Study Guide

Harrison Bergeron Genre

By Kurt Vonnegut


Dystopian Literature; Satire and Parody

On the surface, the world of 2081 seems like the most dysfunctional of dystopias. But think about it: would it be that bad to just sit around and watch TV and never be sad? Who wants to worry about death and war when there's a Two and a Half Men marathon on?

But Vonnegut seems to be satirizing this very attitude. It's the attitude that keeps people on their couch instead of protesting that their rights are being gradually infringed upon. And the end result? People can't even be pretty without being regulated.

But Vonnegut sympathized with socialism and socialists—so why would he warn against a system he believes in?

Well, some people think that the story is a jab at people who think socialism would be the end of society. If that's the case, then "Harrison Bergeron" is basically laughing at us: are we really stupid enough to think that this would happen?

Or perhaps Vonnegut thinks that socialism would work, if it weren't for the fact that people are just so stupid and lazy. He's been described as a "misanthropic humanist." In other words, he believed in humanity as a species—but maybe not so much as individuals.

So here's what we think: socialism puts decision-making power solely in the hands of the government. And who makes up the government? Despite all the pictures of elephants and donkeys, it's people. Just like you. And what makes government officials so special that they're allowed to make decisions for the rest of us? They make mistakes just like we all do. As Vonnegut said, "It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes."

Sure, any politician ever involved in a public scandal would agree with that one. But maybe Vonnegut is saying that any system of government can go wrong—socialism, monarchy, dictatorship, even democracy—if people stop caring.

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