Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut Book Review
Forcing conformity on people does not result in complete peace or utopia. In Kurt Vonnegut's “Harrison Bergeron” the government wishes to create uniformity among all of its citizens; Therefore, they apply handicaps to individuals with strengths such as masks on peoples’ faces to make sure they do not feel insecure about looks, weights to make people slower and weaker and mental handicap radios to interrupt the thoughts of intelligent people. In the story, handicaps force conformity on citizens and the government punishes anybody that does not agree or conform to their ideas.
Its citizens with strengths and weaknesses are given the handicaps in order to get rid of their uniqueness. When somebody tries to take off their handicaps or disagrees with the government, such as Harrison Bergeron, they are killed or put in jail.
Firstly, the handicaps and oppression from society and the government make this world suppressed and uninteresting. Handicaps on citizens does not make the society utopian, but destroys creativity. George and the two ballerinas have mental handicap radios in their ear that set off a very sharp and painful noise. “George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, and were holding their temples.” (Vonnegut, 2). In a utopian society, people would not be trembling and collapsing to the floor just because their intelligence is superior. It is detrimental that they have to suffer because they were born with strengths. In addition, the handicaps rid the world of diversity and force everybody to be the same. While the ballerinas were dancing, George makes a comment on the dance which shows how it is nothing special because anybody can be that good. “They were not very good, no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. “They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in.” (Vonnegut, 1) Because of these handicaps, things like dance are very bland. There is no diversity or creativity. This makes many forms of entertainment such as sports, arts and television very boring and plain. The dancers had to wear masks which killed and hid their identity. Therefore, since this society places handicaps on people with strengths, this results in pain and a very bland world. It causes a depressing feeling because everybody is the same.
Secondly, the controlling and repressive nature of the handicaps restrict the inhabitants from being free. The government stops people from having freedom of expression and their own thoughts/opinions. George describes his handicap and tells his wife what happens if he tries to take it off. “he was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out a sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains” (Vonnegut, 1). This shows the measures the government takes to make sure someone can not be free and have their own thoughts. People who are capable of thinking on their own, get interrupted every 20 seconds by a high pitched noise to make sure they do not think for too long. If they try to change the handicaps, they get two years in prison and a $2000 fine. The government silences anybody who has a different opinion. The Handicapper General kills Harrison Bergeron because he has a different opinion. “It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the emperor and the empress were dead before they hit the floor.” (Vonnegut, 5) The story shows that when somebody, such as Harrison Bergeron does not agree with the government and tries to protest it, firstly he is thrown in jail for plotting to overthrow the government. Then, when he went on tv to protest the government and take his handicaps off, he was killed. The government's control over people's thoughts, actions or capabilities ultimately makes this world dystopian. In this story, if society embraced and supported people's differences or strengths and weaknesses instead of repressing them, then maybe it would be a utopia.
In conclusion, a perfect world would not force people to be identical or try to alter or hide their identity. Having handicaps on people to try to make the world uniform makes the society very uninteresting and monotonous. People in this world are forbidden and punished when they act out against the government. A true utopian world would allow its citizens to express their uniqueness and work together with their government for everyone’s overall happiness.