Central Theme In”Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
In “Harrison Bergeron,” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the author tells a story about the government forcing equality on citizens by the use of handicaps; in doing so they hold everyone back from their fullest potential. In the story, the central theme is equality; as Harrison is shown as a symbol for individuality, the tone shift expressing the dysfunctional government, and how the short story is an allusion of a perfect society.
Harrison is a symbol who represents the spark of defiance and individuality that still exists in some Americans. In the Handicap General’s mind, Harrison is singled out as a threat and treated with brutal handicap, rather than what they’ve issued to everyone else. For example, Vonnegut says:“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.” Any person who would dare act on their own free will is put to death. While Harrison wasn’t inflicting any harm to anyone, he was threatening the government’s management as they created a world of equality among the citizens, which is gained at the price of suffering and death.
Vonnegut uses mood and tone as a way to express the theme as the story starts with a very dark mood when he describes Handicaps and humankind as a whole. He opens the first paragraph with:””The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal in every which way.”” This sentence begins Vonnegut’s view of a scary, future society where everybody was equal. Nobody could be more intelligent, stronger, prettier, or faster than anybody else. The Amendments to the Constitution and the agents of the United States Handicapper General would make sure it was kept that way, so people will have to wear handicaps to modify their intelligence or appearances, which was required by law to wear them at all times. Vonnegut does not support this kind of equality, and the conditions of equality are dangerous. But, when Harrison breaks out from jail, the story takes on a more pleasant mood: “They leaped like deer on the moon. The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it. It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.” He begins to describes this scene like Harrison has given up and doesn’t care anymore, so he feels happy and calm. This relief and happiness is expressed as the mood of the story shifts from a gloomy mood to a pleasant mood.
This short story is an allusion of a perfect society that is maintained through a centralized government, which expresses the dysfunctional government that is present in the story. The line, “”all this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the constitution,”” tells the reader that the government brought on the equality. Some people are forced to wear weights to tame their physical strength, masks to hide their beauty, and even ear pieces to distract people from thinking of more than one thing at once. The theme of the story is equality and control. If an outside force capable of controlling citizens’ thoughts, looks, and actions removed all self-government, all that would remain would be the shells of those individualized people.
In addition, the central theme of “Harrison Bergeron” is equality due to the fact that Harrison is shown as a symbol for individuality, the tone shift expressing the dysfunctional government, and how the short story is an allusion of a perfect society. Vonnegut suggests that total equality is not the best thing to strive for and that the effects it can have in the society just like the people in this story were affected, and that the quest for equality is disastrous.