Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" -- A story symbolic of the oppression inherent in society, and the depths to which it pervades our lives through the media, politics, and popular culture.

Essay by AetheriusUniversity, Bachelor's March 2004

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The first time I read Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Harrison Bergeron", I was a freshman at community college. After a quick skim, I took it to be yet another short story about a perverse kind of utopian society sacrificing some basic human right or another in order to keep the peace. I was then compelled to read it again after watching Bruce Pittman's movie adaptation of the story on television. After reading the story a second time, and a third, and many times after, I have come to realize that there are more parallels between the story and our contemporary society than I had ever thought to consider; today, in 2004, American society is figuratively employing the same controls and constraints used literally in Vonnegut's imaginary 2038.

The last fifty years or so of American history have seen significant changes in media image, methods of creative expression, and levels of government control.

In 1961, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. sensed the future of these changes, and this story is a cautionary tale about what may happen to our own and our country's identities if we allow the shallow and the simple to dictate our behavior. Vonnegut has not merely created a perverse utopia, as one might have originally thought upon his or her first reading of the story - he has created a dystopia, one built on oppression and subjugation of intellect and creativity, only its residents are too maladjusted to recognize their situation as anything but "average". Our country is beginning to turn toward this very real possibility.

Many other cultures view America as being one of the most free and liberal nations in the world; the American lifestyle is both envied and reviled for these very qualities. However, the government and the media keep strict tabs on this freedom, and...