1. How does equality in Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron” differ from the equality
we claim to strive for in America?
2. “Harrison Bergeron” can be read as a critique of several economic and political systems.
Explain how the story can be read as critique of each of the following:
a. Communism
b. Capitalism
c. Imperialism/Monarchy/Dictatorship
3. Explain how the story can be read as a critique of a relative recent social convention
known as “political correctness.”
4. Describe a situation from your own experience or knowledge in which our contemporary
world echoes the notion of equality in “Harrison Bergeron.” For example, in kid’s sports,
such as soccer, there’s been a trend over the past few years to not keep score, give
everyone equal playing time and give everyone on the team a trophy. How does such a
system mirror the notion of equality in “Harrison Bergeron”? Do you think this approach
to kid’s sports is a good idea? Why or why not?
Harrison Bergeron
by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
French Translation from Avice Robitaille.
Hindi Translation by Ashwin.
Urdu Translation by RealMS
Russian translation
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t
only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way.
Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than
anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All
this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the
Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United
States Handicapper General.
Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for
instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in
that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s
fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.
It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very
hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she
couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while
his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio
in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to
a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter
would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from
taking unfair advantage of their brains.
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s
cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.
A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like
bandits from a burglar alarm.
“That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.
“Huh” said George.
“That dance-it was nice,” said Hazel.
Harrison Bergeron
“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They
weren’t really very good-no better than anybody else would have been,
anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot,
and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful
gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in.
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.
George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.
Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask
George what the latest sound had been.
“Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,”
said George.
“I’d think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds,”
said Hazel a little envious. “All the things they think up.”
“Um,” said George.
“Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?” said
Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the
Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. “If I was
Diana Moon Glampers,” said Hazel, “I’d have chimes on Sunday-just
chimes. Kind of in honor of religion.”
“I could think, if it was just chimes,” said George.
“Well-maybe make ’em real loud,” said Hazel. “I think I’d make a good
Handicapper General.”
“Good as anybody else,” said George.
“Who knows better than I do what normal is?” said Hazel.
“Right,” said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal
son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in
his head stopped that.
“Boy!” said Hazel, “that was a doozy, wasn’t it?”
It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears
stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of of the eight ballerinas had
collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples.
“All of a sudden you look so tired,” said Hazel. “Why don’t you stretch
out on the sofa, so’s you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows,
honeybunch.” She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in
a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George’s neck. “Go on and
Harrison Bergeron
rest the bag for a little while,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re not equal
to me for a while.”
George weighed the bag with his hands. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I
don’t notice it any more. It’s just a part of me.”
“You been so tired lately-kind of wore out,” said Hazel. “If there was
just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and
just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.”
“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took
out,” said George. “I don’t call that a bargain.”
“If you could just take a few out when you came home from work,” said
Hazel. “I mean-you don’t compete with anybody around here. You just
sit around.”
“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “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. You wouldn’t like
that, would you?”
“I’d hate it,” said Hazel.
“There you are,” said George. 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.
“What would?” said George blankly.
“Society,” said Hazel uncertainly. “Wasn’t that what you just said?
“Who knows?” said George.
The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It
wasn’t clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the
announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For
about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer
tried to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen.”
He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.
“That’s all right-” Hazel said of the announcer, “he tried. That’s the big
thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He
should get a nice raise for trying so hard.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She
must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore
Harrison Bergeron
was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and
most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as
those worn by two-hundred pound men.
And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair
voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless
melody. “Excuse me-” she said, and she began again, making her voice
absolutely uncompetitive.
“Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen,” she said in a grackle squawk, “has
just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to
overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is underhandicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”
A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screenupside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The
picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background
calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.
The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody
had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown 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 to
make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches
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. In the race of life, Harrison
carried three hundred pounds.
And to offset his good 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 snaggle-tooth random.
“If you see this boy,” said the ballerina, “do not – I repeat, do not – try
to reason with him.”
There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.
Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television
set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again
and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.
George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might
have – for many was the time his own home had danced to the same
crashing tune. “My God-” said George, “that must be Harrison!”
Harrison Bergeron
The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an
automobile collision in his head.
When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison
was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.
Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood – in the center of the
studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand.
Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their
knees before him, expecting to die.
“I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor!
Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the
studio shook.
“Even as I stand here” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened – I am
a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become
what I can become!”
Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper,
tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.
Harrison’s scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.
Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his
head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his
headphones and spectacles against the wall.
He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have
awed Thor, the god of thunder.
“I shall now select my Empress!” he said, looking down on the cowering
people. “Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate
and her throne!”
A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.
Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her
physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her
She was blindingly beautiful.
“Now-” said Harrison, taking her hand, “shall we show the people the
meaning of the word dance? Music!” he commanded.
The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped
them of their handicaps, too. “Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll
make you barons and dukes and earls.”
Harrison Bergeron
The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false. But Harrison
snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he
sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their
The music began again and was much improved.
Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a whilelistened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.
They shifted their weights to their toes.
Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense
the weightlessness that would soon be hers.
And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!
Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and
the laws of motion as well.
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, neutraling 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 Diana 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
Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the
musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps
back on.
It was then that the Bergerons’ television tube burned out.
Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had
gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.
George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal
shook him up. And then he sat down again. “You been crying” he said to
“Yup,” she said.
Harrison Bergeron
“What about?” he said.
“I forget,” she said. “Something real sad on television.”
“What was it?” he said.
“It’s all kind of mixed up in my mind,” said Hazel.
“Forget sad things,” said George.
“I always do,” said Hazel.
“That’s my girl,” said George. He winced. There was the sound of a
rivetting gun in his head.
“Gee – I could tell that one was a doozy,” said Hazel.
“You can say that again,” said George.
“Gee-” said Hazel, “I could tell that one was a doozy.”
“Harrison Bergeron” is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961.

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