Human Commonalities in Literature in Essay

Total Length: 1134 words ( 4 double-spaced pages)

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In stark contrast to Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea is Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron which is not only set in the future, but a bleak, tyrannical, almost farcical future. 2081 is not a year in which any sane person would hope to see if Vonnegut's future comes true; it is a dystopian future where everyone if forced to be equal, no matter how ridiculous the attempt to do so. The Bergeron's, George, Hazel, and their son Harrison live in a world where intelligent people have buzzers in their heads to keep them from being too smart, while beautiful people must wear masks to cover their faces so other, less attractive people don't feel bad. As Vonnegut himself stated "Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else." (Vonnegut) Every natural advantage is handicapped by the government to make everyone exactly equal. And everyone seems content to live in a place where everyone is made as stupid as the stupidest person and as weak as the weakest.

While many people could not imagine actually living in a world like that, they can relate to the characters and their situation. Everyone knows the feeling of being stifled, of not being allowed to express oneself, or of being suppressed. The Bergerons are common people being forced to do things against their will, something that every common person who has ever felt helpless against a government has experienced. When Harrison attempts to break out of his government enforced equality, he is killed. Despite this, there is not a single person in the world who does not, at some time, dream of being able to break free and fly away from life's problems, the way Harrison broke free of his handicaps and he and the ballerina floated to the ceiling.
Society can sometimes have a tranquilizing effect on people, causing them to feel as if they are stifled and oppressed, Vonnegut's story taps into this common human feeling. And because he taps into common human feelings, Vonnegut's strange science fiction story still has the ability to connect with the most common person.

A story does not have to be set in 21st century America for it to have significance and meaning for 21st century Americans, there are universal themes and concepts in literature that the audience can relate to no matter when or where the story takes place. This is the point that Samuel Johnson was making when he wrote about Shakespeare and can be applied to both Harrison Bergeron and the Old Man and the Sea. Despite being very different, both stories deal with issues common to all humans. Hemmingway incorporates the concepts of friendship, luck, determination, loss of respect, and eventual victory into his story about an old Cuban fisherman, just as Vonnegut discusses equality, oppression, and society in his futuristic science fiction. While the readers may be more comfortable associating with a 20th century fisherman, they can also relate to the problems faced by the victims of a dystopian future.

Works Cited

Hemmingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. Germany: Max Hueber. 1960. Print.

Johnson, Samuel. "Preface to Shakespeare." Rutgers University. Web. 25 Mar. 2012.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Harrison Bergeron. 1961. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.

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