Symbolism in “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut

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Throughout history equality has been a goal for the world. But, have we ever stopped to think what true and complete equality would bring? In the short story, “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, he explores the idea of total fairness. This tale explains why equality is not something we should strive for and the dangers that this will cause in the future.

In this essay we will see that Diana Moon Glampers is a symbol of extreme and full fairness whil Harrison Bergeron is a symbol of inequality used to further the justice of an individual.

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The start of the story paints a picture of how this society is functioning:

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. Nobody was smarter than anyone else. Nobody was better looking than anyone else. Nobody was stronger and quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the…Amendments to the Constitution, and…vigilance of agents of the United States. (Vonnegut 234)

The antagonist, Handicapper General – Diana Moon Glampers is described as a “sixty-year old virgin who, by almost anybody’s standards, was too dumb to live…No one had ever loved her. There was no reason why anybody should. She was ugly stupid and boring (Vit). This description alone shows that there is no need to stand out or be “special” in this society. Being average and underwhelming holds you to a higher standard. Being the Handicapper General, Diana makes sure that nobody is better than anyone else. And if someone infringes on the rules, she has the power to kill. But this is just a contradiction to the very laws that were set up to avoid superiority. By Diana having the authority to say who is unequal, doesn’t that give her more power than others? Wouldn’t that be illegal? This gainsaying shows the reader that entire fairness and equality will never work.

Though equality is great in a sense, too much of anything will suddenly make a turn for the worst. If we have this mindset there is no difference between a great thinker and an unintelligent person. This is where Harrisons parents come into play. His mother Hazel Bergeron is characterized as having, “perfectly average intelligence, …And [while] George Bergeron’s intelligence was way above normal,” (Vonnegut 234). In order to maintain and uphold the law George must wear “, a little mental handicap radio in his ear” (Vonnegut 234). The design of the radio is to send terrible sounds to distract his train of thought and capability of his working mind. His “, above normal intelligence” gives him and advantage over other people such as Hazel and Diana.

In the world Vonnegut has created he uses Harrison as a symbol of individuality. He is described as a
Genius, an athlete, and should be regarded as dangerous…Instead of a little ear radio for mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of ear phones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses…Scrap metal hung all over him…he wears at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keeps his eyebrows shaved off, and covers his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle tooth random. (Vonnegut 236)

Harrisons excessive handicaps would automatically show you he is not like the rest. By him being “regarded as dangerous” the reader knows that he has lot to offer the world, yet he is bounded down.

Although uniqueness is good Harrison pushes the boundaries. He just as Diana- Handicapper General shows that too much good can turn sour. Harrison finds his freedom and breaks into the television studio and yells “, I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” (Vonnegut 237). This way of thinking then takes away equality. Yes, differences such as brains, brawn, and beauty should be celebrated this too must be made humble. Vonnegut knows that even individuality can be a downfall because we as humans tend to get power hungry and envious.

Vonnegut explores both extremes of too equal and too unjust. In this satire of what the future is heading too he implies that we must fall somewhere in the middle. If there is no balance between equality and distinctiveness the world will never advance. As we draw closer to 2081 we should strive for equality that grants and salutes individuality.

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Symbolism in "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut. (2020, Nov 03). Retrieved from