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  Brad's Teacher Writing: "'Harrison Bergeron': A Comic Tour de Force"

November 19, 2006

The essay that follows is based on Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s story, "Harrison Bergeron. It is an example of a short essay using specific, quoted support and a standard structure.


“Harrison Bergeron”: A Comic Tour de Force

The short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., is a comic tour de force. A rollicking satire, the story is set in a far-off future where equality has gone a step too far. Vonnegut Jr. brings “Harrison Bergeron” to life in an easily imagined, vivid and thoughtful way.

The larger-than-life character, Harrison Bergeron, comes to life in the author’s humorous account. Harrison’s appearance, of “Halloween and hardware,” makes its point while still giving us a chuckle. He wears, “Instead of a little ear radio,” “a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses.” His madcap appearance is matched by his behaviour: he “snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons.” Imagine that! The portrayal of Harrison is essential to the success of Vonnegut Jr.’s story.

Using vivid details, Vonnegut Jr. delights us with wacky descriptions. When Harrison and the ballerina dance together, “they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.” Easy to imagine, and impossible, but, nevertheless, the author paints us a delightful picture. Who can forget the “ear radio” that George, Harrison’s father, wears that “Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer”? My ear hurts just thinking about it! The wackiness of Vonnegut Jr.’s descriptions are a delight.

But this wackiness succeeds mostly because Vonnegut Jr. has a serious purpose: making us think about our own world in light of an out-of-this-world satire. We face Hazel, Harrison’s mother, who has “a perfectly average intelligence” and who forgets the death of her own son, moments before, saying only that she’s seen, “Something real sad on television.” That people of “perfectly average intelligence” forget what they’ve seen on television indicts any one of us, who, we must admit, often forget what we’ve seen on TV! Vonnegut Jr. lulls us with his excess and comic account, but, at the same time makes us think about our own lives.

Vonnegut Jr.’s vivid depiction of the world of “2081” where “everybody was finally equal,” reminds us of the comic power of satire. With the new movie, “Borat . . .” number one at the box office two weekends running, it is good to see that we still flock to see ourselves made ridiculous! —386 words, including title; revised on November 20, 2006; first draft on November 6.






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