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The Downfalls Of Egalitarianism And Television

1078 words - 4 pages

What would actually happen if everyone was forced to be equal? Kurt Vonnegut envisioned the fatal outcome in his masterpiece, “Harrison Bergeron.” The story illustrates “what would happen if a government or some other power takes this notion serious” (Mowery). The protagonist, Harrison, who is arrest for “exuberant individuality,” escapes from prison and goes on national television station to declare himself emperor, only later to be killed by the handicap general Diane Moon. In “Harrison Bergeron,” Kurt Vonnegut satirizes the movement toward egalitarianism and the effect of television on people.
Egalitarianism can be absurd and detrimental to American society. In the story, heavy weights are put on strong people, and grotesque masks are put on attractive women. Also, many other people who have an above average intelligence often listen to loud noises which render them from completing a thought (5-7). Harrison’s father, George, compares the noises to, “somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer.” Darryl Hattenhauer of Arizona State proposes that “The story satirizes the American definition of freedom as the greatest good to the smallest number.” Unfortunately, the sacrifice of the individual to the good of society doesn’t improve conditions for the above average, average, or below (Alvarez). Joseph Alvarez suggests that, “the result [of the] power vacuum [is] a ruthless central government created by legislative controls people’s lives, which have become as meaningless as if they were machines.” In addition, the American dream that is described as moving up social and economic class through hard work and education; turn into a nightmare (Hattenhauer). For example, Kurt Vonnegut infers that the ballerina who reads announcements on television had been the strongest and most graceful dancer when he said, “she had two hundred pounds worth of handicaps” (7). The only people who can move the class are the handicap generals, since everyone else has to wear handicaps.
The lack of civil rights in story shows how awful force equality can be. Civil rights in Harrison Bergeron have become extinct, and the culture values mediocrity to the point that the people accept oppressive measures in the name of equality (Themes and Cons.). George asserts that “if people start cheating laws [taking handicaps off] then the society will turn back into the dark ages” (6). Ironically, no one benefits from these misguided attempts to enforce equality (Themes and Cons.). In the story, the Handicap General, Diane Moon fires two shots at Harrison and aims the shotgun at the crowd of dancer shouting, “you [the dancers] have ten seconds to put you handicaps back on or else”(10). Hattenhauer suggests that “The mediocrity depicted in the text, is not of the future, but of the past and present, and the cause is America's form of egalitarianism: anti-intellectual leveling.” In 1961, the year the story was published, the U. S. Congress passed another civil rights act...

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