"Harrison Bergeron," Fahrenheit 451, and "The Pedestrian" (a comparison) | Teen Ink

"Harrison Bergeron," Fahrenheit 451, and "The Pedestrian" (a comparison)

August 30, 2009
By yaychloe92 GOLD, Miami, Wyoming
yaychloe92 GOLD, Miami, Wyoming
10 articles 3 photos 0 comments

A multitude of varying characteristics are contained within our modern society. People bring diversity to the world with their individualistic thinking, embrace of gaining knowledge, and value placed on high achievements. Would it ever be possible for a future society to regulate every aspect of citizens’ lives, suppressing superiority and eliminating competition among all people? The science fiction works of “Harrison Bergeron”, by Kurt Vonnegut, Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, and “The Pedestrian”, also by Ray Bradbury, are satirical portrayals of futuristic societies that have been censored by regulatory governments in order to completely equalize their communities. Each of these literary pieces examines the prospect of promoting sameness and conformity among all people, and questions the effects of the forced elimination of citizens’ individuality in order to maintain equality.

Though it may be difficult to imagine, in the society depicted in the novel, Fahrenheit 451, the possession of books is considered a crime punishable by law. It is believed that all members of this community should be equally intelligent, and remain content without learning or exploring the further knowledge offered by reading books. With the multitude of mind-numbing stimulation from advanced technology and a constant bombardment from the media, most citizens have lost the desire to explore their individual thinking and desires, and they conform to society’s way of living meaningless lives. The government has imposed a complete censorship on all literature, and created enforcements such as the firemen and the mechanical hound, to investigate and expose the citizens who choose to explore the meaning that books provide within their pages. “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal . . . A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind,” (45). Equalization of this society’s intelligence is thought to be essential to its wellbeing, eliminating any single person from having more intelligence than the general population, and therefore preventing competition and envy among the citizens. Any variation from the sameness of society, or expression of individuality is considered extremely abnormal.

Walking outside just for the sheer enjoyment of taking in the fresh air, would not be viewed as an unusual event by today’s standards. This is different in the community portrayed in the short story, “The Pedestrian”, where Mr. Leonard Meade faces drastic consequences for his innocent nightly stroll. In the year 2053, Meade’s society has become so completely consumed in their televisions and the media, that they have disregarded their appreciation of nature and have lost interest in exploring the world beyond what their televisions provide for them. All citizens have become accustomed to spending their evening hours indoors, and it is practically unheard of to be outside past dark. Mr. Meade’s unusual character breaks from this sameness, and faces consequences from the authorities in their effort to enforce equality within the community. “The police, of course, but what a rare, incredible thing; in a city of three million, there was only one police car left…crime was ebbing; there was no need now for the police, save for this one lone car wandering and wandering the empty streets,” (Bradbury). This single police car remaining in the entire city, was used to escort Mr. Meade to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies. This car considered him to be insane for breaking from the normality of their community, and actually concerted its efforts towards controlling his abnormal actions, instead of patrolling the city for more serious crimes. The extreme government regulations of people’s lives show the importance that these futuristic societies place on enforcing sameness among all citizens.

Although equality was finally reached among the citizens in the society of the short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, the complete elimination of individuality was destroyed along with this achievement. Due to regulations instituted by the futuristic government, and enforced by the Handicapper General, all superior characteristics possessed by people were made obsolete, and the entire population became equally strong both mentally and physically. “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,” (Vonnegut). The Handicapper General instituted mental handicap radios to scramble the thoughts of those who had above-normal intelligence, handicap bags to weigh down the physically strong, and masks to disguise the faces of the unusually beautiful. All citizens were forced to become absolutely the same, and breaking from this equality would be a federal offense. They were forced to abandon the individuality and free thought that could potentially allow for the exploration of new ideas and advancements for the community, and instead conformed to the sameness of society.

In the evolved societies depicted in these literary works, the government imposes complete control over their citizens, forcing them to conform to the expectations of society. People are brainwashed into numb, shells of human beings that have lost the desire to explore beyond the sameness of society, and their individualism has become a thing of the past. Though complete equality may be viewed as a potentially beneficial achievement of mankind, it would also mean the loss of freedom and individual pursuit of knowledge.

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