Study Guide

Harrison Bergeron Setting

By Kurt Vonnegut


The Living Room of... the fu-ture -ture -ture!

If George & Hazel Bergeron have any Jetsons-esque devices in their home, like a motorized walkway, a robo-maid, or a suitcase that changes into a car, we don't get to see it. Even their TV seems to be just a TV. It's not 3D or a 96" widescreen or anything. It might even have a dial. (Bet we just blew your minds there, kids.)

This might be because the story was written in 1961, before Comcast broadcast its first cable channel. Or because science fiction isn't the point of the story. But the most likely reason their living room is so vaguely described is because it could be any living room. It could be yours.

-ism, -ism, ism!

More important than what their living room looks like, however, is the fact that it's situated in the middle of a country where everyone is "equal." Their definition of equality is a little offbeat, to say the least, because it means that no one is allowed to be successful. Everyone is brought down to the lowest level. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, it's keeping down with the Joneses, and those Joneses? They really stink.

How did society end up in this backward slide? Well, it could have happened in a couple of ways.

First, Vonnegut was coming off of the 1950s and McCarthyism. In the '50s, Senator Joe McCarthy spearheaded a hunt for communists: not exactly or always socialists but, you know, close enough. A lot of people at the time saw communism and socialism as weakening the country, especially compared to America's favorite system of production: capitalism.

So, it's possible that "Harrison Bergeron" is showing just how weak the country could become: a nation where everyone is so crippled by government regulations that they can't even move from their couch.

Egg On Your Face

On the other hand, Vonnegut himself was a known socialist. Why would he criticize the system that he liked and approved? Take this into consideration along with Vonnegut's penchant for satire, and the story starts to seem like a criticism of the conservatives who think socialism is a bad thing. It pokes fun at their fears in a "joke's on you for believing this hooey" sort of way.

Hm. Who knew a story this short could be so complicated?

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