In today’s society we’re free. At least… we think we are. Is that not what we are raised to think though? Think about it, the first day you go into kindergarten you’re taught to sing “Grand Old Flag” and pledge your allegiance to our flag. It’s all fun and happy and you’re drawn in… then one or two years later you’re taught what it means and why it’s just so darn great. Now why would you suddenly think something else? We’re not so bad off though, and who knows? We could be free; America is always boasting its many and most freedoms that we have here that other countries just don’t have. It brings to one’s mind though the ideas of power, choice, and of the opposite: oppression, of a world without freedom. Anthem a novel by Ayn Rand and “Harrison Bergeron” a short story by Kurt Vonnegut twist and turn the ideas of a world where one’s life is but a turning gear in the life of all. Where the average individual is oppressed, restricted, knows not of initiative, self-fulfillment, power, self-knowledge, rebellion, or even love; such a terrible word one such place be, for people who know else, people like you and me, but take away that knowledge and let’s see what’s left. Initiative; this lies behind all that is truly valued by humans, the drive to do something for ourselves.
Equality, our Anthem book Hero lives in a distant future where writing, drawing, laughing singing, thought feeling or anything, anything at all that would separate him from his brothers is forbidden. Whenever one is tempted to be so much as slightly different from another they are to chant, “We are one and all and all in one. There are no other men but only the great WE, One, indivisible, and forever” (Rand, 19). The word I exists not for this brotherhood of “we”. No one owns or knows of initiative. They are driven solely for the good of their brotherhood, this means they wake up together, they learn at the same pace, and one day they work, in units, doing whatever their council decides for them, gather, and sleep, all as one, all in sameness, for the brotherhood. Equality though, something stirs within him, something different, something written off as a sin, a curse, a crime, but something that leads him to discover himself, his girl, his chosen name: Prometheus, and a world beyond oppression. He discovers he can be an individual, the word “I” , his ego, his thoughts, his own will, and his imitative, “IT WAS WHEN I READ the first of the books I found in my house that I saw the word “I”… I wept in deliverance and in pity for all mankind…I understood the blessed thing which I had called my curse” (Rand, 98). When we are our own person, with our own drive, our own initiative, it makes us who we are, and opens the path for the rest of world to begin, Equality aka Prometheus, discovers all this when he discovers the word, the single word, “I”.
Harrison, a handsome, dogged willed, opinionated, smart, strong youth lives in a different type of oppressed society. In the year of 2081, all are equal; in everything. If one individual so exceeds another in any form they are “handicapped”, Harrison most of all as described when he appears on television to the reader, “The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween andhardware. Nobody had ever borne heavier handicaps. He had outgrown his 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 not only to make him half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides. Scrap 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 junkyard… To offset his 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 snaggletooth random” (Vonnegut, 136). Harrison though, has initiative and is arrested for rumored plans of overthrowing such an oppressive government. He escapes though, and on live TV announces to the world, in his own way, his initiative. He takes with him the first dancer to prove she too has it by standing from a towering crowd. Harrison strips them and the magicians of their handicaps, and the two, in their final moments, dance. They for a few moments defy oppression and are themselves, before they are shot dead. Life and initiative, all we hold dear, without it we have no point to live.
In these two stories, two boys stripped of choice, power, self knowledge, self-fulfillment, and initiative, which ties these all together, giving purpose to them all, rebel against their oppression and take a stand in life. They make themselves a life. One outcast, one dies, but both LIVE! Both get a chance to feel themselves as individuals in society of drones. Both become boys with unique qualities that give them character, and both deem it worth the risks, and losses; for one moment in the sun. “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, neutralizing 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 Dianna 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” (Rand, 138). True happiness is the result of being our own persons and being able to fulfill ourselves, without this, one must question what it is they are living for.
To live and be free is an extraordinary thing; if one truly has it. One may live anywhere with any set of laws, but the individual can always be oppressed. Not always by a thing such as government, or even one with much authority, one could be pressured by another of their same stature as well. So do me a favor and the next chance you get, go find a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and give yourself five reasons why you are an individual; tell yourself what your initiative is. Initiative; this lies behind all that is truly valued by humans, the drive to do something for ourselves.