Walt Whitman’s Torture Chamber

By Zachary W., 7th Grade

June 2015

In the world created by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in “Harrison Bergeron”, everyone is handicapped so that all are equal. In this civilization, those who have intelligence and beauty are sabotaged so that they have the same looks and the same mental state as everybody else. To contrast, Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” encourages confidence and excellence. Since he praises authenticity, Whitman would hate a culture of sameness. Because diversity and compassion are outlawed and eradicated, Walt Whitman would condemn the world created in “Harrison Bergeron”.

While everyone is required to follow certain rules or philosophies in “Harrison Bergeron”, Walt Whitman declares that he is free to do and think as he wishes. Whitman writes, “No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair. I have no chair, no church, no philosophy.” This quote represents how Whitman believes that you should be able to make your own choices. He has no home, no religion, and no ideologies, so he is free to do as he pleases. In the world Vonnegut created, the shared philosophy restricts people from thinking and acting as they desire. The society as a whole believes that everyone should be equal. Harrison despises this philosophy that prohibits individual thought and innovation. Consequently, Whitman’s free spirit would land him in jail if he were in the futuristic nightmare created by Vonnegut.

As a consequence of the controlling environment, no one in “Harrison Bergeron” has a unique identity while Whitman’s beliefs in freedom allow him to seek authenticity. Whitman writes, “Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself.” This short excerpt shows Whitman’s belief that you have to fulfill your own life. Others will be there to help you, but you are the one who must uncover your identity. Contrary to Whitman’s ideals, the community in “Harrison Bergeron” forbids unique identities. When Harrison Bergeron wants to escape his restrictions, he rips off his facial handicappers and chains. After he differentiates himself from others, he is murdered. If Whitman was living in this world, his grave would be right next to Harrison’s.

Because of the conformity in “Harrison Bergeron”, people lack compassion for one another, but Whitman encourages individuality along with friendship. Whitman writes, “If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip, and in due time you shall repay the same service to me.” This quote tells one to always help a friend in need. When anyone is in trouble, you help them back up, and when you feel down, he or she will do the same for you. After Harrison Bergeron is shot by the Handicapper General for revealing his true identity on TV, his father advises his wife to “forget sad things.” She responds, “I always do.” This dialogue shows the society’s selfishness. They don’t think or care about others. Even when one of their family members get killed, this society doesn’t even wince. The parents simply forget their child and move on. With this in mind, Whitman would really stand out in this future where people don’t care or think about one another.

Because of his authenticity, free spirit, and compassion, Whitman would be dead before the first hour in Vonnegut’s futuristic nightmare. While you may carelessly think how unfair it is when one is smarter or sportier than you, always keep in mind that you have your own identity, your own talents, and your own differences.

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