‘Harrison Bergeron’ short story review
By EG Manilag, Staff Writer
According to American journalist Dick Feagler, “Equality of opportunity is freedom, but equality of outcome is repression.” In our society, equality is often widely regarded as the ultimate goal for the common good; yet, in its purest form, equality is not desirable. And often times, it can be corrosive.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Harrison Bergeron, he passively argues that the true equality that many protest for actually harms people’s creativity and uniqueness—ultimately concluding that it’s not worth wishing for. The narrative first sets in a dystopian future society where the whole population was “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.”
This means that true equality has ultimately been attained. However, this form of equality was achieved through making all people wear handicap gears—especially those people who are smarter and better looking than the average individual. Those who have qualities below the average are left untouched.
The people in this futuristic society are all controlled by the government’s Handicapper General, who is more likely to be the controller of equality and a punisher to those who defy it. The story progresses around George and Hazel Bergeron. George has to wear a handicap because he is a very smart guy, smarter than average, while Hazel does not. Their son, Harrison Bergeron, is like his father but is more talented, sporty, and strong. He also has to wear handicaps, but he removes them in order to retaliate against the government.
Harrison was later incarcerated, but because of his skills, he breaks loose and enters a TV show where ballerinas are dancing. There, he passionately preaches the beauty in the freedom to be unique by freeing the masked ballerinas and handicapped musicians. But unfortunately, the angry Handicapper General arrives and punishes them.
Because of the handicaps, Harrison’s father, who watched his son suffer live on television, was unable to remember anything that had happened. Since Hazel was the average person, she wasn’t able to understand the situation either. After that, everything was back to how it was… equal.
I get it. Everyone wants an equal society but let us not forget that equality limits our freedom and diversity. The author may have made this story to target the ideals of socialism and communism—whose constructs are more on equality of outcome and the idea that everyone should get what everyone has. It seems that Vonnegut prefers equality of opportunity, where everyone gets the same chance to climb the ladder of success.
But the central idea though is to be skeptical of true equality because whether or not we like it, this story perfectly describes true equality and the logical conclusion of that ideology. But why preserve uniqueness, creativity, and diversity, though? How is it a priority in the face of ensuring that everyone has food on their table?
Well, these attributes help society break through traditional norms that were once corrosive and discriminative, like slavery. Because some people deviated in thought and stood for what they uniquely saw as true and fair, freedom for those who were enslaved was achieved. New ideas always need room to grow and a society of equality does not allow that. Take this other scenario for example, you worked hard on an assignment and got the highest score, but your professor wants to be fair—so he averages all the students’ scores. The result would then be applied to all, leaving you with a lower mark but saving those who failed, even those students that failed because they did not do any work.
Ultimately, it is important to first understand how equality works—desiring it without comprehending it is very dangerous. It is like making a deal with the devil. Vonnegut’s book has a lot to offer, may it be political or social, so make sure to read the whole short story. It’s definitely worth your time and effort!