Harrison Bergeron

by

Kurt Vonnegut

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Handicap Devices Symbol Analysis

Handicap Devices Symbol Icon

In the world of “Harrison Bergeron,” the U.S. government requires all Americans with any above-average quality (strength, intelligence, beauty, etc.) to wear a handicapping device at all times. Designed to ensure that all Americans are perfectly equal, the handicapping devices are visual symbols of the power of the totalitarian government, and they demonstrate the perverse underbelly of valuing equality above all else: enforced equality leads to the suppression of individuality, the disfigurement and torture of innocent people for their innate qualities, and the forced mediocrity and terror. The prevalence of handicapping devices shows the intrusion of government into the private lives of citizens, as well as the cruelty and malfeasance of a government that forces its citizens to be in constant physical discomfort in order to prevent them from accessing their natural gifts. Furthermore, the result of these handicaps—that nobody can focus on thoughts, be considered beautiful, cultivate talents, or differentiate themselves from others in any way—is a society that is thoroughly mediocre. The arts have languished, professionals are not rewarded for being good at their jobs, and individuals lack interests or defined personalities. Not coincidentally, this mediocrity makes it easier for the government to consolidate and enforce its power. Since the handicapping devices are emblematic of the ideology of this dystopian society, as well as visual symbols of the government’s power, Harrison’s destruction of his handicap devices on live TV is a public act of dissent against the totalitarian government. The symbolism of his dissent is so dangerous to the status quo that he is publicly executed for his behavior.

Handicap Devices Quotes in Harrison Bergeron

The Harrison Bergeron quotes below all refer to the symbol of Handicap Devices. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Delta Trade Paperbacks edition of Harrison Bergeron published in 1998.
Harrison Bergeron Quotes

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.

Related Characters: George Bergeron
Related Symbols: Handicap Devices
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

“The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?” If Hazel hadn't been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn't have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head. “Reckon it'd fall all apart,” said Hazel.

Related Characters: George Bergeron (speaker), Hazel Bergeron (speaker)
Related Symbols: Handicap Devices
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
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Handicap Devices Symbol Timeline in Harrison Bergeron

The timeline below shows where the symbol Handicap Devices appears in Harrison Bergeron. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Harrison Bergeron
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Media and Ideology Theme Icon
...very hard and George, who has above-average strength and intelligence, must wear mental and physical handicaps at all times. While George and Hazel watch television, George’s thoughts are frequently interrupted by... (full context)
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Media and Ideology Theme Icon
Dissent vs. Authority Theme Icon
The Power of the Arts Theme Icon
...like “something the cat drug in” by comparison. However, an interruption coming from his mental handicap prevents his pursuit of this thought. As George reacts to the invasive noises, two of... (full context)
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Media and Ideology Theme Icon
Dissent vs. Authority Theme Icon
Noticing that her husband looks tired, Hazel suggests that he rest his physical handicap (a canvas bag filled with heavy lead balls, padlocked to his neck) on the sofa,... (full context)
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Media and Ideology Theme Icon
Dissent vs. Authority Theme Icon
...“held on suspicion of overthrowing the government.” He is described as an extremely dangerous and under-handicapped genius and athlete. Harrison’s photo appears on-screen. He is seven feet tall, and his body... (full context)
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Media and Ideology Theme Icon
Dissent vs. Authority Theme Icon
The Power of the Arts Theme Icon
...on-screen. Harrison declares himself Emperor and proceeds to destroy all of his mental and physical handicaps “like wet tissue paper” in front of the television cameras. He then calls for an... (full context)
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Media and Ideology Theme Icon
Dissent vs. Authority Theme Icon
The Power of the Arts Theme Icon
...who die before they hit the ground. She then instructs the musicians to put their handicaps back on or face a similar fate. The scene is cut short when the Bergerons’... (full context)
Equality vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Media and Ideology Theme Icon
Dissent vs. Authority Theme Icon
The Power of the Arts Theme Icon
...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... (full context)