Rhetorical Analysis

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    Bo Li

    Throughout history, many groups of people have fought for equality. The colonist fought for equality in the Revolutionary War. The African American slaves fought for equality in the Civil War and after continue to fight for civil equality. Women fought for gender equality. Etc. There are many types of equality and different ways to interpret equality. For example, is equality giving everyone an equal opportunity to be on equal terms, also known as equity, or giving everyone the same amount in everything, more like the concept of communism? Oxford dictionary defines equality as, “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.” Kurt Vonnegut took this definition very literally in his dystopian short story “Harrison Bergeron.”
    “Harrison Bergeron” was published in 1961, when the United States was at war with Russia over the spread of communism, the Cold War. He symbolizes the principles of communism by making everyone equal in every aspect of the story and depicts what happens if achieving equality was taken quite too literally.
    “Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.” (Vonnegut) He does this by giving those people who are smarter, better looking, stronger, or quicker, a handicap. The people who were smarter than average would be given an earpiece with a radio that would make a loud sound every 20 seconds so they couldn’t think about anything for too long. The people who were better looking wore masks to cover their above average appearances. The better looking the person was the uglier their mask would be. The people who were physically better than the average person wore weights, the stronger or better they were, the more weight they needed to wear. This all takes place in the year 2081 when three amendments were added to the Constitution and became law. An association was created to help enforce these new norms, the United States Handicapper General. To prevent people from removing their handicaps or lightening them, anyone who breaks the law will serve jail time and will have to pay a fine for each weight they lighten or handicap they take off.
    Now the story starts off with the Bergeron family of three. There is a woman named Hazel, who is the mother of the family, George, the father, and Harrison, their fourteen-year-old son. Hazel is considered average with no handicaps. George, however, has above average intelligence and is also above average physically, so he wears weights and an ear radio. We are told from the beginning that Harrison, not yet described to us, was taken away by the Handicapper General’s men in the month of April. However, although this was such a terrible event that happened, both Hazel and George can’t think about it that much for Hazel with her average intelligence can only think in short burst and George’s ear radio mimics Hazel’s average short burst way of thinking. This should be an emotional time for the Bergeron family for their only child was taken away, yet they just sat there watching the television. Although, Hazel has a tear on her cheek, both her and her husband has forgotten their son’s capture due to the new societal norms. Vonnegut is using pathos here invoking an uneasy, uncertainty feeling questioning the unnatural response to a situation makes the readers wonder if the new laws are good or right.
    Since the premise of Harrison’s arrest was not told from the beginning, the reader might not have felt inclined to side with the Bergeron’s for it could’ve been the Bergeron’s who did wrong. However, as the story goes on, there is character development that shows how an average person would act, think, and react that has an unnaturalness to it compared to society now. As the story continues, the readers see how the extent of the new societal norms are affecting daily life through the Bergeron’s television when a ballerina performance was interrupted by Harrison after he escaped from jail. That is when Harrison’s deeds that led to the arrest was given to the readers, suspected of planning on overthrowing the government. Although that is considered wrong of him if he was planning on doing it, it might not be wrong in the reader’s eyes after reading more about the society. Later on, when Harrison does rebel and gets others to join him, he is killed in cold blood on television by the Handicapper Generals. After the Bergeron’s witness that, they were still unable to grieve for their son.
    Throughout the story, pathos was used very often. It was mainly found in the way how Hazel and George interact, as an average couple and as a citizen within this type of society. The nature of their conversations and the way they act would be very unnatural to the readers. They can not weep or grieve for their son for that long or at all for they are not allowed to think that long. The handicaps prevent them from having a conversation no longer than a minute or two. They essentially lost their freedom to think and feel however and whenever they want. This causes turbulence within some hearts, especially when one can not grieve during a time of sadness.
    Pathos was mostly used in this story to make readers understand that total equality or communism is not necessarily good for society when is put into effect, unlike the concept. He coaxes the reader to question the concept of equality. Especially in the time period when this short story was published, equality and communism was a big topic, it was in the middle of the Cold War, it was not that long after McCarthyism, etc. It was a good way to spread awareness and inform people what was or could happen.

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