16 October 2002
In All Fairness…
An impartial society: Utopia or Hell? What would happen to the world if the people were literally equal in every aspect of their lives? In the futuristic short story, “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the world is finally living up to America’s first amendment of everyone being created equal. In this society, the gifted, strong, and beautiful are required to wear handicaps of earphones, heavy weights, and hideous masks, respectively. Thus, these constraints leave the world equal from brains to brawn to beauty. With the world constantly pushing for equality among people, Vonnegut reveals a world that society is diligently working toward. Through this foreshadowing of the future, Vonnegut attempts to use Diana Moon Glampers and Harrison Bergeron as mechanisms to reveal and warn of the dangers of the two extremes--too equal or too unjust.
Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, symbolically portrays the idea of fairness in a society. She is the one in charge of lowering the capacity of a bright and intelligent person to the level of a normal and unaware being. In the beginning of the story, the reader is given a picture of the world that Diana Moon Glampers watches upon:
The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the…Amendments to the Constitution, and…vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General. (Vonnegut 234)
Diana Moon Glampers is the one who maintains the idea of "checks and balances" among the society of 2081. In God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Glampers is portrayed as a "sixty-year-old virgin who, by almost anybody's standards, was too dumb to live….No one had ever loved her. There was no reason why anybody should. She was ugly, stupid, and boring" (Vit). Diana Moon Glampers is the epitome of every possible low in the world, and this allows her to hold such a high position in this futuristic society. Since everyone is created equal, her ugliness, stupidity, and boringness all play this major role in earning her such a high position as Handicapper General. She makes sure that no on is better than her, thus making everyone equal in "every which way" possible. Glampers represents the fairness that society is continually striving for to obtain. In this world, everyone stays at the same level-- no one is different, no one is jealous or fearful of anyone, and no one is trying to impress or overtake the next. In this sense, it is actually quite a positive point to be exactly equal in every way, or is it?
Equality is a great idea that the world should extend and embrace; however, absolute equality is another issue in which too much of a good thing may cause matters to go wrong. In a world of absolute equality, each human being would never be looked upon as anything more or less than the person beside him or her. Unfortunately, this advantage may only go so far. For example, how can an intelligent being be given as much credit as the simple minded human beside him? This is the case with Harrison Bergeron's parents. Harrison's mother, Hazel, is described as having "perfectly average intelligence,…And [while] George['s]…intelligence was way above normal" (Vonnegut 234). In order to stabilize their intelligence to the same level, Harrison's father has to wear "a little mental handicap radio in his ear" (Vonnegut 234). This society's method in maximizing complete equality is to have the intelligent people wear earphones (which give off horrible sounds) to distract one's trail of thought, which in turn, may unfairly give him the better advantage over the simple minded--such as Glampers and Hazel. Diana Moon Glampers symbolizes this world by not only being the one to support these customs, but by also shooting down and killing the one who is considered the symbol of freedom and difference--Harrison Bergeron. Through Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General and the murderer of freedom and individuality, Vonnegut is warning society to not lean completely towards being "equal in every which way" or else society loses its chances to excel past what it has become. He satirically suggests that in order for everyone to be equal, the ones who exceed the mark must be brought down to the standard. As a result, there is a loss of the exceptional talent and beauty. Moreover, just as Diana Moon Glampers represents the fairness of society, Harrison Bergeron symbolizes the individuality in the world.
In a society of excessive equality, Harrison Bergeron is the one who represents uniqueness through his physical and mental characteristics. Harrison is no ordinary being of society. In fact, he is described as "a genius, an athlete,…and should be regarded as dangerous….Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of ear phones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses….Scrap metal [is] hung all over him….he wear[s] at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep[s] his eyebrows shaved off, and cover[s] his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random" (Vonnegut 236). His physical appearance alone would definitely offset him from the rest of the crowd. Just by walking down the street, one could sense his greatness by his excessive handicaps. Furthermore, his mental capacity is great enough to override the annoying sounds that the H-G men create. The reader can obviously see that Harrison has something more to offer, yet his society is binding him down and taking away his individuality: "Harrison's only crime was taking control of the television studio, but his motives outweighed the crime. He was shot for exposing the world to beauty" (Marton). In this sense, Harrison represents uniqueness of an individual. He is the one willing to exploit his society and have variation as being a celebration of oneself not a crime, or is this possibly his only motive?
Although Harrison symbolizes the individual, he--just as Diana Moon Glampers--reveals that too much of a good thing may cause matters to go wrong. Harrison reaches freedom and takes it to the extreme. When he takes over the Television studio, he exclaims, "I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!" (Vonnegut 237). Harrison completely takes away equality. He creates this caste system with him and his queen at the top, which is then to be followed by his loyal subjects. His mentality only brings him to a downfall where he literally tries to bring back anarchy. Moreover, Vonnegut tries to warn today's society of too much inequality. Although differences in brains, beauty, and brawn are a matter that should not be tied down, there needs to be a limit. Vonnegut shows that individuality can be a downfall because humans do tend to become envious and power hungry. He makes this point in the beginning when Hazel and George were discussing "the dark ages…with everybody competing against everybody else" (Vonnegut 235). People need some type of equality so that one will be able to be an individual and remain just as equal as the next.
