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Welcome To The Monkey House, Harrison Bergeron, And Slaughterhouse Five, By Kurt Vonnegut

1359 words - 5 pages

Kurt Vonnegut was a man of disjointed ideas, as is expressed through the eccentric protagonists that dominate his works. Part cynic and part genius, Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliance as a satirist derives from the deranged nature of the atrocities he had witnessed in his life. The reason Vonnegut’s satire is so popular and works so well is because Vonnegut had personal ties to all the elements that he lambasted in his works. Vonnegut’s experience as a soldier in WWII during firebombing of Dresden corrupted his mind and enabled him to express the chaotic reality of war, violence, obsession, sex and government in a raw and personal manner. Through three works specifically, “Welcome to the Monkey House,” “Harrison Bergeron,” and Slaughterhouse-five, one can see ties to all the chaotic elements of Vonnegut’s life that he routinely satirized. One can also see how Vonnegut’s personal experiences created his unique style of satire.
Imagine an overbearing government with a tremendous amount of control over its citizens; it sounds like a theme taken out of a traditional science fiction novel, but this was the reality of the countries that were fighting in WWII. Although Vonnegut did not consciously attack governments in his novel Slaughterhouse- five, he brutally satirized the concept of overbearing governments in his two short stories. In “Harrison Bergeron,” the government controls everyone’s senses using handicaps. The world government in “Harrison Bergeron” does not allow its citizens to have advantage over one another; therefore, the government enforces handicaps on the perfect citizens in order to make everyone equal. Vonnegut begins the story like this, “THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.” (Harrison Bergeron, 1.) The idea behind this opening paragraph is to show how ridiculous government powers have become, as well as warn people that governments are increasingly taking over the freedom and personal attributes of the individual. The same argument and ridicule can be found expressed in the short story “Welcome to the Monkey House.” Vonnegut introduces the absurd control the government has over the individual in the fictitious society by stating “So the world government was making a two-pronged attack on overpopulation. One pronging was the encouragement of ethical suicide, which consisted of going to the nearest Suicide Parlor and asking the Hostess to kill you painlessly while you lay on a Barcalounger. The other pronging was compulsory ethical birth control.” (Welcome to the Monkey House, 30.) As a satirist, Vonnegut goes where others don’t dare; he...

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