Monday, March 8, 2010

Dose of Dystopia: Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

We all lead busy, busy lives. We might not be getting the levels of dystopian reading necessary. The solution to this problem is incredibly simple. Short stories. This isn't a meme. I just wanted to talk about an awesome short story and encourage you to check it out.

Raise your hand if you have heard of Slaughterhouse Five. Good. Great. Kurt Vonnegut rocks out loud. He's also written more books than Slaughterhouse Five. But his books aren't the focus today. Instead we're going to talk about Harrison Bergeron.

It's a very quick read, it will probably take 20 minutes of your time, if not less. Here's a link to the full text.

Harrison Bergeron takes place in the year 2081. Everyone is equal, in every sense of the word. If you're beautiful, you have to wear a face mask. If you are smart, you have to wear a radio transmitter to scramble your thoughts. No one is better than anyone else at anything. There is no longer such a thing as talent.

The story opens with two people watching TV, George and Hazel, we learn about their handicaps they are made to wear and get a very brief glimpse into their lives. Some wackiness ensues on the television. Eventually, we go back to George and Hazel watching TV.

It's brief, but oh man is a punch packed. Instead of me rehasing, I'd rather you take a few minutes to read the short story, then come back and discuss what you think of it. I have a few questions for you.

What do you think your handicap would be if you lived in this society?

Should people be completely equal in every sense of the word, as presented in this story, or is what is presented a completely different ideology for equality?

Does equality mean sameness?

Could you see society heading in that direction? Why or why not?


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  2. Leave it to Kurt V. to make you think and shudder.

  3. I've read this story before and I don't know when or why. I definitely remember it from the description though. Makes me think of my favorite quote from Frank Herbert's Dosadai Experiment: All beings are inherently unequal. The best societies allow everyone an equal chance to float at their own level. (paraphrase) It's something I don't think this society understands - not everyone is born with the same abilities. The Constitution only guarantees that we are all equal under the law. Too bad the rich and the poor not only don't have equal opportunities, they don't seem so equal under the law either.

  4. Always loved this short story. I'd definitely have to have a lot of beeps going off in my head so I couldn't remember authors and titles of books-- it's my only real skill.

  5. Thank-you so much for describing this story - I've been looking for this for years - read it in a random reader in between classes in highschool. To me, one of the most pertinent, relatable messages in a dystopia ever.

  6. I read this story in elementary school and it has stuck with me all this time, even though I had no classification for it. I loved it. It wasn't until years later that a Lit teacher suggested I read 1984, and years after that before I stumbled across anything else dystopian, but once I started to look it quickly became my favorite genre. I re-read this story that fascinated me so much as a child again a year or two ago and it was just as impressive as I remembered. It will always be a hallmark of the genre in my mind! Thanks for the reminder.

  7. hey lol the movie is way different than that lol. in the movie Harrison kills himself.