Vonnegut presents both extremes of equality and inequality and implores society to choose the median. If this median is not met, the world may become a Hell. In one corner, there is the equality that Diana Moon Glampers represents--equal in every way possible; in the opposing corner, there is the inequality Harrison Bergeron symbolizes--one king and his many subjects. Both extremes have extremely destructive consequences; one takes away individuality, the other takes away equality. As the future draws nearer, the only true Utopia that society should strive for is the type of equality that allows and commemorates individuality.
Annotated Works Cited
Marton, Adam R. "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…". Marek Vit's Kurt Vonnegut Corner. 11 March 2002. Online Posting. 8 October 2002. <http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/4953/kv_ask_not.html>. This is an essay written on "Harrison Bergeron". Marton talks of Vonnegut's ongoing themes satirizing the government and the destruction of individuality. He also makes a point when he says that it is the government forces "characters to do evil in the name of good". Marton also uses other works from Vonnegut to prove his thesis.
Vit, Marek. "Uniformity and Deformity in 'Harrison Bergeron'". Marek Vit's Kurt Vonnegut Corner. 11 March 2002. Online Posting. 9 October 2002. <http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/4953/bergeron.html>. Vit writes an essay about "the fact that uniformity (of any kind) leads to the loss of individuality, and therefore to absolute deformity of humanness". Proves his thesis by incorporating the motifs of "Harrison Bergeron"--everyone is equal in every way. Vit also uses other sources (other works written by Vonnegut) to prove his point.
Vonnegut, Kurt. "Harrison Bergeron". Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama Eighth Edition. Ed. Dana Gioia and X.J. Kennedy. New York: Long man, 2002. "Harrison Bergeron" is about a futuristic society in which every one is created equal in every possible way. Harrison, an extremely strong, smart, and handsome young man escapes from prison and tries to take over the world. However, in the end, the Handicap General shoots down and kills Harrison for trying to disrupt the social system.
This is my "changes" from the orignial essay. My teacher gave it back to us in order to correct and understand the errors. The mark isn't changeable!!!! So however you guys help me, I won't get a better grade.
What comes to your mind when you hear fairness? The racism during the Second World War and how cruelly some people treated the Jewish people? Or why your mother gets a lower salary than your male teacher even though she works as hard as him? Or whether animal research is right? Fairness is nothing but a concept that arises from humans viewing the world as a perfect place, which is not possible.
Human used to expect other to invest as much as themselves do in a relationship or friendship, but the reality often shows the wrong way and as a result human become disappointed. Human think of equality for instance if Sara gives Tom a gift that costs 100 then she will expect him to give her a gift that costs in average 100. Somebody call it fair and somebody would call it equal? Do fairness and equality really share the same meaning? Equal would be when Tom gives Sara back as much as she gave, but it is not fair to Tom because it is not what he wants but what he should. Isnt it better that Tom gives the Sara a gift that costs as much as he thinks she deserves?
Fairness is a widely spoken topic all around the world - society, schoolyard, work, home, you name it. But still there is no clear definition of fairness, that everybody will agree. An example for this is, the recent president-selection in USA, Obama talked a lot about fairness in society but so did Romney as well. Still Obama won against him and the reason might be that Obama has an opinion of fairness that is agreed with the residents of America more than Romneys do. And certainly Obama is a great discourser too, which made him win the president-selection. However the main point of this essay is not about the president-selection but fairness. Due to the fact that a country would be completely catastrophic if everyone does what they think are right and wrong and follow their own understanding of fairness, therefore we have laws. In my meaning laws are general opinions of what is right and wrong, fair and unfair. In Sweden death penalty is abrogated, because the Government deems culprits need a second chance. And of course, if he only broke the law one time he shall get a chance to change, it wont be fairly if he is sentenced to death penalty. But what about those serial killers and serial rapist? Should they get a second chance? For instance, one year ago in Norway a man who called Anders Behring Breivik he killed 69 persons, is this cruel man worth a second chance even though he killed 69 persons life and most of them were teenagers? He did not only one wrong, but also 69 wrongs, so the question is is there still hopes that he will change to a better person? Anders Breivik, the murder of 69 persons, was sentenced to prison for 21 years, with possible that he will be release after 10 years. At the earliest after 10 years, in spite of his actions, he will be back as a normal person, perhaps even go back to work. Does this really sound fair to all his victims and also family of the victims?
Another widely spoken topic that deals with fairness, is whether animal research is right or wrong? When asking scientist why they are using animal in research? Their answers are nothing but helping human, rescue human etc. In brief, they do not do it because of joy but for us, in one way or the other we are the main reason, the criminal ringleaders. Seeing animal research from the perspective of animals, it is totally wrong. Because who has decided that animals lives are less precious than ours? Is it fair to the animals, that we can use them in order to cure different diseases, but when it comes to a dog that accidentally killed a kid, and then it has to be deceased? Sharks, bears, crocodiles are dangerous when it meets an enemy, but human eat all kind of animals in order to become full. What creatures are the most dangerous? Human.
What is fairness when it comes to an individual? Is it certain that a person that fights will succeed and achieve his or her goal? For example, if Jonas, whose dream is to become the best Tennis-player, puts all his energy and also all his money in Tennis, but still it is not guaranteed that he will be the best Tennis-player, because in the world there is millions as him. Only the volition doesnt reach far, he has to have the luck on his side as well. Then again, fairness is only a simple concept that will never come true, but at least there will be a chance if he fights, without fighting there will be no chances at all.