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In Kurt Vonnegut's story titled "Harrison Bergeron," what is the significance of the...

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elvin1990 | eNoter

Posted November 13, 2011 at 9:42 AM via web

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In Kurt Vonnegut's story titled "Harrison Bergeron," what is the significance of the statement that “He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 13, 2011 at 10:48 AM (Answer #1)

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Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron” imagines a future United States in which everyone is absolutely equal because people with any unusual talents or natural advantages (such as intelligence, physical attractiveness or any atypical skills) are deliberately handicapped by government decree. Such decrees ensure that no one is superior to anyone else. Thus, if a person is unusually talented, that person must wear a device in his or her ear that emits painful sounds, thus preventing sustained thoughts. If a person is physically talented in any way, the person must wear weights to prevent him or her from excelling.

Harrison Bergeron, the title figure, is unusually gifted in a number of different ways, including both physically and mentally. He is therefore imprisoned. He manages, however, to escape from prison, and his escape is quickly announced on television. The television announcer warns people that Harrison

“is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”

This statement is significant because it sums up, neatly and efficiently, the qualities that make Harrison seem such a threat to the government: he is exceptionally intelligent, possesses impressive physical ability, and is in general above average. The handicaps imposed on him by the government have not proven successful enough to keep him under control, either mentally or physically. He is dangerous to a society that celebrates the normal, the average, the undistinguished, the everyday, and the mundane. By the end of the story, Bergeron has been shot and killed. Any threat his mere existence might have posed to society has thus been eliminated.

 

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