E10H Writing Logs
- 1. Question over "Harrison Bergeron": Vonnegut alludes to mythological figures in the story, specifically the Roman goddess Diana and the Norse god Thor. What purpose do these allusions serve?
- In Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron," allusions to the Norse god Thor and Roman goddess Diana are made in order to imply descriptions of the characters, so as to support the theme that total equality is dangerous. Harrison, who declares himself "the Emperor," is described by Vonnegut as "a man that would have awed Thor" (54,59). By comparing Harrison to Thor, the strongest son of the highest Norse god, Vonnegut establishes Harrison as a strong character, both physically and in spirit. His lack of handicaps makes him a god in comparison to the handicapped, totally equal populace. The Handicapper-General, Diana Moon Glampers, comes "into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun" with which she kills Harrison and the ballerina, and then threatens the unhandicapped musicians (79). The H-G shares the first name of the Roman goddess Diana, and her middle name, "Moon," is the goddess's symbol. Her ruthlessness in handling the Harrison situation is also similar to the goddess's ruthlessness, which is shown in the Legend of the Deer Hunter. In the Legend, the hunter Actaeon accidentally sees Diana bathing, and so she turns him into a deer, to be killed by his own hounds. The Handicapper-General's ability, assumably unhandicapped, to shoot Harrison and the ballerina while they were dancing, also implies great hunting skill, and the goddess Diana is the goddess of the hunt. This makes her, like Harrison, godlike in comparison to the rest of society. Harrison and the Handicapper-General being so far above everyone else shows the irony of the society, which claims to have total equality. The Handicapper-General is especially ironic, as she is required to be above everyone else in order to maintain the so-called equality. Thus, the allusions to mythological gods in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" create implicit character descriptions which support the theme of true equality being dangerous.
- 2. Question over "Harrison Bergeron": One reading of "Harrison Bergeron" is that society has been dehumanized by technology. The television, constantly on throughout the story, is the great leveler and tranquilizer, and the radio transmitters interrupt coherent, sustained thinking. If the story were written today, how might current technologies serve the same purpose?
- Kurt Vonnegut, in his short story "Harrison Burgeron," uses common technologies that at the time of writing would be considered modern to show how technology can be dehumanizing. The story is told through the living room of George and Hazel Bergeron as they watch the television, which shows what's happening in the studio where Harrison is. George and Hazel continue to watch the TV throughout the story, using it as their sole source of information. They don't think for themselves much in the story, as their critical thinking has been replaced by an electric light box. The TV serves this function well because, at the time the story was written, every family had a TV. Nowadays, the universal device is the cell phone. Incidentally, a cell phone is just as capable of telling people what to think as a TV is, and so if "Harrison Bergeron" was written today it could use cell phones instead of television. Those of above average intelligence in the story have mental handicap radios in their ears, tuned to a government transmitter so as to prevent sustained thought. Like the TV, the radio prevents critical thinking and individuality of mind. Really, the only difference is that the radio goes directly into the handicapee's ear. In the modern day, this could be achieved with earbuds connected to a person's phone, playing a government-issued sound file. "Harrison Bergeron" uses everyday technologies to show how they can dehumanize people. A modern version of the story, using the same principal, could replace the old television and radio with a cell phone and earbuds.
- 3. Question over "Nikki-Rosa": What difference does the qualifier "quite" make in the final line of the poem? What do you think Giovanni wanted to achieve by writing "quite happy" (26) instead of simply "happy"?
