The story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is compelling to me because it is set in the future, and Vonnegut has made a world that is similar to ours except for one major difference. In this world, nobody is allowed to have any special talents. If anyone is more than average, they are given a handicap. I like how Vonnegut uses these handicaps for characterization. The main characters are George and Hazel. Hazel has no handicaps but George has a mental handicap, a loud noise in his ear to stop his thoughts, and a physical handicap, weights around his neck. We know right away that George is more than average both mentally and physically. They are watching ballerinas dancing on TV, and the reader knows that two of the eight dancers are smarter than average because they wince when George winces from the noise in their heads.
I chose to highlight characterization and imagery in the story. I highlighted characterization because Vonnegut tells the reader more about everyone by what their handicaps are. Hazel has no handicaps so we know that she’s average at everything. Harrison comes in, and we see that he has every handicap there is, “Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses,” “Scrap metal was hung all over him,” “he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.” This shows us he is more graceful, strong, and handsome than anyone.
This imagery that describes Harrison also tells us about the world Vonnegut created. In this world the H-G men are desperate for everyone to be the same. Vonnegut describes all of the characters handicaps in detail so we know how far they go. When Harrison removes the handicaps on him and the ballerina, they dance like no one has ever seen before because no one has ever been without their handicaps before. The couple is so perfect and graceful, “They leaped like deer on the moon.” This imagery shows us how absurdly perfect their dancing is because no one has ever seen unhandicapped people dance before. This imagery is also beautiful while the handicap imagery is bleak and weird. It is an interesting contrast.
There are several things about this story that I would like to use in my own writing. First of all, I like how Vonnegut describes the characters by what handicaps they have. I want to develop characters in an unusual way. I also like how Vonnegut uses the TV to show the reader what was happening in another setting. I want to try to use a setting within a setting.
(Image credit: apriloneill.)