Harrison Bergeron

by

Kurt Vonnegut

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Themes and Colors
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Media and Ideology Theme Icon
Dissent vs. Authority Theme Icon
The Power of the Arts Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Harrison Bergeron, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Equality vs. Individualism

In the futuristic world of “Harrison Bergeron,” the government applies physical and mental handicaps to individuals with above-average strength and intelligence in order to guarantee that all people in society are equal. While equality is often regarded as a positive condition of democratic society, Vonnegut’s dystopian portrayal of an absolutely equal society reveals how equality must be balanced with freedom and individualism in order for society to thrive.

Although in the story all people are…

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Media and Ideology

In “Harrison Bergeron,” the totalitarian state regulates the minds and bodies of its citizens to ensure statewide equality. In addition to distributing handicap devices to lower the physical and/or mental strength of above-average citizens, the government maintains equality among citizens through ideologically-charged media that encourages citizens to consent to the invasive practices of the US Handicapper General. By showing propaganda as an equally powerful and invasive force as grotesque physical devices, Vonnegut suggests that…

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Dissent vs. Authority

For the brief moments when Harrison proclaims himself Emperor, destroys his state-issued handicaps, and dances beautifully on state TV, the government’s power is lost. Although the moment is short-lived (a government agent shoots Harrison dead while he’s dancing), his dissent nonetheless shows that individuals might still have power under totalitarianism. Harrison’s exceptional existence proves that equality isn’t absolute (or else he wouldn’t have been able to achieve such an extraordinary feat), and therefore that…

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The Power of the Arts

Though state media insists that Harrison has plans to overthrow the government, his act of rebellion is not a traditional coup: he dances beautifully on national TV with a ballerina whom he has liberated from her handicaps, to music from an orchestra he has also un-handicapped. In other words, Harrison’s dissent is an artistic performance unencumbered by forced equality, which suggests that artists can disrupt state authority through the power of performance.

Before Harrison…

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