Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" A Story Symbolic Of The Oppression Inherent In Society, And The Depths To Which It Pervades Our Lives Through The Media, Politics, And Popular Culture.

1494 words - 6 pages

The first time I read Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Harrison Bergeron", I was a freshman at community college. After a quick skim, I took it to be yet another short story about a perverse kind of utopian society sacrificing some basic human right or another in order to keep the peace. I was then compelled to read it again after watching Bruce Pittman's movie adaptation of the story on television. After reading the story a second time, and a third, and many times after, I have come to realize that there are more parallels between the story and our contemporary society than I had ever thought to consider; today, in 2004, American society is figuratively employing the same controls and constraints used literally in Vonnegut's imaginary 2038.The last fifty years or so of American history have seen significant changes in media image, methods of creative expression, and levels of government control. In 1961, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. sensed the future of these changes, and this story is a cautionary tale about what may happen to our own and our country's identities if we allow the shallow and the simple to dictate our behavior. Vonnegut has not merely created a perverse utopia, as one might have originally thought upon his or her first reading of the story - he has created a dystopia, one built on oppression and subjugation of intellect and creativity, only its residents are too maladjusted to recognize their situation as anything but "average". Our country is beginning to turn toward this very real possibility.Many other cultures view America as being one of the most free and liberal nations in the world; the American lifestyle is both envied and reviled for these very qualities. However, the government and the media keep strict tabs on this freedom, and we find in many instances that this freedom may only be expressed in "normal" ways. One can find this to be especially true in the current Presidential administration; the conservative Republicans make it a point to enforce "family values", which are in fact nothing more than repugnant tenets of normalcy designed to keep all Americans on relatively the same level; this is as much a method of oppression as the physical handicaps inflicted on individuals in Vonnegut's story. It is important for readers to realize that the freedom America was founded upon was simply the freedom to practice a prescribed lifestyle that was impossible in another country. In essence, Americans are free to obey the mandates of what is considered a proper American lifestyle, rather than suffer distraction from this by the influence of other cultures. It is a false freedom that we are subjecting ourselves to.In the author's conception of a future America, handicaps are inflicted upon anyone with traits or features more optimal than average. Those with exceptional physical appearances are given ugly masks to not only cover their beauty, but to remind all who see the mask that the possession of such good looks is sinful to flaunt in public. The...

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