Study Guide

Harrison Bergeron Tone

By Kurt Vonnegut


Why So Serious?

"Harrison Bergeron" is so calm and deadpan, it's hard to know whether we're supposed to be laughing at it or not. Like, say, this guy: doing something totally absurd with a totally straight face.

When Harrison escapes, the TV reporter tries to read a bulletin on the air, but "It wasn't clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment" (37). Or when George experiences a crippling noise, Hazel can only say "Boy […] that was a doozy, wasn't it?" (22).

Seriously, we're not sure whether to laugh or wince.

Or how about watching masked ballerinas who are weighted down with iron pellets around their necks trying to do a graceful dance? Or Harrison winging musicians around like batons?

Hilarious, right? But the tone isn't even tongue-in-cheek. It's deathly serious. Real. Which makes us think: maybe Vonnegut is warning us that this stuff could actually happen.

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