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Harrison Bergeron

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Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. 1961. Harrison Bergeron


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. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazer Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.
It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazer couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a governmental transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's cheeks, but she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.
A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.
"That was a real pretty dance, that hance they just did," said Hazel.
"Huh" said George.
"That dance - it was nice," said Hazel.
"Yup," said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren't really very good - no better than anyone else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn't be handicapped. But he didn't get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.
George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.
Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.
"Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer," said George.
"I'd think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds," said Hazel a little envious. "All the things they think up."
"Um," said George.
"Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?" said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. "If I was Diana Moon Glampers," said Hazel, "I'd have chimes on Sunday - just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion."
"I could think, if it was just chimes," said George.
"Well - maybe make 'em real loud," said Hazel. "I think I'd make a good Handicapper General."
"Good as anybody else," said George.
"Who knows better than I do what normal is?" said Hazel.
"Right," said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that.
"Boy!" said Hazel, "that was a doozy, wasn't it?"
It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples.
"All of a sudden you look so tired," said Hazel. "Why don't you stretch out on the sofa, so's you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch." She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George's neck. "Go on and rest the bag for a little while," she said. "I don't care if you're not equal to me for a while."
George weighed the bag with his hands. "I don't mind it," he said. "I don't notice it any more. It's just a part of me."
"You've been so tired lately - kind of worn out," said Hazel. "If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few."
"Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out," said george. "I don't call that a bargain."
"If you could just take a few out when you came home from work," said Hazel. "I mean - you don't compete with anybody around here. You just set around."
"If I tried to get away with it," said george, "then other people'd get away with it - and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn't like that, would you?"
"I'd hate it," said Hazel.
"There you are," said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?"
If Hazel hadn't been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn't have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.
"Reckon it'd fall all apart," said Hazel.
"What would?" said George blankly.
"Society," said Hazel uncertainly. "Wasn't that what you just said?"
"Who knows?" said George.
The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn't clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, "Ladies and Gentlemen."
He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.
"That's all right -" Hazel said of the announcer, "he tried. That's the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard."
"Ladies and Gentlemen," said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.
And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. "Excuse me -" she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.
"Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen," she said in a grackle squawk, "has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous."
A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.
The rest of Harrison's appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had even born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.
Sccrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkjard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.
And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.
"If you see this boy," said the ballerina, "do not - I repeat, do not - try to reason with him."
There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.
Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.
George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have - for many was the time his own home had danced the same crashing tune. "My God -" said George, "that must be Harrison!"
The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.
When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.
Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood - in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.
"I am the Emperor!" cried Harrison. "Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!" He stamped his foot and the studio shook.
"Even as I stand here" he bellowed, "crippled, hobbled, sickened - I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!"
Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.
Harrison's scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.
Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.
He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.
"I shall now select my Empress!" he said, looking down on the cowering people. "Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!"
A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.
Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.
She was blindingly beautiful.
"Now -" said Harrison, taking her hand, "shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!" he commanded.
The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. "Play your best," he told them, "and I'll make you barons and dukes and earls."
The music began. It was normal at first - cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snached two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.
The music began again and was much improved.
Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while - listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.
The shifted their weights to their toes.
Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.
And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!
Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.
They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.
They leaped like deer on the moon.
The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it.
It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.
And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.
It was then that Diana moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.
Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them that they have ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.
It was then that the Bergerons' television tube burned out.
Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.
George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again. "You been crying" he said to Hazel.
"Yup," she said.
"What about?" he said.
"I forget," she said. "Something real sad on television."
"What was it?" he said.
"It's all kind of mixed up in my mind," said Hazel.
"Forget sad things," said George.
"I always do," said Hazel.
"That's my girl," said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in his head.
"Gee - I could tell that one was a doozy," said Hazel.
"You can say that again," said George.
"Gee - " said Hazel, "I could tell that one was a doozy."

Kurt Vonnegut, "Harrison Bergeron"


Alustuseks tuleb märkida, et lühijutu analüüsimine erineb romaani analüüsimisest selle olulise tõiga tõttu, et lühijutt on lühike ja sisaldab lühidusest tingituna vähe nö "mittefunktsionaalseid" elemente. Mitteverbaalse suhtlemise rolli lühijuttudes uurinud kirjandusteadlane Stephen Portch (1985) on rõhutanud, et lühijutu tähendusmuster on tabavam (succinct) ja keskendunum (focused), mistõttu kogu töö mitteverbaalsete elementide detailne uurimine on lihtsam (või, võimalik). Portch eeldab esiteks, et lühijutus, erinevalt romaanist, ei ole tähendusetuid (mittefunktsionaalseid) elemente nii palju kui romaanis ja teiseks, et lühijutt on oma lühiduse tõttu sageli nimme orienteeritud mitteverbaalsusele (Ernest Hemingway lühijuttudes mida ta analüüsib osutub see ka tõeseks).

