This compare and contrast essay compares the short stories of two popular science fiction writers, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury. “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut and “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury approaches the concept of a dystopian future in unique ways. Each story offers a unique insight into the possible futures of human society and the human condition. In this comparison essay, the characters in the short stories are compared to gain an understanding of the kind of future each author is depicting.
Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury are two of the most renowned science fiction writers in the world. Both are known and loved particularly for their dystopian fiction, which is a type of speculative fiction that describes or is set in a world characterized by oppression and terror. This compare and contrast essay focuses on the two dystopian short stories “Harrison Bergeron” and “There Will Come Soft Rains”, which portray two types of dystopian futures. “Harrison Bergeron” shows a future where absolute equality is imposed by an authoritarian power and “There Will Come Soft Rains” depicts a future without humans but where the world continues anyway. The essay compares the two human conditions depicted by comparing one of the important elements of short stories, its characters.
Comparison of "Harrison Bergeron" and "There Will Come Soft Rains"
The People in Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”
Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” is set in 2081 where equality has been achieved. Equality in this society means that no one is better than another physically or mentally, because those who are above average are given handicaps, such as the mental handicap ear transmitter to interrupt a person’s thoughts every 20 seconds and weights for ballerinas. Anyone who removes their handicaps would be imprisoned. The story centers on George and Hazel Bergeron who see their son, Harrison Bergeron, get killed on TV for rebelling against the authoritarian system. However, because of the control of the government on people, the two are unable to process nor even remember that their son was killed. In the end, they only remember that they were saddened by something they saw on TV.
The society in “Harrison Bergeron” is first depicted as the ideal where everyone is finally equal. However, this ideal is quickly destroyed as the narrator explains the reality that this equality is achieved through the use of handicaps on above-average individuals. In this society, no one is allowed to excel as everyone is forced into mediocrity.
The narrator depicts the impact of these handicaps by focusing on two individuals—George and Hazel. George is mentally and physically above-average, so he wears a mental handicap and 20-pound weights on his neck. These strain his mind and body, but he does not dare to remove them for fear of imprisonment (Vonnegut 9). Hazel, on the other hand, is perfectly average and so does not wear any handicaps. Still, she is unable to sustain a thought for more than 20 seconds.
The people in “Harrison Bergeron” do not live freely, except for Harrison Bergeron who attempts to rebel against the system. They are unable to think and feel their emotions, and instead only rely on what the media shows them at the moment. In many ways, these people do not live as humans with their agency. Instead, they live more like robots with artificial intelligence that’s calibrated by their creator. For instance, George thinks and feels when he remembers his son being in prison, but this does not last for his thoughts were interrupted by the headache-inducing sound of the mental handicap (Vonnegut 7). He forgets about how he feels about his son. Because of the same noise, he could not even focus on watching TV.
What is more interesting is how complicit these two characters are to their oppression. Hazel says it would be interesting the different sounds the above-normal individuals hear in their mental handicap despite the knowledge that the sounds were extremely sharp and loud. George, himself, despite the difficulty of the handicaps, accepts these as necessary. She even critiques Hazel’s suggestion that the chimes would not be loud enough to keep him from thinking (Vonnegut 8). Although the characters in “Harrison Bergeron” are humans, they do not live or function like humans, but rather like robots of the government.
In depicting the characters in this way, Vonnegut demonstrates how an ideal, such as equality, could be twisted and used to create an authoritarian regime that controls people as if they were objects. In this type of future, the world may seem peaceful but in reality, it is only peaceful because no one is free.
The Characters in Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”
Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” centers on a house that survived a nuclear blast. The house, being a kind of smart home, continues with the routines it was set up to do, such as alarms, reminders about events, and watering the plants. The house also cleans itself and protects itself and its inhabitants from outsiders. Slowly, as the narrator goes through the house and its routines, it is revealed that the former inhabitants may have died from the nuclear blast, as in “[h]ere the silhouette in the paint of a man mowing the lawn” (Bradbury 222). The only living inhabitant is the pet dog that has grown weak as well. At night, the house catches fire. The house screams “fire” and tried to save itself by sprinkling water. However, the angry fire was too strong to be quenched that the fire eventually ran out of water and burned down.
In Bradbury’s short story, there are no people around since, it can be assumed, they have all died from the nuclear blast. However, this story is not replete with characters. Bradbury uses colorful language to describe the house and its activities. From the beginning, the house has a well-established routine just like a person usually does. It continues to do its tasks even though its inhabitants are no longer there. The house can be likened to nature that tries to survive despite hostile circumstances—like a weed that grows between the cracks in pavements.
The house and its components also seem to have feelings. In the morning, it starts the day cheerfully. It announces the date and reminders in a friendly tone. It also mimics the rush of children and parents leaving the house for school and work. The weather box sang a song as it rained. The mice cleaned up after the dog angrily. It even holds a conversation with the former owner, asking which poem she wants to hear, and when no answer was given, the house chose a poem. Additionally, the house seems to have a memory of its own since it remembers Mrs. McClellan’s favorite poem and chose to read it. Finally, when it caught fire, the house exclaimed, as if in a panic, “fire!” (Bradbury 226).
The house’s liveliness and human-like activities are a stark contrast to the way George and Hazel lived in Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”. The house’s human-like characteristics are clearly a product of technological developments. In the future depicted by Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”, this is one of the good effects of technological developments—a human-like house can function on its own, even without humans. One can assume that such developments make life easier for people, and possibly allow them to enjoy life better. One can even say that before the nuclear blast, the house took care of the humans instead of the other way around. However, technology also has a negative effect, namely the nuclear blast. Like in “Harrison Bergeron”, good things, such as equality and technology, could be turned into something oppressive or, in Bradbury’s case, something destructive. Although the house and its components and fundamentally robots, they had feelings and memories that make them seem more human than the people in Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”.
Kurt Vonnegut told a very interesting narrative where people were alive but were not free to think and feel. They lived as if they were robots under the control of the Handicapper General. In contrast, Ray Bradbury’s story did not feature humans. The humans have died due to the nuclear blast and are merely a memory of the house. The story centered on the house, which was depicted as something that has routines, memories, and emotions. This theme is not unique, for numerous stories and films have explored the possibility of robots becoming sentient. Here, the house’s sentience remains ambiguous, but it is clear that the house is more human-like than the people in “Harrison Bergeron”. The two short stories depict two very different but possible outcomes of the future. “Harrison Bergeron” depicts a world where humans do not act like humans while “There Will Come Soft Rains” depicts a world where humans no longer exist but the things they left were human-like.
Literary analyses often involve the comparison of different elements of fiction. Despite being one of the more confusing types of essays, students learn to think critically by writing compare and contrast essays. If you have trouble writing compare and contrast essays, do not hesitate to get help from CustomEssayMeister.
Bradbury, Ray. “There Will Come Soft Rains.” The Martian Chronicles, Simon and Schuster, 2012, pp. 220-28.
Vonnegut, Kurt. “Harrison Bergeron.” Welcome to the Monkey House: Stories, Dial Press Trade Paperbacks, 2010, pp. 7-14.