Sunday, June 10, 2012

Analysis: Harrison Bergeron

When reading Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, a number of themes and concepts are introduced to the reader. These themes run the gamut from conformity to desensitization toward violence. I intend to discuss these concepts, as well as to compare the different interpretations of this story.

 The short story starts with a married couple seated and watching television. The husband wears a mental handicap, which makes concentration almost impossible. The wife aspires to be the Handicapper General and they both watch ballerinas dance across the stage. Halfway through the program, a news bulletin announces the escape of one Harrison Bergeron, an athletic and ingenious teenager. Now, depending on how the reader interprets this story, two very different impressions can be derived.

 On one side, the story can have a bit of an elitist point of view. It describes average as being almost mentally retarded and incapable of moral outrage or even have the capacity for understanding human emotion. To be fair, the average American isn’t that impressive mentally or physically (e.g. being average), but when I first read this story, it felt like something a high school math-lete would have written after getting a swirly. It seemed like Vonnegut had a bit of intellectual frustration when he wrote this piece. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well written, but I got an impression from the story that the author had little or no confidence in average America. For example, in the beginning of the story, Vonnegut wrote, “the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.   It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts” Now I’ve worked with the mentally handicapped and I’m pretty sure that they’d notice if there child of fourteen years was snatched away from them. So logically, a person of “average” intelligence would both notice and care deeply if their child was taken away.

 On the side of the coin, it also gives the impression of Orwellion revolution and of hope for people to be the best people they can be. If average is actually a metaphor for accepting the bare minimum, for permitting oneself, to live in the crowd. Then that would make the scene at the end of the story with, Harrison dancing with the ballerina, a demonstration of human excellence, a demonstration of what we all could do if we had the will to. He spoke of the two of them leaping 30ft into the air and of Harrison snapping metal like celery. These are extraordinary things, but with enough will and want a person could achieve these things.

 It also is delivering the obvious message of “Don’t-allow-yourself-to-live-in-the-crowd.” But although, I got both these messages, one of intellectual arrogance and a message of hope, I think it doesn’t have to be either/or. I’ll be the first to say that people from all walks of life can be dumb, but no matter how shallow the gene pool gets, people can still surprise you. Harrison Bergeron. I hope I succeeded in doing that as well as in discussing possible meanings hidden behind the words.

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