Aug 8, 2008

Short Story Saturday - "Harrison Bergeron"

It has been my intention for some time to read a commonly available short story every week and share my comments on it. But if you have been for while, you know I have A LOT of intentions. Sometimes they get thwarted by other acceptable life goings on, but other times, more commonly, thwarted by my own laziness. A while ago I asked my buddies on plurk to suggest some short story titles to me. I got A LOT of suggestions, but very few that were actually available online. Luckily, digitalrob was paying attention and came to my rescue. As you can tell, I have been feeling quite a bit more productive (I think my adventure helped!) So I finally got around to read the story he recommended. So, I definitely owe him a big thanks.
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The first line of "Harrison Bergeron" sounds like a world many of us have dreamed of. "The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal." But what happens when equality is taken to the extreme?

If no one could be prettier or smarter or more athletic, how would the world be? Does it sound like a dream or a nightmare?

"Harrison Bergeron" is written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and is classified as a dystopian science fiction short story. In this futuristic world, everyone is not created equal but they are all forced into equality by devices that hinder their natural abilities. In a world with equal beauty there is in fact no beauty. In a world where there is equalized intelligence no one is intelligent.

Part of the enjoyment out of life is the unique ways in which our talents complement eachother in our relationships and interactions. Also when we think of a better society, I feel we hope for one that involves all people being more intelligent and not creating an intelligence hindrance. In the story people of higher intelligence have to wear ear pieces that emote sound to disturb thought processes. "Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains."

I was curious to know more about this story and when I went searching I found that there was also a movie created off of the short story. I have included it in full below. It is interesting to see their interpretation of of the transmitter mentioned above.

If you are interested in reading this story you can find it online here.

6 comments:

  1. Nice post. Equality can be overrated. Look at what most youth sports are doing by not having a winner declared in a game. Nobody wins nobody loses, everyone just feels good. We can't celebrate the win and on the other side learn from the loss. It is disheartening to see. I hope that this is not a sign of things to come as it would be very easy to justify what Vonnegut describes.

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  2. Interesting. However, I'd call that sameness and not equality. To me equality means that we can all be different and unique, and still be valued as humans.

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  3. Great point. Love your distinction mervi. Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. I agree with mervi in that what most people view as equality is sameness. Unfortunately, too many people confuse these two terms.

    Many people believe that "equal opportunity" means that anyone has a shot at a job or opportunity no matter their skill set or quality. This is one reason our society is so litigious.

    Also, Vonnegut's idea of forced sameness is staggering when recognized in the public schools. The Special Education Act of 1971(?) and NCLB have essentially gutted our educational system into a feel good bureaucracy raising mediocrity to a pedestal. "If you aren't the same, you are bad." Worse yet, many teachers agree with this idea and think outstanding students are "arrogant" and "lazy," and need to be put in their place.

    I theorize that our horrific dropout rate is partially the result of lack of opportunity for those students who aren't equal but outstanding.

    -dr

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