“Each of us write what he [or she] must write and you simply wait to see if there’s an audience for it or not” (Vonnegut), once asserted by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut then follows up that statement with: “I was lucky I found an audience” (Vonnegut). In one of his books, Harrison Bergeron, Vonnegut uses three literary elements to establish a theme of what actually determines equality and equity, the three he uses are setting, conflict, and characterization.
The book Harrison Bergeron was based around the idea of equality in the U.S., in the year 2081, about a 14-year-old boy Harrison Bergeron (setting). Bergeron was an athletic, very intelligent, handsome, and incredibly brave teenager that didn’t believe in the idea of equality the government/handicapper general believed equality to be (characterization). The movie version of the book begins with a global studies teacher handing out/back test results while at the same time telling them their grades and giving them some sort of approval with C’s having the highest amount of approval. Harrison, being as smart as he is, was given an A+, but due to this level of integrity, he has been left back four times. His teacher recommended him to see a doctor, the doctor attempts to modify his brain on hopes of helping him, but when he finds his efforts futile, he then recommends Harrison a head house (hostess/entertainers). Once he’s there, he’s introduced to many different hostesses and then he chooses one that specializes in Chess, named Phillipa. Around 10 to 15 minutes into their session, the Police are called, but since Phillipa doesn’t have her band on, Harrison spares her by taking his off and placing it on her head just as the Police walk in. He’s then instead of locked up brought into a secret facility called the National Administration Center and recruited as a member. The climax of the movie isn’t until the near end of the movie when Phillipa attempts to run away, and her brain is scrambled; Harrison is stimulated, and his response was obtaining a camera/filming system in which he attempts to get the people of the country to overthrow the government (3rd American Revolution) by telling them to take off their bands and showing them various arts, films, and music (conflict).
In the movie, Harrison states this: “You haven’t made everyone EQUAL, you’ve made them the SAME, and there’s a BIG difference” in his debate with John Klaxon (Chief Officer of the National Administration Center) on what actually determines equality. In all respects, Harrison is correct; the bands make everyone the same, but definitely not equal, all the bands really do is either limit the proficient or skilled while at the same time increasing the potential of those who aren’t as skilled or even skilled to begin with. Even though this may seem to be some form of equality, it is hardly right and lacks equity at the same. Living in such a society would and does seem normal to those living in it, and those without the mental capacity to overcome their limitations/handicaps (bands, heavy weights, and/or impressionistic masks), but not to Harrison. There is no envy, no competition, no resentment, no morality, definitely no variety, and virtually or practically no civilized life in this dystopianism-based society of the future. “Thanks to the intrusive and leveling efforts of the United States handicapper general, no one is smarter, stronger, swifter, or more beautiful than [one another]” (Amy A. Kass). With this in mind, what actually determines “fair game” or “fair play” and what it is exactly that determines equality and equity?
So what does the word “equality” mean, and the same goes for equity? Equality can mean a number of things, it’s a very ambiguous word, and it could mean the state of being equal, balanced, and even the same. Wait, didn’t Harrison disagree with the definition of equality being of equivalence with the same? His definition of equality would probably go along with equity, equity meaning justice, rights, impartiality, what is considered fair or not fair, biasness and unbiasedness, and/or egalitarianism. The only reason why he went against or tried overthrowing the government was because he didn’t believe in the same equality as the handicapper general and most of the people in the country did. His definition of equality falls well in-between the lines of fair opportunity, fair opportunity as in those with gifts or talents not being limited due to their innate or congenital ability, that, to him, is not equality, he feels this way because he is one of the few that do have natural born talent(s). As asserted by Leon R. Kass, “… [of a society where] equality [can be] rightly understood, with opportunity for excellence built [into it]…” (WhatSoProudlyWeHail) which is essentially what Harrison wants for his society. With equality being what he defines equality as being “rightly understood” with circumstances/occasions (opportunity) for those withholding specific skills. “Equality of opportunity in education should mean something for everybody, should mean something, without regard to gender, or race, or socioeconomic status,” asserted by Theodore Friend (Friedan). For Harrison’s case, he doesn’t fall into any of the three categories, but this concept is of concern to him, he isn’t limited due to those reasons but he is limited nonetheless.
Equality can never be achieved if the only way of achieving it were to be gone about in this manner. What this means is the government in which Harrison grew up living in observed and analyzed all the inequalities of everybody and everything and thought “…inequalities of beauty, intelligence, strength, grace, talent, etc. logically all should be leveled…” (Moore and Ferrara). “We Americans were born in a land of opportunity and wealth, while billions around the world are born into poverty and squalor.” So for the country to try to achieve equality this way is sort of selfish, this would technically be the “opposite of justness and fairness”, it is not fair to the beautiful for them to be forced to wear hideous masks, not fair to the strong who are forced to bear weights, and not fair to the skilled who are limited as to what he or she can do in comparison to another (or everyone else).
The reason why there is a struggle for interpretation for this very ambiguous word equality is due to the fact that it is abstruse, enigmatic, and also very complex in denotation and/or connotation. “Courage wouldn’t cease to be courage, if everybody had it” (WhatSoProudlyWeHail) claimed by Leon R. Kass. Leon stated this as a double negative, but in true meaning or what he meant was courage would not be the word courage or wouldn’t exist as a word at all if everybody presented/demonstrated its characteristics. Instead of the word courage, what if it was replaced with the word equality; would this statement still be held true then?
Equality: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. Dir. WhatSoProudlyWeHail. Perf. Amy A. Kass, et al. 2012. Web.
How the U.S. Became More Unequal: Minority Rights, Equality & Ronald Reagan – Kurt Vonnegut (1987). Dir. Betty Friedan. Perf. Amy Swerdlow, et al. 1987. YouTube.com.
Moore, Stephen and Peter Ferrara. “The Poverty of Equality.” A 2012. The American Spectator.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Kurt Vonnegut Interview in 2005 “Im a Man without a Country” – One of Last before 2007 Death Budd Mishkin. 8 June 2011. Web.
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