What are two themes of Harrison Bergeron?

Answered by Douglas Hiatt

Two prominent themes in “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut are equality and government control, which are effectively portrayed through the use of media and satire. Vonnegut skillfully weaves these themes throughout the story, enhancing the overall message and prompting readers to reflect on the dangers of extreme societal measures.

The theme of equality is central to the narrative of “Harrison Bergeron.” In this dystopian society, everyone is forced to be equal in every aspect, regardless of their natural abilities or talents. This extreme version of equality is achieved through the use of handicaps, which are imposed on individuals to suppress any form of superiority. For example, Harrison Bergeron, the protagonist’s son, is exceptionally intelligent and athletic, but he is burdened with physical restraints, earpieces emitting distracting noises, and thick glasses to impair his vision. Vonnegut presents a thought-provoking critique of the notion of absolute equality, questioning whether it is truly desirable or achievable. Through Harrison’s rebellion against the system, the story challenges the idea that true equality can be achieved by suppressing individuality and potential.

Government control is another key theme in “Harrison Bergeron.” The dystopian society depicted in the story is governed by an oppressive regime that enforces the principles of radical equality. The Handicapper General, an authoritative figure, is responsible for ensuring that everyone is handicapped to maintain sameness. This theme highlights the dangers of unchecked government power and the potential consequences of allowing the state to dictate and control every aspect of individuals’ lives. Vonnegut’s portrayal of a society where the government has absolute control serves as a cautionary tale, warning against the dangers of sacrificing personal freedoms in the name of equality.

Media also plays a significant role in emphasizing the themes of equality and government control in “Harrison Bergeron.” Through the use of television broadcasts and live broadcasts of the events unfolding in the story, Vonnegut demonstrates how the media can be manipulated and used as a tool for propaganda and social control. The constant interruption of the broadcast by the government’s announcements and the portrayal of the news anchor as an emotionless figure further highlight the influence of media in shaping public opinion and perpetuating the regime’s message of equality.

Moreover, Vonnegut employs satire to effectively convey his message in “Harrison Bergeron.” By exaggerating the idea of equality to the point of absurdity, he mocks the notion that everyone should be the same. The use of handicaps as a means to achieve equality becomes a satirical commentary on society’s tendency to suppress individualism and potential. Through satire, Vonnegut prompts readers to question the implications of a society that values equality over personal freedom and individuality.

The themes of equality and government control are intricately woven throughout “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. The story raises important questions about the nature of equality, the dangers of unchecked government power, the manipulation of media, and the suppression of individuality. Vonnegut’s use of satire enriches the narrative, enabling readers to reflect on these themes and consider their significance in our own society.