Harrison Bergeron


Kurt Vonnegut

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The year is 2081, and as a result of a series of constitutional amendments, all people living in the United States are absolutely equal. In order to ensure equality amongst citizens, extraordinary individuals must wear mental and physical handicap devices that limit their special gifts and talents, and extraordinarily attractive folks must wear disfiguring makeup and accessories to make them look less attractive. Handicaps are regulated by the US Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, who is responsible for maintaining equality across society.

George and Hazel Bergeron, the parents of Harrison Bergeron, are watching a ballet performance on television. George, a person with above-average strength and intelligence, must wear mental and physical handicaps at all times, while Hazel is naturally perfectly average, and therefore doesn’t need to wear handicaps. Although George and Hazel do not mention their fourteen-year-old son, readers learn that Harrison has recently been arrested by the Handicapper General’s agents.

While George and Hazel watch television, George’s thoughts are frequently interrupted by his mental handicap device—a radio transmitter that airs a series of loud, invasive noises, intended to disturb his train of thought. At one point, George begins to wonder whether the dance program would be better if the ballerinas were unhandicapped, but an interruption coming from his mental handicap prevents his pursuit of this thought.

At one point, Hazel notices that her husband looks tired and she suggests that he rest his physical handicap—a canvas bag filled with heavy lead balls, padlocked to his neck. George refuses this offer, reminding his wife of the fines and jail sentence he would receive if he were caught disobeying the Handicapper General. He asks Hazel, rhetorically, what she thinks would happen if people disobeyed the laws set by the HG, and she answers, “Reckon it’d fall apart.”

The ballet program on television is interrupted by a news bulletin, which informs viewers that Harrison Bergeron has recently escaped from jail. Harrison’s photo appears on-screen: he is seven feet tall, and his body is covered with grotesque handicap devices made to hamper his extraordinary strength, intelligence, and natural beauty. In the news bulletin, Harrison is framed as a dangerous criminal wanted “on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government.”

The bulletin is interrupted by the noise of Harrison Bergeron tearing down the door to the television studio on-screen. Harrison declares himself Emperor and proceeds to destroy all of his mental and physical handicaps in front of the television cameras. He selects a ballerina to be his Empress and destroys all of her handicaps, as well. Harrison then removes the handicap devices from the musicians in the studio and instructs them to play music as he dances with his Empress. The pair sways to the music and eventually Harrison and the ballerina spring in the air and float to the ceiling. They kiss the ceiling and then each other, all while floating in thin air.

Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, barges onto the scene with a shotgun. She shoots and kills Harrison and the ballerina, and instructs the musicians to put their handicaps back on or face the same fate. The scene is cut short when the Bergerons’ television burns out.

George, who had left the living room to get a beer, returns to find Hazel in tears, but Hazel cannot remember why she is crying. George urges Hazel to “forget sad things,” and Hazel replies, “I always do.” The exchange is interrupted by George’s mental handicap device, which transmits the sound of a “riveting gun.” The story ends with Hazel’s comment on the latest soundwave, stating “Gee—I could tell that one was a doozy.”