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False Happiness and Equality in 'Harrison Bergeron'

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Words: 822 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Apr 8, 2022

Words: 822|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Apr 8, 2022

In the short story “Harrison Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut describes a vivid world where citizens are content and peaceful on the surface. However, it becomes clear that it is a dehumanizing and unpleasant world—where everybody is equal. It is a dystopia where strict regulations on the basis of equality are pushed. Nobody can be smarter or more handsome or more able than anybody else; if you’re naturally smarter than everyone else, handicaps are applied to level everyone to be equal. The protagonist Harrison Bergeron challenges the enforced equality in this society. Through the creation of a twisted version of societal norms and values like equality to extremes, the author pushes readers to question what happiness is and how it is achieved and justified in their own real life societies or cultures.

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Vonnegut refers to the idea of authentic happiness in a community when he creates a society in which everyone is made equal through implementation of government-controlled handicaps to those who are exceptionally attractive, talented, or intelligent. No one is better than anyone else, reducing any competition that could result in controversy, ultimately producing what appears to be a fulfilled society. The exception to the status quo thinking is Harrison Bergeron, the son of an handicapped father named George and an unintelligent mother Hazel. His distinct qualities make him a threat to society, placing him in jail with extreme handicaps. He eventually escapes, defying his physical and mental restrictions and ultimately being killed because of it. The citizens in this world are brainwashed by the government into accepting the status quo. They actually think their oppression of their individuality is for the greater good of their society. The support of this belief is seen when George refers to previous times without handicaps as, “the dark ages […] with everybody competing against everybody else”( ). People like George show how this community perceive their newfound hindrances to be a good thing. However, the reader is aware that it isn’t genuine happiness but a false facade of happiness. The audience can see this fakeness of the happiness promoted in this society. When Harrison was killed at the end of the story, his mother Hazel couldn’t react with true emotions to the tragedy of what happened. She couldn’t react with the passion and depth of emotions that would be expected of a mother who lost their child. His father George says to Hazel, “Forget sad things”, and she replies, “I always do” ( ). She is desensitized to her authentic feelings because of the norms society has placed on her. In order to promote “happiness”, ignorance or dismissal of sad or tragic events is taught. Because she is told to neglect sad things, this means much of the happiness she feels is forced by society. It is not real happiness but fake happiness from not acknowledging the raw emotions of sad events.

This false happiness of these citizens unknowingly comes at the expense of themselves. The government has essentially brainwashed the people by disguising the mind control they use to maintain power over the people as “equality” that their lives would be horrible without. Vonnegut is trying to emphasize is the importance of diversity, for if people were to become holistically identical, they would be more predictable and therefore easier for the government to control. If no one is allowed to be different in the name of equality, then different perspectives are dismissed. Conformity is pushed within society by the government for more power through pushing what they call “equality” that still discriminates against those who are different.

Vonnegut seems to be presenting two morals: be careful what you wish for and question authority by thinking for yourself. The first moral is directly relevant to issues of today and the past alike, as the United States continues to fight for equality in terms of gender, racial, and economic rights. While this is well and good, people should be careful not to blur the lines between equal available opportunities and equal selves, for this can result in a dangerous lack of diversity. The second moral will forever be relevant as long as there is government. It is important to go against the grain and challenge information so as not to become a sheep, for if everyone is so easily influenced people will lose site of their natural born rights and therefore lose those rights altogether.

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It seems that Vonnegut wants the reader to question how “happiness” is achieved in society and who truly holds power in executing societal change. He does so by bringing to light that which is being sacrificed when implementing societal practices necessary to maintain peace. It also seems he wants the audience to question the actions of those who attempt to defy these societal rules: Harrison Bergeron. People such as these are important to a community as their actions catch the attention of others, causing them to reflect on and question their own beliefs, morals, and actions. 

Works Cited:

  1. American Psychological Association. (2021). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). American Psychological Association.
  2. Chopra, S. (2019). Advertising and ethics: An overview. International Journal of Management Studies and Social Science Research, 4(4), 14-22.
  3. Federal Trade Commission. (2021). Advertising and marketing. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/advertising-and-marketing
  4. Gupta, A. (2019). Ethics in advertising: An Indian perspective. Asia Pacific Journal of Management and Entrepreneurship Research, 8(1), 1-7.
  5. Kotler, P., & Armstrong, G. (2017). Principles of Marketing (17th ed.). Pearson.
  6. Marketing Research Association. (2019). Code of marketing research standards. https://www.marketingresearch.org/code-marketing-research-standards
  7. O'Guinn, T. C., Allen, C. T., & Semenik, R. J. (2019). Advertising and Integrated Brand Promotion (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.
  8. Powers, T., & Borden, R. J. (2019). Advertising and society: An introduction. Routledge.
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  10. Smith, R. E., & Swinyard, W. R. (2020). Information response models: An integrated approach. Journal of Marketing, 54(4), 81-93.
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False Happiness and Equality in ‘Harrison Bergeron’. (2022, April 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/false-happiness-and-equality-in-harrison-bergeron/
“False Happiness and Equality in ‘Harrison Bergeron’.” GradesFixer, 08 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/false-happiness-and-equality-in-harrison-bergeron/
False Happiness and Equality in ‘Harrison Bergeron’. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/false-happiness-and-equality-in-harrison-bergeron/> [Accessed 25 Feb. 2024].
False Happiness and Equality in ‘Harrison Bergeron’ [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 08 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/false-happiness-and-equality-in-harrison-bergeron/
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