Plain but Meaningful

By: Dylan Griffin & Saket Ashar

Background Information

"Harrison Bergeron" was written in 1961 by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut is a New York native born in 1922. He had a fifty year career and died in 2007, after writing fourteen novels, five plays, five non-fiction works etc. The 60s (Vonnegut's "prime") were like an American Renaissance. New art, literature, and culture were brought about and philosophical thinking became a common trend of the era. Therefore, Vonnegut's imagination probably ran wild during the writing of this novel. Since, "Harrison Bergeron" is set in 2081, and written in the 60s, the author's imagination or prediction of the future is very warped compared to what we, the people of the future, see today.

Literary Devices

Throughout this short story literary devices are frequently used to emphasize tone, purpose for writing, and theme. We will specifically be using: plot, characterization, theme, mood/tone, and irony.


Plot is the baseline of any story. It guides the readers through the literature and allows us to experience excitement, suspense, understanding etc. During "Harrison Bergeron" evidence of plot can be notes several times. For example, when the announcer is talking about finding Harrison this can be classified as rising action because it is leading to the climax. The climax is when Harrison breaks into the studio and "takes over", offering to overthrow their brutal government. The resolution of the story is when the Handicapper General arrives on the scene and shoots Harrison. The whole thing is rather anti-climactic and right after the death life goes on.


Hazel: Hazel, is characterized indirectly throughout the story. Her character is very vague, and the only way that the readers "see" her is through her speech. Her speech is very basic and plain, never do we feel emotion/interest when listening to her talk.

George: George, however, is characterized both indirectly and directly. Through indirect characterization George is characterized through speech, just like Hazel. We can hear his intelligence through words/phrases like, "Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a peen ball hammer," (Vonnegut 2). This sort of creative and detailed speech highlights his intelligence. However, he is also characterized directly by Vonnegut, because we know some of his attributes like; intelligence, there is a handicap in his ear, and a birdshot on his chest.


A major theme in "Harrison Bergeron" is the Second Paradox of Freedom. The Second Paradox of Freedom states "Because we are contingent and limited beings, we can only experience freedom within parameters and by limiting our freedom to a certain extent." This statement is visible throughout the course of the entire story, in the form of the handicaps set by the government to make all people equal. However, the extreme that the government sets can also make the theme be about, equality based on rights not attributes. This is a possible theme because, the government strips all attributes that make us unique individuals and instead creates a monotonous society of brainless, passive creatures. So to summarize both themes into one "mega theme statement" I would say "equality based on rights vs. equality based on attributes".


This whole plot line/story is ironic. When the government sets policies to make all people free and equal they instead create an oppressive system to mask ALL traces of individuality. I think their interpretation of freedom is wrong- freedom should be based on equal rights, not attributes. Our strengths and weaknesses make us who we are, we shouldn't hide them, rather we should show them off to the world. This irony is emphasized when the narrator states, "And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times," (Vonnegut 1). That statement shows us the extremes that George's govt. would go to in order to keep everyone "equal"- even though they weren't equal at all, because no one really had any rights anyway, and since there were no personal freedoms people weren't happy or unique at all.


Tone: We believe that Vonnegut creates a tone of monotony. The author's use of indirect characterization and bland word choice emphasize his tone. A great example of this would be, "Urn, said George" (Vonnegut 2). Clearly, one word responses and basic explanations of character dialogue shows that the author is conveying an underlying message of boredom/monotony.

Mood: Whenever we read this story we got feelings of complacency and sadness. The plot of the story and its time period make a combination that really hit home. There is a scene in the story that is particularly impactful for setting the mood. This quote really shows the monotony and great sadness/depression felt within the modern society that this story takes place in; because right after seeing their son die before them, the main characters just go back about their business. This really made us sad because, how could someone be so heartless or oppressed that right after seeing their son murdered before them they just go back to the way things were? Here is an excerpt from that scene,

"George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him

up. And then he sat down again. "You been crying" he said to Hazel.

"Yup, " she said.

"What about?" he said.

"I forget," she said. "Something real sad on television," (Vonnegut 9).

2081 Trailer | Based on Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron"

Works (images) Cited

"The Secret Of All Art (cc Kurt Vonnegut)." Altucher Confidential. N.p., 03 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

"Character." Character. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

"Mood Influences Behavior of Yourself & Others - Shari Yantes." Shari Yantes. N.p., 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

"36 Of The Most Ironic Moments Ever." Bored Panda RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

"The '60s Become a Time of Social Revolution and Unrest." American History: (VOA Special English 2007-04-25). N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.