Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922 -
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Harrison Bergeron
"Harrison Bergeron" is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961.
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-
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.
"Yup," said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren't really very good-
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-
"I could think, if it was just chimes," said George.
"Good as anybody else," said George.
"Who knows better then 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-
"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-
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-
"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-
"If I tried to get away with it," said George, "then other people'd get away with it-
"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-
"Ladies and Gentlemen," said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore 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-
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-
"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 under-
A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-
The rest of Harrison's appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-
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-
"If you see this boy," said the ballerina, "do not -
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-
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 -
"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 -
Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.
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-
"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 mask.
She was blindingly beautiful.
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."
The music began. It was normal at first-
The music began again and was much improved.
Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-
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-
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 Hazel.
"Yup," she said.
"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.
"You can say that again," said George.
1. Give a summary of the story in not more than 100 words.
2. What were the key events in Harrison Bergeron's life? How do you think these events affected him? How would they affect you?
3. What is the author saying about “equality” and “alikeness?” Do you believe that his message is true? Why do you think he cared about this message?
4. What is the social issue behind the story? Is it resolved? What are the various "insights?"
5. In “Harrison Bergeron,” how do they try to make people equal? Does it work? Does it work in real life? How?
6. Is this story plot dominant or character dominant? Explain.
7. What do the various characters symbolize?
8. How are the characters shaped by what they say?
9. Is this story about Harrison, or is it about the "other people of his world?"
10. Is there a moral to this story? What is it?