"Harrison Bergeron" ei ole selles aspektis erand. Kuigi see on orienteeritud ideoloogilisele plaanile ja üritab näidata kuidas "võrdsuse" idee võib muutuda absurdseks - ilusamatele, targematele, võimekatemale inimestele antakse tehislikud "puuded" - on jutustuse funktsionaalseimad elemendid mitteverbaalsed (nende "puuete" iseloom on enamasti mitteverbaalne, nt raadiosaatjast iga 20 sekundi järel kõrvus kostev müra mis takistab targematel terviklikku mõtet hoidmast ja linnuhaavli-kotid mis oma raskusega hoiavad tugevamaid ja graatsilisemaid inimesi tagasi).

Jutustus algab pärast ajaloolist lühikirjeldust võrdsuse loomise kohta sellega, et Harrison Bergeroni vanemad George ja Hazel vaatavad televisiooni. Ema, Hazeli, põskedel on pisarad, aga ta on hetkel unustanud mille pärast ta nuttis (erinevalt isast on ema loomupäraselt rumal ja ei ole seetõttu puuetega koormatud). Tehipuuetega äärmuseni viidud "võrdsus" on täheldatav sündmuste ekvivalentsuses siin- ja sealpool ekraani. Kui raadiosaatjast kostub haamriga piimapudeli puruks löömise heli on George'i nägu krimpsus just nagu kahel kaheksast balleriinist teleekraanil (müra on kõigi jaoks samaaegne). Kui George'i raadiosaatjast kostub 21 püssilasu-saluut mis teeb ta näost valgeks, paneb värisema ja toob pisarad silmaveergudele on samad balleriinid stuudiopõrandale kokku kukkunud ja hoiavad kätega meelekohtadest kinni.

Balleriinide tantsu katkestab uudiseteavitus mida reporter, nagu kõik reporterid, loeb ette tõsise kõnepuudega. Pärast pooleminutilist proovimist, suutmata öelda "Daamid ja härrad...", annab reporter lõpuks alla ja ulatab uudisloo teksti balleriinile. Siin ilmneb puuete märgiline iseloom: kuna mask mida balleriin kannab on võigas peab balleriin ise olema erakordselt ilus; kuna linnuhaavli-kott mida see balleriin kannab on kohane suurele mehele peab ta olema ka kõige tugevam ja graatsilisem. Enne uudisloo lugemist vabandab balleriin oma hääle eest, mis on ebaõiglaselt naiselik (soe, helendav ja ajatu meloodiaga). Uudisloo lugemiseks peab balleriin oma häält tahtlikult koledamaks muutma ja kähistama.

Uudislugu räägib neljateistaastase Harrison Bergeroni, kes planeeris valitsuse ümberlükkamist, vanglast põgenemisest. Hoiatatakse, et Harrison on geenius ja atleet, puueteta ja seetõttu äärmiselt ohtlik. Ekraanile kuvatud pildil kannab kahe meetri pikkune Harrison raskemaid haavlikotte kui keegi on kunagi kandnud, väikese raadiosaatja asemel suuri kõrvaklappe ja paksude klaasidega prille mis peaksid ta tegema poolpimedaks ja tekitama peavalusid. Samal ajal kui teleekraanil on Harrisoni pilt murrab päris Harrison telestuudio uksest sisse, astub kaamera ette ja nüüd kuulutab ennast keisriks. Seejärel eemaldab ta oma tehispuuded ja valib balleriinide hulgast oma keisrinna, kes võika maski eemaldamisel osutub pimestavalt ilusaks. Harrison käsutab orkestri muusikat mängima ja tantsib balleriiniga kirglikult kuniks puueteülem Diana Moon Glampers tuleb stuudiosse kaheraudsega ja tulistab mõlemad surnuks.

