216).

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The government chained this handicap bag around George’s neck; however, Harrison is telling George to ‘rest’ it, as a sign of rebellion and push for freedom. Nevertheless, in Harrison’s world, this freedom is no more and people cannot make choices because they are above average in everything and as a result, they are handicapped. For instance, the dancers are cloaked to ensure that, “nobody would feel like something the cat drug in” (Vonnegut Page 216).

The fact that all people are above average in everything takes away freedom of choice and hampers everyone in the new dystopia America. The idea of neglect of freedom of choice is also expressed in the article of Clark. The author argues that “Uninformed citizens are left vulnerable to the political exploitation of special-interests” (Clark, 1). This proves that despite the love of Americans to freedom, their freedom of choice is restricted due to the lack of information.

Loss of civil rights is another contributing factor towards this dystopia in America. Everyone is equal “due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution…the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General” (Vonnegut Page 218). In this state, the ‘Handicapper General’ ensures everyone is equal and he or she has no right including right to life. George says, “Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out” (Vonnegut Page 216).

George here talks of the consequences of removing the ‘handicap’ that the government has placed around his neck, evidence of loss of civil rights. George even watches her daughter die on television and he cannot complain leave alone filling a suit. All these events resonate well with what is happening in America today. The issue of loss of civil rights by American citizens is discussed by Manson in one of his articles, which is devoted to mind control.

The author gives multiple “evidence for government involvement in attempts to control people’s behavior” (Manson, 1). The mind control conspiracy theory proves the intrusion of the government to people’s personal lives and even to their consciousness. This is an obvious violation of basic civil rights defined by the Constitution.

Vonnegut insinuates that if what is happening in contemporary America is not countered, then a dystopia in America is inevitable. Even though Vonnegut wrote this story many years ago, he had seen what was lurking; for instance, after the 9/11 events, congress passed the US Patriot Act that allowed security agencies to probe personal issues.

This resonates well with, “the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General” (Vonnegut Page216). Even though loss of freedom in contemporary America is not as bad as in Harrison’s society, American authorities are slowly taking away freedom.

For instance, smoking regulations placed public places is a move of its kind. To this Vonnegut would say, “Some things about living still aren’t quite right. The ‘rightness’ of living is disappearing slowly as people lose freedom and head to the new dystopia America. Indeed, the freedom of Americans is being gradually lost.

According to Manson, even the right for individual opinions is being violated, and as a result of the government activity is such that “a person simply becomes a pair of eyes designed to observe and transmit data”. This serves as an evidence of American citizens being deprived of their rights for freedom.

In summary, Vonnegut tries to highlight how government control would slowly convert America into a dystopia nation. Despite the love that Americans have for freedom, Vonnegut is afraid that this is being taken away and people will have, “a little mental handicap radio in their ears tuned to a government transmitter” (Vonnegut Page 218). This would take away freedom and civil rights would suffer the same fate for those who rebel against the set ordinances will have, “ten seconds to get their handicaps back on” (Vonnegut Page 219).

The overall effect in this situation would be a nation where all people are equal according to government standards hence dystopia. The take home point in Vonnegut’s short story is, people should come out of their ignorance, take action and correct government errors; otherwise, America will be a place of parity without dreams and competition hence dystopia America.

Works Cited

Clark, J. “Regulating Government” The Encyclopedia of Public Choice. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media, 2004. Credo Reference. Web. 03 May 2010.

Manson, Fran “Mind Control” Conspiracy Theories in American History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 03 May 2010.

Vonnegut Kurt. “Harrison Bergeron.” 1961. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. X.J. Kennedy Danna Gioia (text Pages 215, 219)


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