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Harrison Bergeron

Kurt Vonnegut

Humor

Vonnegut’s Political and Social Critique

Important Quotations Explained

“Harrison Bergeron,” while full of dark themes, is also full of humor, which makes Vonnegut’s serious message both easier to digest and more bitter. Almost every grim event in “Harrison Bergeron” is accompanied by a sly joke or moment of melancholy comedy. For example, the narrator explains that ballerinas are weighed down and masked to hide their lightness and beauty. This deeply sinister image is leavened when we learn that such measures are meant to save viewers from the pain of feeling that they themselves look like “something the cat drug in” in comparison to the dancing beauties on their television screens. Later, the fearful announcement about Harrison’s escape is accompanied by a mournful joke: the announcer has a speech impediment so bad that he must hand over the important news to a nearby ballerina so that she can read it. In a second joke, Hazel says she thinks the incompetent announcer should get a raise simply for trying hard. The pain of the ballerina-turned-announcer, who must hide the loveliness of her own voice, is mitigated by Vonnegut’s description of her disguised voice as a “grackle squawk.”

Even the most horrifying moments in the story are characterized by Vonnegut’s dark brand of humor. We learn that Hazel, a sweet but deeply stupid woman, is very similar to Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General of the United States. Although it’s upsetting to discover that the country is being run by imbeciles like Hazel, it is hard not to laugh at Hazel’s idea for using religiously themed noises on Sundays to interrupt the thoughts of smart people like George. When Hazel and George attempt to discuss the difference between the competitive society of yesteryear and the America they live in, George’s respect for the laws that have crippled him is heartbreaking. But the total breakdown of the conversation, brought about by George’s and Hazel’s inability to remember what they were talking about mere seconds earlier, produces a comical effect. Humor comes to the fore even after the Harrison’s murder. In a disturbing exchange, George urges Hazel to “forget sad things” such as whatever made her cry (neither of them seem to know that their son’s murder caused her tears). She answers that she always does forget sad things. Just after this conversation, George is interrupted by a noise that Hazel says sounded like a doozy. In a final bit of broad comedy, George, agreeing, says she can say that again, and Hazel repeats her remark verbatim. The effect is funny and a bit creepy, as the extent of the Bergerons’ lack of self-awareness becomes fully clear.

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