"Harrison Bergeron"

Short Story Analysis by Yue Taira and Anitta Nitto

Background Information

This short story was written by an American author, Kurt Vonnegut, and was published first in 1961. It is set in the year 2081 in a dystopian society, where people who have advantages against others, such as good looks or strength, are handicapped, by law. The inspiration for the author to write this story might have been previous events in his life that cast him as a misfit among classmates and others throughout his life. The time period in which the story is set contributes to the plot by setting the story in the future, where equality for all is finally reached. Because everyone is equal, the handicaps create hindrances for those who want to outshine everyone else and become who they have the potential to be, like Harrison. The dystopian society plays a role in constraining individuals who are smarter, stronger, or more beautiful.

Elements of Plot

Exposition

In “Harrison Bergeron,” the exposition begins by explaining how things are in the year 2081 and emphasizing how everyone is forced to be equal, in every aspect. Here, George and Hazel Bergeron and their son, Harrison Bergeron are introduced, as well as an idea of the dystopian society in which they live in. By providing an idea of what living in that year in that society, the author provides an idea and helps the reader understand meaning the circumstance and story much more in depth.


Rising Action

The rising action begins with George and Hazel watching the ballerinas on TV, and observing what they are doing. Here, the author goes further in detail on the buzzer in the brains of people who were above intelligence and other factors of the community that is used to equalize everyone. The author also reveals more about the story and sets up room for conflict using the conversation of Hazel and George about the news bulletins on TV and the buzzers to evolve the plot. On TV, the news anchor attempts to explain the latest news, which had to do with Harrison Bergeron. Along with that arrival of Harrison Bergeron at the ballerina dance performance adds further to rising action. His characteristics are explained in detail and is shown ripping off all his handicaps and convincing a dancer to do as well, Harrison rebels against the norms of society and shows everyone how beautiful dancing should actually be.


Climax

The most action in the story occurs when Harrison leaps up into the air and defies laws of gravity, only before is shot because of his revolts against society and his handicaps. Then, he is shot and killed by the Handicapper General. The author most likely uses this climax in order to show an instance of what happened when an individual diverged from the norms of that society. Obviously, this is the main and most exciting event in the story and develops the theme and conflict as well as adds suspense and interest to the story.


Falling Action- After Harrison Bergeron had been shot and killed, falling action is the part where the TV blacks out. Hazel is sitting in front of the TV crying, yet has no recollection that she is crying because she just witnessed her son being shot. All she remembers is somethings sad on TV but apparently forgets what immense event just happened. The author most likely did this so that they would completely forget about the revolt and daily life would go back to normal, dampening any sparks for rebellion.


Resolution- The story wraps up with Hazel and George discussing about the noise in George’s head and how “that one was a doozy” (Vonnegut). The author closes with this aspect of their society and how nothing has changed in their lives, and the sadness of losing their only son was a vague memory.

Characterization

Conflict is the internal or external struggle between two opposing sides in a story, and it is usually used to develop the plot and storyline. In Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” there is external conflict seen between man, Harrison Bergeron, and the society he lives in. Since Harrison is “a genius and an athlete,” he is placed in jail, “where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government” (Vonnegut). However, when he escaped, he still had his handicaps on, which prevented him from being strong or beautiful. He struggled against these, and finally he ripped them all off in the climax. After that, Harrison and his companion get shot down and murdered due to their rebellion against handicap rules which show even further struggle between Harrison and society. The author uses conflict to develop the story and the theme, to explain the life of someone in this dystopian society, and how one brave soul overcomes the rules and restrictions.

Theme Analysis

Theme is the universal moral or lesson learned of the story, and applies to people of the general population. There are several themes shown throughout the short story, but one of the most prominent is that there are consequences for going against the morals of the society and its leaders. This is shown especially when Harrison Bergeron goes against the rules of the H-G and takes off all of his handicaps, while proclaiming that he will become the emperor. Because he is breaking rules, the Handicap General, Diana Moon Clampers, shoots Harrison and his empress, who took off her handicaps as well. When the H-G came into the studio where Harrison was, “she fired twice, and the emperor and the empress were dead before they hit the ground” (Vonnegut).

Conflict

Conflict is the internal or external struggle between two opposing sides in a story, and it is usually used to develop the plot and storyline. In Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” there is external conflict seen between man, Harrison Bergeron, and the society he lives in. Since Harrison is “a genius and an athlete,” he is placed in jail, “where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government” (Vonnegut). However, when he escaped, he still had his handicaps on, which prevented him from being strong or beautiful. He struggled against these, and finally he ripped them all off in the climax. After that, Harrison and his companion get shot down and murdered due to their rebellion against handicap rules which show even further struggle between Harrison and society. The author uses conflict to develop the story and the theme, to explain the life of someone in this dystopian society, and how one brave soul overcomes the rules and restrictions.

Imagery

Authors use imagery in their stories to convey images and vivid experiences to the reader. In “Harrison Bergeron,” there are many instances of imagery where the author uses the five senses to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. During the climax where Harrison rids himself of his handicaps, the author is very detailed in how Harrison does this. For example, when the author describes how Harrison takes off his weights and other handicaps, he says, “Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall” (Vonnegut). He provides the reader with a vivid explanation of what is happening in the story to allow the reader to read this story as if they were actually in the story, living in the society that Harrison does.