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Heather Rasmussen

Kathy Newport

English 102

March 6, 2009

We Interrupt This Program To Bring You Anarchy

Totalitarianism and government oppression eventually lead to anarchy.

Societies cannot endure this type of government rule. In “Harrison

Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut condemns a future totalitarian government

through the use of external conflict, indirect characterization and symbolism.

The external conflict in the story is twofold. George and Hazel are

briefly conflicted regarding the idea of tampering with the weighted

equalizing bags around George’s neck. That conflict is quickly concluded

with the realization that the resulting fine and jail time aren’t worth the brief

benefit of lightening George’s weights.

Harrison’s obvious external conflict is personally, physically fighting

against the government and its forced equality laws. From his tearing down

the door to enter the television station to his brief televised celebratory

dance with the ballerina, the entire scene depicts the way that Harrison has

fought against the government. His death ends that conflict. In a way, he is

the winner as he is no longer forced to live under a government that enacts

such laws. Unfortunately, Harrison’s martyrdom is short-lived as even his

own mother can’t recall watching his death on television.


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“I am the Emperor!” shouts Harrison Bergeron. In declaring this,

Harrison is comparing himself to royalty. This comparison is symbolic

because in the time when royalty ruled, they were the only “perfect” people.

Harrison relates himself to royalty due to his extreme good looks, athleticism

and intelligence, his physical and mental perfection.

The chains worn by Harrison represent the oppressive government and

the equality laws that are restricting people from performing at their full

potential. The chains further represent the restrictions from celebrating

individuality and personal achievement. When Harrison tears himself from

the chains, it symbolizes his, albeit brief, freedom from the soul and body-

crushing equality laws imposed by the Handicapper General.

The Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, respresents authority

in multiple forms. Not only does Diana Moon Glampers create, administer

and enforce the equality laws, but she provides the punishment for non-

compliance, as exhibited when she personally executes Harrison and the

beautiful ballerina.

The very deaths of Harrison and the ballerina signify the death of

freedom from the suffering inflicted by the imposed equality laws. Harrison

has finally torn himself and the ballerina free from the restrictive chains,

weights, headphones, and other equalizing paraphenalia. This newfound

lightness, this freedom, allows them to float freely near the ceiling of the
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television station. Their deaths bring a nationally viewed end to that

freedom.

Through indirect characterization, Vonnegut is able to depict Harrison’s

parents’ acceptance of the equalizing laws. Due to her average intelligence,

Hazel is perfectly content to live oppressed so that no one will be smarter

than she. George seems grudgingly accepting of his greater burden, due to

his higher level of intelligence, inflicted by the equalizing laws. Due to their

government forced stupidity, this couple isn’t able to remember or respond

emotionally or physically to their son’s arrest or his televised execution.

Obviously, Harrison is at odds with the government’s oppression of its

citizens. This may be due to his superior intellect and physical stature and

his desire to be able to actually use these gifts to express his individuality,

creativity, intelligence and skills. While Harrison succeeds in breaking the

chains of government oppression, he dies for this failed cause.

In “Harrison Bergeron,” Kurt Vonnegut creates a perfect example of the

anarchy and civil disobedience that ensues from a totalitarian government.

The citizens of this type of society will eventually fight back against their

oppressors, and there will always be a martyr.

Works Cited

Vonnegut, Kurt . "Harrison Bergeron." West Valley College . 2005. 19 Apr.

2009 <http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/hb.html>.

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