Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” is a story about a society with forced equality. it is portrayed very ironically, resembling his other works. In this story, citizens are living in a captive world, where equality has become corrupt and distorted because of extreme handicaps. The amendments made by the Handicapper General cause citizens to blindly and foolishly obey her. Through Vonnegut’s deeply ironic and exaggerated dystopian literature he shows that total equality is an ideal that should not be attempted.
The irony begins with the handicap system; instead of protecting human rights, the system takes away opportunities, diminishes diversity and dehumanizes everyone, which is the opposite of what equality stands for. Equality should mean everyone receives the same advantages, not disadvantages. We are told “The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal” (175) as if it was positive. The narrator continues by saying “Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime” (175). This implies that everything is perfect except for the weather, which is far from the truth. This is extremely ironic seeing that no one in the story realizes that they are being degraded by the government.
The handicaps are a significant symbol in “Harrison Bergeron” because they also display irony. While Hazel and George were watching television, there were ballerinas dancing with handicaps. We are told “She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous” (178), this shows that, although the handicaps were made to make people feel equal, they do not keep people from knowing that the person is beautiful, strong or intelligent. Ironically, the handicaps demonstrate and prove that certain people are more superior than others. It is shown in this story that the brightest and most talented are the ones that suffer the most, which is extremely unfair. This is quite odd and ironic because talents and gifts are usually celebrated and valued.
Lastly, Harrison’s death is an extremely important part of the story and it shows severe irony. When the handicap general, Diana Moon Glampers shoots Harrison, Hazel starts crying but forgets why. George says “Forget sad things” and she replies with “I always do” (181). Although Hazel saw her son die on television she can not comprehend due to her short term memory.This shows humanity has become so emotionless that parents cannot recognize and mourn over their son’s death. At the end of the story they have another dull and dim-witted conversation, where hazel takes the meaning of the saying “You can say that again” literally and she repeats herself. This ending finalizes how severely damaged the society has become.
The world of “Harrison Bergeron” shows that total equality is an ideal not worth striving for and can be backfired dramatically. Vonnegut uses exaggeration and irony to portray this futuristic nightmare showing the length to which people go in order to achieve physical and mental equality. I believe he is suggesting that although total equality can be achieved, it is not worth happiness and freedom.