Imagine a world where a government has total control over its citizens; a world where the government can do whatever they please to their citizens, and they have little or no chance of rebellion. This frightening world exists in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron. In The Hunger Games, citizens are forced to live in communities that are in a dehumanized state, and the government harms those who attempt to escape.
The people in Harrison Bergeron are almost entirely controlled by the government. Citizens have their thoughts monitored, and are forced to be equal to one another. Both Collins and Vonnegut warn their audiences of the consequences of being led by a government that has too much power, but Vonnegut better conveys his social commentary of a totalitarian government through his use of setting, character development, and satire.
Both stories take place in a futuristic world in which the citizens have insufficient power, but there are key differences in setting in each story. In The Hunger Games, the setting is much harsher and more brutal than Harrison Bergeron’s. The people of District 12 are trapped inside their district by, “a high chain fence topped with barbed-wire loops” (Collins 4). The government does not allow the citizens to leave their district. Although Harrison Bergeron also takes place in the future, the setting seems more realistic. Life in the story is very similar to modern-day life, unlike The Hunger Games.
In the story, “George and Hazel were watching television” (Kurt Vonnegut 1), like how society does today too. George and Hazel lived in a community that was very similar to modern civilization, unlike the citizens of the districts in The Hunger Games. The setting of Harrison Bergeron is much more believable and it is very relatable to the audience. The setting shows that the world does not have to be in a dehumanized state for total government control to happen. It shows that totalitarianism can occur in modern societies like today’s.
Another important aspect that Vonnegut succeeds in is how he uses character development to contribute to his social commentary. In Harrison Bergeron, Vonnegut uses Harrison, the main character, to represent anyone that tries to rebel against an overpowering government. While Harrison is in the midst of rebellion, “the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten gauge shotgun. She fired twice and the emperor and empress were dead before they hit the floor” (Vonnegut 5).
Collins’ use of character development is not as effective as Vonnegut’s. Katniss barely does anything to rebel against the government. When Katniss is mourning because of Rue’s death, she wanted to show a sign of rebellion. To show the Capitol that Rue was not just a piece in their games, Katniss “decorates her [Rue’s] body in the flowers” (Collins 237). The way that Collins portrays rebellion with her character development is mediocre compared to how Vonnegut portrays his. He connects his character development with his social commentary much better than Collins does.
Satire, or exaggeration, plays an important role in conveying social commentary in both The Hunger Games and Harrison Bergeron. Fundamental parts of Harrison Bergeron’s plot are exaggerations that Vonnegut makes about society of his time. He exaggerates total government control by having characters who are forced to wear “a little mental handicap radio in his ear… [that] was tuned to a government transmitter” (Vonnegut 1).
Vonnegut uses this exaggeration to demonstrate what an overpowering government might do to control all of its citizens. Collins also uses satire in The Hunger Games when the red headed avox is captured and punished. Effie describes an avox as “someone who committed a crime,” and Haymitch states that “they [the Capitol] cut her tongue so she can’t speak” (Collins 77). Collins exaggerates how an overpowering government will deal with those guilty of crime. Vonnegut uses satire more effectively than Collins does because his exaggeration actually is a vital part of the story, unlike
Both Suzanne Collins and Kurt Vonnegut successfully portray a world that is run by an agonizing, powerful government. They both send a message about overpowering governments in each of their story. Vonnegut succeeds in sending a message in Harrison Bergeron because his story is more believable and more relatable to the audience. Even though the story is set in the future, Vonnegut’s story is very realistic. The story illustrates a modern society like today; the people do normal things such as, “[going] out to the kitchen to grab a can of beer” (Vonnegut 5).
Unlike Harrison Bergeron, The Hunger Games is unrelatable to the audience. The events and futuristic technology of the story do not connect with the audience because it is unrelatable. Not many people can relate to tracker jackers or the starvation in the districts. Harrison Bergeron makes the reader wonder about how life would be like if the government restricted us from freedom of thought. How would you endure in a world where the government knows exactly what your thoughts are?