Samal hetkel läheb teleekraan Bergeronide kodus mustaks. Hazel, kes nägi üle pika aja oma poega, televisioonis, ja tema surma, pöördub George'i poole, et seda kommenteerida, kuid viimane on läinud kööki õlu järele. Naastes võpatab George puudesignaalist oma kõrvus, istub maha ja märkab, et naine on jälle nutnud. Ta pärib naiselt põhjust, kuid just nagu loo alguses on Hazel hetkel unustanud mille pärast ta nuttis. Naise nutt on seega lugu raamistav element mis muudab jutustuse enda sündmustiku tähendusetuks, annulleerib ülestõusu tagajärjed, sest kellelgi pole mõttejõudu, et sellest midagi arvata - isegi mitte lühiajalise keisri emal.

Funktsioonide tasandil on meil seega põhilisteks viitajateks tehispuuded (raadiosaatjad, kaelaskantavad raskused, maskid, jne) mis tegelaste tasandil seostuvad nii, et George'i rasked tehispuuded on kontrastis Hazeli tehispuuete puudumisele. Nende poja Harrisoni veel raskemad tehispuuded omakorda on võrdväärsed piltilusa balleriini omadega. St tegelased selles lühijutus on määratud oma tehispuuete järgi. Tehispuuded on tähenduslikud ühikud millega suhestumine konstitueerib tegelased ja jutustuse tasandil jutustuse enda. Hazel ja George vestlevad omavahel puuetest - Hazel on kade, et tema kõrvas ei ole igasuguseid huvitavaid helisid ja pakub George'ile, et ta võiks kasvõi natukeseks oma kaelaraskuse eemaldada, millest viimane keeldub, kuna iga eemaldatud metallitükk võrdub kaheaastase vanglakaristusena. Pealegi, ühiskond naaseks pimedasse keskaega kui inimesed ei oleks enam võrdsed.

Jutustuse kulminatsioon, Harrisoni televiseeritud mäss, puuete eemaldamine ja annete demonstreerimine muusika ja tantsuga kujutab endast tehispuuete motiveeringu lõpp-punkti: just nagu seina löödud nael mille otsas lõpuks peab keegi rippuma, kujutab tehispuuete ümber pöörlev kirjeldus ja dialoog endast ettevalmistust momendini mil need visatakse maha. Harrisoni ja balleriini kiire ja mõttetu surm on ettevalmistus loo püändini: isegi kui revolutsiooni televiseeritakse ("The revolution will not be televised" on väga levinud troop millega see lühijutt võib-olla mängis) ei ole sellest tolku - düstoopiažanr ei kannata õnnelikke lõppe.

Osutusfunktsiooni arutelule viidates tuleb siin märkida, et need puuded ei ole seotud ühegi päriselt eksisteeriva nähtusega. Need on eritasandilised osutused sarnastele elementidele teistes düstoopiateostes. Ray Bradbury romaanist 451° Fahrenheiti (Bradbury 2005) on laenatud raadiosaatjate motiiv, mille funktsioon on pöördvõrdeline: suhtlemisvahendist on saanud sisuliselt piinamisvahend, iseendagagi suhtlemise (mõtlemise) takisti. Natuke kõrgemal tasandil on "võrdsuse" teema viide George Orwell'i teosele 1984 (Orwell 1990), mida Ameeriklased sageli loevad ühiskondliku võrdsuse võtmes, st iseseisva mõtte ja emotsioonide hävitamist tõlgendatakse vahendina võrdsuse saavutamiseks (vt nt düstoopiafilme Equilibrium (2002) ja Equals (2015)).

Barthesiga seoses tutvustatud mõisteid kasutades on tehispuuete sünfunktsionaalne artikulatsioon aluseks lühijutu vormile: need on põhimõtteliselt ainsad elemendid mis eraldavad lühijutu sisu argikirjeldusest milles mees ja naine lihtsalt vaatavad telekat. Autosemantiline integratsioon muudab kõrgemal tasandil tehispuuded "võrdsuse" tähistajateks: töö nö üldise intentsiooni tasandil on loo moraaliks võrdsuse tehisliku tekitamise pahaloomulisus. Ideoloogilises plaanis on sellesse tihedalt mässitud nö American exceptionalism, mille võtavad kõige ilmekamalt kokku Harrisoni enda sõnad pärast iseenda keisriks kuulutamist ja enne oma tehispuuete maharebimist: "Ma olen suurem valitseja kui ükski [teine] mees kes on kunagi elanud! Nüüd vaadake kuidas ma saan [kõigeks] milleks ma saan saada!"

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