The analytical paper is dedicated to the comparison of the stories by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. “Harrison Bergeron” and Flannery O’Connor “Good Country People”. From first sight, the two narratives seem to be completely different and do not have much in common; however, there are topics covered by both of them. The chosen texts differ in their handling of individualism, reality, and the role of the family in the life of an individual due to the purposes of the writings. “Harrison Bergeron” hyperbolizes the discussed topics and makes them more explicit, while “Good Country People” describes the world as it actually is, even though in an ironic way. The current paper analyzes the differences and similarities between the mentioned aspects.
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The current section discusses how two texts address individualism that emphasizes the significance of a person and the possibility of making decisions in the context of constraints posed by the freedom of other people and the honesty with yourself. Besides, individualism refers to the uniqueness of a person, possession of inimitable characteristics. In “Harrison Bergeron”, the topic is discussed in a much more explicit way than in “Good Country People”. Furthermore, this topic is the one that Vonnegut addresses from the first lines. At the same time, in O’Connors paper, it is less explicit and is considered in the context of the disability of the main character.
First of all, Vonnegut begins a story by saying that all people are equal in every way (5). This means that no one of them is smarter, prettier, or stronger (Vonnegut 5). Equality is guaranteed by the Constitution of the state (Vonnegut 5). To some extent, this message sounds like a warning of what would happen if people kept on comparing themselves with others. This way, from the introduction of the text, it could be inferred that people are deprived of the opportunity to themselves, to be different, to have various weaknesses and strengths. As Reed puts it, individuality is an inborn quality, and members of the society that equalizes them in such a barbaric manner are handicapped (55). What is more, people are unaware that this forces equality harms them, and most people are satisfied with the absence of unique features and glad to be, to some extent, disabled.
As it has already been noticed, O’Connor does not put that much pressure on the issue of individuality. However, the author states that Hulga, the main character, has an artificial leg (O’Connor 2). In contrast, to the characters of Vonnegut’s story, the lady felt that her handicap was an inseparable part of her personality. This statement is based on the phrase that “she took care of it as someone else would his soul” (O’Connor 19). Hulga does not ignore her problem; she regards the artificial part of the body as the feature that makes her distinct from other people and single and unrepeatable. Additionally, the trauma made Hulga understand the world more subtly than other people and change the name from the initial Joy to Hulga that implies that she sees the world as it is in reality (O’Connor 5). Thus, O’Connor’s Hulga perceives her handicap as a distinctive feature that makes her a unique person. On the contrary, Vonnegut’s characters assume that their artificial handicaps equalize them, and they are glad to be deprived of individuality.
Perception of Reality
In both texts, it could be noticed that characters are not familiar with one another’s original appearance and do not understand who everyone truly is. The difference lies in the fact that Vonnegut points out that people are forced by the laws to hide some of their physical and mental traits, whereas O’Connor depicts that the characters disguise their thoughts and beliefs and even could be called hypocritical.
Concerning this issue, one should not forget that the actions of “Harrison Bergeron” are taking place in the imaginary world. Indeed, it has parallels with the real one, but the author still emphasizes the gap between the present society and one in the text. The topic of perception of reality is interconnected with the previously discussed theme of individualism. Since people are forced to be equal in every matter by law, they become unable to see reality. The only person who manages to escape this trap is Harrison Bergeron. The boy tried to open the eyes of society to what the world around them looked like but was severely punished for this. In Vonnegut’s paper, citizens do not investigate the world around them and do not comprehend that the actual personality of people around them is not the same as what they see.
The characters of O’Connor’s narration are prone to wishful thinking. For instance, Mrs. Hopewell divides people into two categories “good country people” and “trash” (O Connor 4). This notion contradicts the fact that Mrs. Hopewell claims to be a good Christian. The only person who notices this mismatch seems to be Hulga, who blames the surrounding people for hypocrisy. What is more, even Hulga managed not to recognize the real personality of the Bible Salesman, who stole her artificial leg (O’Connor 22). In this story, the characters are not forced not to notice the actual state of things; instead, it is their choice, while the personages of “Harrison Bergeron” are said not to catch the difference between the appearance and reality in a much more ironic and exaggerated way.
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The Role of Family in the Life of an Individual
Both stories narrate the misunderstanding between children and parents, their different perceptions of the world and society. Mrs. Freeman, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Bergeron, chooses to concentrate on the caricatured aspects of life and does not try to think beyond these borders. The selected stories are also united by the fact that both Harrison Bergeron and Hulga Hopewell suffered from their views and beliefs. This way, Harrison was killed, and Hulga’s leg, which was precious for her as a part of the soul, was stolen.
Talking about the mentioned topic, Kumral calls the family of Bergeron’s a typical family of that society (153). Mr. Bergeron is handicapped for his intelligence, and Mrs. Bergeron, an average person in all senses, finally does not even realize that their only son was killed (Vonnegut 11). This means that during the moment when a child was in trouble, parents were busy with other staff and could by no means help him. The situation is similar in O’Connor’s story, where the mother was busy with gardening when the Bible Salesman left the house with the artificial leg of her daughter (22). From this perspective, the two writings address the issue of relations between parents and children in the same manner.
In spite of the fact that the two texts illustrate the similar alimentation between the family members, the difference is that the case, described by Vonnegut, could hardly happen in reality. At the same time, the relations between Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga Hopewell resemble a non-fiction story. In other words, the distinction is that the irony and exaggeration in the work of O’Conner are less explicit in comparison with the style of Vonnegut’s writing. Kim claims that irony is crucial for the content of O’Connor’s stories (37). However, she manages to make them in such a way that they look alike in a real situation.
In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the difference in how the chosen texts view the identified topics lies in the degree of exaggeration. Vonnegut creates such conditions that draw the reader’s attention to the issues of individualism, reality, and family. At the same time, O’Connor explores a real situation and shows how the same topics are incorporated into ordinary people’s daily lives. Undoubtedly, it would be unfair to accuse either of the texts in the absence of irony because both deride the vices of people and the society where we live. Still, the authors style of writing makes the stories completely different. In addition, it should be noted that O’Connor is widely known for the tendency to incorporate biographical details in her works. This feature makes the stories more real, and an unprepared reader could even fail to notice hyperbole and irony. Vonnegut’s exaggeration is justified by the fact that he narrates about the situation in the distant future.
Kumral, Necat. “Mind Versus Heart or Vice Versa: Semiotic Reading of Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut.” Ars Artium, 2016, pp. 152-157.
O’Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. Harcourt, 1955.
Reed, Benjamin. “Technologies of Instant Amnesia: Teaching Kurt Vonnegut’s” Harrison Bergeron” to the Millennial Generation.” Teaching American Literature, vol. 8 no.1, 2015, pp. 45-69.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Harrison Bergeron. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, vol. 21, no. 4, 1961, pp. 5-11.
Yin, Dan. “The Irony Revealed by the Characters’ Names in Good Country People.” US-China Foreign Language, vol. 4, no. 3, 2006, pp. 37-39.