Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron

I think the first Vonnegut I ever read was "Report on the Barnhouse Effect," which, if I remember right, was published in a junior high school or high school anthology. It's a perfectly good story, but just about any SF writer from Asimov to Zelazny could have written it.  It doesn't have that special Vonnegut sensibility.  The second thing I read, Sirens of Titan, is Vonnegut at his best, and it holds up very well after over fifty years.

Since there was a vogue for Vonnegut among the young intellectual/pseudo-intellectual college crowd some years ago, we tend to think of him as a vaguely left-wing guru for the hippies and their remnants. That's not altogether wrong, but it's certainly not the whole story. A couple of years after Sirens, Vonnegut wrote one of the best, maybe the best SF short stories, "Harrison Bergeron." There are foreshadowings of it in Sirens, but the story itself is a miracle of cramming meaning into as few words as possible, and the simplest words as possible. It is definitely not a hippie/leftie story, but could have been written by Heinlein or Ayn Rand, if she had a sense of humor. Or Nietzsche or Gogol or Twain or... Well, judge for yourself.  Nicholas Stix has done us the public service of reprinting the whole dad-blamed thing over at his site.  It starts:

Harrison Bergeron

By Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
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 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away. 
(Keep reading HERE.  It'll take you about ten minutes.)


  1. I consider it the best short story I have ever read.

  2. Whenever Americans ask me how I feel about Janet Reno, I always mention Diana Moon Glampers.