- In Nikki Giovanni's poem "Nikki-Rosa," the word choice "quite happy" is used by the poet in the final line to assert that impoverished African Americans aren't made miserable by their lack of wealth, as many white Americans believe. In her poem, Giovanni recalls "how happy [she was] to have [her] mother all to [herself]" and for her and her sister to "have happy birthdays and very good Christmases" (6-7,22). These memories show how poor African Americans find happiness, not in material things, but in their family and the love they share together. Had the poet simply said that she was "happy," the reader could interpret her happiness as a child's blissful ignorance of their situation, and go on thinking that poverty makes life miserable for African Americans who know they live in poverty. Giovanni wanted her message to be clear, that her happiness was found even despite the fact that she was fully aware of her family's financial situation, as "though [she was] poor it [wasn'] poverty that concern[ed]" her as a poor African American child (17-18). What concerned her as impoverished African American child was her family. The time she spent with them, their "Black love," was their "Black wealth" (24). Such a childhood is, in Giovanni's eyes, just as valuable as, if not more than, a childhood surrounded by material wealth and comforts. Giovanni uses the phrasing "quite happy" in her poem "Nikki-Rosa" to make clear that impoverished African Americans can be happy regardless of their lack of wealth.
- 4. Question over "The Joy of Less" and "Nikki-Rosa": Although written nearly fifty years apart, "The Joy of Less" and "Nikki-Rosa" encourage us to question our assumptions about happiness. Identify two identical or similar assumptions that these authors challenge and compare how they urge us, their readers, to examine them.
- Pico Iyer's essay "The Joy of Less" and Nikki Giovanni's poem "Nikki-Rosa" both challenge the assumptions, often made by middle to upper class people, that lack of wealth makes people miserable and that the wealthy can truly understand the poor. In his essay, Iyer speaks of how, when he met poor people in countries where he vacationed, they were often happier than him or his other well off friends. When he speaks of his new simple life, he says it is happier than his old life, as he doesn't have the stress that accompanies striving for wealth. Iyer urges the reader to consider whether such a life may be better than they think, although he acknowledges that simplicity is not for everyone. In her poem, Giovanni directly refutes the idea that poverty makes disadvantaged African Americans somehow unhappy, citing her relationships with her family members as her source of happiness and asserting that she was quite happy as a poor African American child. Giovanni, like Iyer, challenges the reader to examine their notions of wealth and how it relates to happiness, arguing that less can be more. Iyer also speaks in his essay of how he didn't understand the poor people he met on his travels. He couldn't wrap his mind around how they could be happy. This shows that well off people don't understand the poor, and pushes the reader to try and see from the perspective of someone who isn't focused on attaining wealth. Likewise, Giovanni states that white people never understand how poor African Americans find fulfillment in love rather than wealth. Giovanni urges the reader to see from the eyes of a black child who has never wanted more than the love of her family. Iyer's essay and Giovanni's poem challenge the ideas of wealth leading to happiness and the wealthy understanding the poor, and urge the reader to do the same.
- 5. What is your definition of happiness? To achieve happiness, what, if anything, must be lost or sacrificed? Develop your viewpoint with reference to at least two of the texts in this packet.
- In Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron," Nikki Giovanni's poem "Nikki-Rosa," and Pico Iyer's essay "The Joy of Less," happiness is found by defying society's "rules" in favor of following one's own heart. In Vonnegut's story, Harrison defies an authoritarian government in search of freedom and companionship. Giovanni tells in her poem of finding happiness not in wealth, but in family. Iyer speaks in his essay of fulfillment through simplicity rather than pursuing material goals. In all three cases, the norm is directly defied. Instead of doing what everyone else does, the people in these pieces follow their true desires. Society tells people what they should want, but happiness is found by searching oneself to find what one truly wants. However, this may come with some sacrifice. Harrison lost his life in Vonnegut's short story. Giovanni's poem tells of how she went without material comfort. Iyer describes in his essay how his new life makes his old middle class life look luxurious in comparison, and he has little contact with the rest of the world. Happiness doesn't always come free, and especially not when it goes against what society has defined as happiness. But if someone truly wants to be happy, they have to be willing to make that sacrifice. George and Hazel Burgeron, unwilling to do so, stay in their living room, discontent with their lives. Iyer's friends, in failing relationships and constantly in need of therapy, are also unwilling to defy the norm. Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," Giovanni's "Nikki-Rosa," and Iyer's "The Joy of Less" all show happiness as being achieved by following one's true passions and desires, rather than the goals society artificially instills in everyone.
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