In "Harrison Bergeron," how has the government made George and Hazel equal? What does George have to wear and what does his wearing of these items do to him?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Kurt Vonnegut's telling "Harrison Bergeron," his highly intelligent father has been "equalized" by various handicapper devices that he must wear or be severely punished:  two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every weighted ball that he removes from the canvas bag around his neck. (He carries forty-seven pounds of birdshot in the bag padlocked on his neck.)

When George has a thought that is not mundane, noises go off in his ear radio, scattering his thoughts.  (Hazel needs no mental handicap or physical herself since she is "equalized" from birth.)

There is evidence that the thought-disrupting noises in George's head and ear had wrought permanent change in him, for when his wife Hazel suggests that he take a few balls out while he is around the house and "not competing" with anyone, George adamantly refuses:

'There you are...The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?'

This remark is in direct contrast to the thinking of his son, Harrison, who has taken over the television station and attempted a coup of the government.  That his own father has been brain-washed by the government is an indicator that Harrison's revolt is doomed.  Thus, Vonnegut's story ends in a complete reversal of the traditional heroic story.

mrs-campbell's profile pic

mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The government in the short story "Harrison Bergeron" is trying to keep everyone equal by giving them handicaps that restrain them in their strengths, and keep them from standing out or excelling above and beyond other people.  That way, no one ever feels ugly again when they see a beautiful person--beautiful people wear masks that make them ugly too.  No one has to feel stupid again, because smart people have noises blared into their ears every few minutes to keep them from thinking rationally or cohesively.

George and Hazel are made "equal" through these man-made handicaps.  Hazel herself has none; she is average looking, with average intelligence, with average abilities.  So, she needs to help to be "normal".  Her husband, George on the other hand, was a bit stronger than other men; so, the government gave him "forty-seven pounds of birdshot" to carry around with him.  This kept him from moving too quickly, or being too strong.  He was also intelligent; so, the government required him to wear an earpiece that emitted loud, distracting noises every 20 seconds or so, piercing and interrupting his line of thought.  This, according to the government, keeps George and Hazel equal.  It also keeps them miserable.  George is so noticably miserable that his wife suggests he put the birdshot down and take a break for a while; she wants him to feel happy, even if it means being "unequal for a bit."

Their son, Harrison, is burdened with an unusual amout of handicaps, because he is smart, tall, strong and handsome.  Vonnegut writes of Harrision,

"he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses...Scrap metal was hung all over him. ...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."

So, Harrison's handicaps are above and beyond many others, and he still manages to break free and show the world his true potential anyway.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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