And Equality for All

The short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. revolves around a society where everyone is equal. The story is set in the United States in the year 2081 and focuses around the story of George, Hazel, and their son, Harrison. In this society, there are amendments to the constitution that forces equality on society. These amendments require that beautiful people wear masks, intelligent people wear noise emitting headphones to distract their thoughts, and the strong are literally weighted down. Their son, Harrison, is one of the gifted ones.

He is physically fit, intelligent, and attractive. Because of these traits the government has forced him to wear a mask, restraints, and thought scrambling devices. Hazel and George don’t fully understand the ramifications of their son’s imprisonment because George’s thoughts are disrupted and Hazel is too “average” to understand what is happening. Eventually, Harrison breaks free from his chains and declares himself emperor of this society but is immediately shot down by Diana Glampers head of the Handicapper General. Through satire, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. hows how disruptive government control can be in a society and how it impedes individuality. Their are four main characters in this story, George, Hazel, Harrison, and Diana. Each of the characters adds a different dimension to the story. George and Hazel represent opposite ends of the intelligence spectrum as perceived by the government. Hazel is considered weak because she is of below average intelligence and not deemed a threat by the Handicapper General so she wears no handicaps. Her husband George, on the other hand, has above average intelligence and is forced to wear a transmitter.

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They toy with the idea of removing some of the handicaps from George, but he reminds Hazel that “if I tried to get away with it then other people’d get away with it and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. ” They are so used to the restrictions placed upon them that they can’t comprehend the fact that their individuality is being compromised. The government intervention with the transmitter on George makes it impossible for him to form cohesive thoughts. Through the interactions of George and Hazel we can see how government ontrol can lead to lack of individuality and freedom of choice. The other two characters in the story are Harrison and Diana who can also represent freedom and oppression respectally. Harrison Bergeron is the son of George and Hazel Bergeron. He is above average in many respects; “… he is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous. ” The government fears him because he does not want to obey their laws. Harrison has been jailed by the Handicapper General’s office for planning to overthrow the government.

In order to eliminate any “unfair advantages”, Diana forces him to wear the most extreme handicaps. Diana, on the other hand, could be considered the evil character in the story but Harrison is not inherently “good” either. Harrison escapes from prison and his intentions are to rule the world; he claims, “I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once! ” He demands the musicians play music and when they don’t play it to his standard, he “snatched the two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons,” and then “slammed them back into their chairs. Harrison serves as a warning as to what is possible in a world where people have too much freedom. On the other hand, Diana is in a position where she is in charge of taking away freedom from people and keeping them repressed. This is clearly illustrated when Diana walks into the television studio and “fired twice, and the Emperor and Empress were dead before they hit the floor. ” The interaction between these two characters clearly illustrates Vonnegut’s point of too much government control and how it infringes on human expression and individuality.

The main conflict in the story is society versus the government. The form of forced equality that the government has imposed on society will be questioned by the handicapped many times and eventually fail. For example, Hazel suggests to George that he remove some of his weights to relieve some of the pain he is feeling. But George reminds her of the repercussions of this action, “… two years in prison and two thousand dollars for every ball I took out. ” Society as a whole wants to be free of their government imposed handicaps but the penalties imposed by the government are too harsh.

Harrison represents society and shows how people will protest and work against the handicaps until the handicap system is repealed. With the handicaps that are imposed by the government, no competition is allowed. Without competition, there can be no improvement. All thought is stopped and critical thinking will end, as shown through George’s transmitter. “George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts. With total government control over our freedoms, we become a society who has no free will and cannot think for itself. The conflict between society and the government is challenged through Harrison. Harrison fails in his attempt to overthrow the government, and this society is forced to continue in its oppressive ways. Vonnegut chooses to use third person point of view to tell his story. Viewing the story from the eyes of someone detached from the event makes sure we see each character the same and allows us not to sympathize with any one character because they all bring different views to the story.

If we are to sympathize with any character, it can color our impression of the story and may make the reader believe that one or the other sides is correct. Vonnegut wants us to see past that and understand how government control can lead to unseen dangers whether it be loss of individual freedom or the inability for society to progress because they don’t have critical thinking skills. “Harrison Bergeron” is a satire; so we can suspend disbelief when the narrator refers to things such as the description of Harrison and his “empress” defying gravity while dancing.

The narrator’s presentation of the story in somewhat unbelievable terms allows him to fully maximize his point on the dangers of total government control throughout the story. The story is set in America in the year 2081. Placing the story in the future allows readers to accept many of the premises throughout the story. With the story set in America, we can relate to the fact that we have freedoms that the average person may take for granted. Because it is set in the future we can believe that some of these things that are happening in the story could actually become true if things are changed.

With the story set in America and references to the Constitution, it makes the story much more believable because we can relate it to our own experiences in America. If the story were set in another country or even another another time, the reader would not come to the revelation of why government control could be bad. Setting it in the future also allows Vonnegut to make his point without having to deal with obvious holes in the story. The narrator uses various forms of imagery in “Harrison Bergeron” which allows the reader to fully understand how far the government takes control over society.

For example, the narrator describes Harrison as someone who is “… 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 snaggle tooth random”; we can visualize how far the government control has gone. Society as a whole is forced into these handicaps and through the use of imagery we can “see” how it affects these peoples lives. One other source of symbolism in the story is the metal chain holding up the bulging bag that acts as a strength handicap on George is a direct correlation to the chains that government imposes on society.

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And Equality for All. (2017, Jan 16). Retrieved from