Kurt Vonnegut Junior’s critical short story is a futuristic fiction that presents the hypothetical United States metaphor where uniformity is socially engineered, and individual differences are suppressed. The narrative opens by stating that “everybody was finally equal” (Vonnegut 1). Those who are beautiful wear masks, strong and well-built people are forced to carry along heavy bags while the genius walks around with electronic devices which ensure they do not overthink. The objective of this superficial sameness is to avoid conflict and jealousy at all costs. Elimination of free-willed people is only one of the strategies used in maintaining the status quo. The judicial system is completely eradicated, human rights are easily tampered with, individual freedom is eliminated, and few people have super-power duties. The encumbrance of the majority is deemed necessary for the implementation of the constitutional amendments by the handicapper general. This essay argues that although Harrison’s America achieves intellectual and physical sameness, there is a rampant violation of individual rights, which exacerbates injustices.
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First, there are gross injustices in society since the emphasis is merely on four aspects of individual differences. In the introductory paragraph, Vonnegut points out that nobody was smarter, more beautiful, quicker, or stronger than the other (1). Other variances which cause inequality, such as socio-economic class, gender, race, and age, are not considered in society. The implication is what was intended to be an egalitarian nation still tolerated other forms of segregation. There are still people in different professions, such as police officers, teachers, and governors, whose roles exalts them. In the film version of the story, Harrison is urged to join the national administrative center, a team of intelligent people who control the nation (Harrison Bergeron 1995 0:27). He has to forsake some privileges such as having children and consent to having his family mislead that he died during corrective surgery. In the movie, the first duty which Harrison does is to appoint a governor. The existence of such administrators and selection procedures connotes that the realization of equality is not possible.
Another issue is that human rights are infringed to achieve sameness, thus creating an unjust society. It is ironic that to achieve equality before God and the law, essential liberties have to be taken away from the people. The United States Handicapper General imposes unfair rules on the people. For example, George is exhausted from the balls he is forced to carry along, but he cannot relieve his body. An individual is jailed for “Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out” if they rest (Vonnegut 2).” It is clear that people are punished without any mistakes and cannot make choices about their lives. In a fair society, it is expected that people can decide what to do for as long as it is not in violation of other individual rights. When a few people can impose the rules, which have never been passed by the majority, it becomes apparent that futuristic America has lost democracy and embraced tyrannical governance.
Additionally, citizens’ lives are not protected; hence, there is no freedom in the supposedly equal America. There should be a judicial system dedicated to hearing from both the offender and prosecutor before making a verdict for any nation to uphold justice. In the story, the handicapper can choose to murder people based on her subjective persuasion that a person violates the land rules. In one of the scenes Diana Moon Glampers enters the studio, and then “She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor” (Vonnegut 5). If all people are equal, then why should one person be authorized to murder without any consequence? The superficial uniformity only creates a more divided nation where a few people are self-appointed gods of the land.
Naysayers may be convinced that hypothetical America is egalitarian because everybody is scaled to perform on average. The question is, does sameness of intellect and physique handicaps inequality? Ironically, the oppression of people is assumed to be the solution to achieving fairness. To believe that equality is attained in a country where a handicapper can shoot people and kill them without going through the court is absurd. Besides, any counter-argument can only result from narrowmindedness since equality cannot be achieved by merely limiting physical appearance and intellect. Failure to acknowledge that people are unique and appreciate their distinction can never bring justice since there are too many variances to be managed.
Conclusively, the hypothetical America, which Vonnegut claims to have finally become equal before the law and God, is crippled by systematic injustices and violation of human rights. People are, indeed, disabled to not perform better than other people based on their strength, beauty, and stamina. Even so, other individual differences are neither addressed nor celebrated. The strategies to maintain the status quo, such as forcing people to wear electronic devices or carry heavy balls around, are demeaning. Moreover, a few people at the top, such as Harrison, are not subjected to similar treatment since they are needed to manage society. Thus, all evidence shows that it is impossible to achieve fairness by discarding virtues such as human rights, justice, and freedom.
“Harrison Bergeron 1995.” YouTube, uploaded byJafar Green, 2014, Web.
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Vonnegur, Kurt Jr. “Harrison Bergeron.” Literary Terms, 2020. Web.