Analyzing Themes and Symbolism in "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut

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About this sample


Words: 616 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jan 29, 2024

Words: 616|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jan 29, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Overview of the Story "Harrison Bergeron"
  2. Equality and Uniformity
    Individuality and Rebellion
    Symbolism in "Harrison Bergeron"
    The Author's Social Commentary
  3. Conclusion
  4. References:

It is not uncommon for literature to be used as a platform for social criticism and commentary. In the short story "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., readers are taken on a journey through a dystopian world where equality is the ultimate goal. However, in this essay, we will analyze the themes and symbolism portrayed in "Harrison Bergeron" and discuss their significance in understanding the author's social commentary on equality and individuality.

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Overview of the Story "Harrison Bergeron"

The story revolves around the Bergeron family, who live in a society where everyone is made to be "equal." Those who excel in certain areas are forced to wear handicaps to level the playing field. The story's protagonist, Harrison Bergeron, refuses to accept this status quo and rebels against the government's oppression.

Equality and Uniformity

The concept of equality is deeply ingrained in the society depicted in "Harrison Bergeron." However, this idea of equality is taken to an extreme, where individuality and uniqueness are suppressed. The government enforces this equality by imposing physical and mental handicaps on those who display above-average abilities.

According to a report by the Disability Statistics Center, 19% of the US population had a disability in 2015. While the intent behind the story's depiction of equality may seem reasonable, it is important to recognize the negative implications of enforcing equality in this manner. Forcing everyone to be equal by making the strong weaker and the intelligent dumber is counterproductive to societal progress.

Individuality and Rebellion

Harrison Bergeron serves as the symbol of individuality and rebellion in the story. His physical and intellectual abilities pose a threat to the government's ideology of uniformity. His actions and behavior represent the desire for freedom and the need for uniqueness and creativity in society.

On the other hand, Harrison's parents, George and Hazel Bergeron, appear to accept their limitations and the suppression of their individuality passively. Their stance serves as a contrast to Harrison's rebellion and desire for freedom.

Symbolism in "Harrison Bergeron"

The story contains several symbols that contribute to the overall theme of the story. The handicaps symbolize the government's enforcement of equality and the suppression of individuality. The birdshot symbolizes the brutality and oppression of the government towards those who resist. The television broadcasts represent the misinformation and propaganda that the government uses to indoctrinate the masses and maintain control.

The Author's Social Commentary

Kurt Vonnegut's social commentary on equality and individuality is reflected in "Harrison Bergeron." The story serves as a critique of the dangers of enforced equality and the suppression of individuality. Vonnegut's ambiguity in presenting a solution or alternative to the flawed society depicted in the story emphasizes the complexity and difficulty of the issue.

In a society where people are becoming more and more concerned about social justice, "Harrison Bergeron" serves as a warning about the potential consequences of trying to achieve true equality by suppressing individualism. As Susan Brinkmann highlights in an article for the National Catholic Register, "one could say that 'Harrison Bergeron' is a warning that any policy aimed at mandating equality ultimately leads to totalitarianism."

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In conclusion, "Harrison Bergeron" is a cautionary tale about the dangers of enforced equality and the suppression of individuality. The symbols in the story contribute to the overall theme and message, emphasizing the dystopian nature of the society depicted. Kurt Vonnegut's social commentary aimed at encouraging readers to think critically about the implications of trying to enforce absolute equality at the expense of individuality. Today more than ever, it is essential to remember the messages conveyed in "Harrison Bergeron."


  1. Brinkmann, S. (2018, February 5). "Harrison Bergeron": A Cautionary Tale about Social Equality. National Catholic Register. Retrieved from
  2. Disability Statistics Center. (2015). Disability Prevalence Estimates. University of California, San Francisco: Institute for Health & Aging. Retrieved from
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Analyzing Themes and Symbolism in “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. (2024, January 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
“Analyzing Themes and Symbolism in “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut.” GradesFixer, 29 Jan. 2024,
Analyzing Themes and Symbolism in “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 May 2024].
Analyzing Themes and Symbolism in “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jan 29 [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from:
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