”Harrison Bergeron”, the short story penned by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in 1961, imagines the world in 120 years, where the government has taken complete control over free thought and complete equality has finally been achieved – at a price, of course. In the quest for true equality, people gave up their rights in favor of eliminating all competition, drive, and desire: the very things that inspire innovation and creativity. The people in charge are the only ones who are allowed to think, and that power has grave consequences for Harrison Bergeron, a 14-year-old boy who is already 7 feet tall and virtually uncontrollable. The story explores important themes, such as what total equality at the cost of individuality could look like, and the dangers of losing free thought to a tyrannical government. The dystopian world Vonnegut paints is frighteningly dull, and frighteningly realistic.
Teachers today have to take into account so many different factors that go into preparing a lesson, because our student population is rapidly changing. Kids are no longer “tracked” in the traditional sense; instead, most of our classes have students with all kinds of learning abilities, including those who may need a little extra help accessing the curriculum.
We all dream of perfection: the carefully honed physicality and skill of an olympic athlete; the perfect family meal, like a Norman Rockwell painting; the perfectly harmonious society, with everyone happily going about their lives. But perfection comes at a cost, and remains perpetually out of reach. This contradiction is just one of the reasons dystopias have captivated readers of all ages. The idea of a utopia, juxtaposed with the stark reality that it can never exist, makes a compelling setting for social commentary and critique.
Harrison Bergeron Dystopia | Study elements of dystopia and have students create fun comics and storyboards!
PEOPLE RESTRICTED FROM INDEPENDENT THOUGHT / ACTION
“He tried to think a little about the ballerinas… George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.”
ELEMENTS OF CONFORMITY, OR EXTREME EQUALITY
GOVERNMENT IS OPPRESSIVE
“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 Empress were dead before they hit the floor. Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.”
GOVERNMENT PORTRAYS SOCIETY AS A UTOPIA
SETTING IS FUTURISTIC, OR IN A FICTIONAL UNIVERSE
“The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal.”
PROTAGONIST WISHES TO RESTORE PEOPLE TO A CONVENTIONAL LIFE
“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.”
“‘ If I tried to get away with it,’ said George, ‘then other people’d get away with it - and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn’t like that, would you?’”
While Harrison is not the protagonist, he attempts to buck the system by breaking out of prison, declaring himself better than others by making himself an “Emperor”, forcing the musicians to play improved music, and showing the viewers how to dance unencumbered by governmental handicaps. “Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.”