Study Guide

Harrison Bergeron Manipulation

By Kurt Vonnegut

Manipulation

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. (3)

George and Hazel aren't too broken up by the fact that their son has just been kidnapped. They do what the government tells them, right down to their very emotions. At least there's no sadness in the world anymore, right?

George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. (3)

We might as well start calling the government the Thought Police. They're not only trying to change the way people look and act, but they're manipulating the way they think. Criticism of alarmist fears about socialism? Or a warning about just how bad it could be?

[George's] thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm. (6)

The simile of "bandits from a burglar alarm" make it seem like even thinking is a bad idea at best, illegal at worst. On a subconscious level, George seems to notice that there's something wrong with how society works, but it hasn't quite bubbled to the surface yet.

[The ballerinas'] faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a [...] pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. (10)

Yeah, but how does the ballerina feel? Hazel seems pretty happy, being a dope with no handicaps. Is a miserable, weighted-down ballerina equal to a happy idiot? And does looking at ugly people really make you feel better about yourself, or is that just what the government wants you to think?

"I don't notice [my handicap bag] any more. It's just a part of me" (25)

The ubiquitous handicaps have made George believe that the rules and regulations of the government are just the way the world works, as though they're genetic instead of man-made constructs. He can't even envision an alternative world.

[The ballerina] had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. (41)

The ballerina has been manipulated into thinking she should be ashamed of her voice because it might make other people feel bad. Modesty is one thing. Extreme coddling of society is something else entirely.

"[Harrison Bergeron] is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous" (42)

In a society full of average Joes and Janes conditioned to think that being good is bad, someone who is a genius and an athlete would instantly cause resentment and fear among the general handicapped public. This is a great way to turn public opinion against Harrison. Good work, government!

"If you see this boy [...] do not—I repeat, do not—try to reason with him" (47)

Even though he's fourteen, they act like Harrison is a giant monster determined to destroy them all. We're surprised they still call him a "boy." This is a subtle and effective fear-mongering technique, and also shows how the government controls the media in 2081.

The music began. It was normal at first—cheap, silly, false. (66)

Even musicians have been manipulated into playing bad music in an effort to appear "normal." It makes us wonder why people even want to be musicians. Who wants to live in a world where your only listening option is bad elevator muzak? Would no music be better or worse than bad music? And why do they make good musicians be musicians if they're just going to handicap them? Why not pick a dude off the street and stick a violin in his hand?

"Gee, I could tell that one was a doozy" said Hazel. "You can say that again" said George. "Gee—" said Hazel, "I could tell that one was a doozy." (92-94)

The end to the story has a cheesy-joke-punchline feel to it, but it illustrates both Hazel's general simplicity and the fact that she's been conditioned to do exactly what she is told to do. We get the feeling that this world would be super boring and repetitive to live in.

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