Consider the characters of Hazel and George. Why isn't Hazel handicapped? How does George seem to feel about his handicaps?
Hazel isn't required to wear handicaps because she is only of average intelligence, and she has an extremely short attention span. As it stands, Hazel is incapable of sustaining the kind of serious contemplation that can precipitate analytical thought. In the story, Hazel watches television with George, but her lack of intellectual depth makes it difficult for her to fully comprehend what she's seeing on the screen. She cries during a scene but soon forgets why she does so.
Thus, Hazel isn't required to wear debilitating handicaps because she poses little threat to her government. Without the ability to intelligently assess the world around her, she is powerless to rebel against a totalitarian regime.
On the other hand, George has to wear a canvas bag filled with forty-seven pounds of birdshot padlocked to his neck. He also has to wear a "mental handicap radio" that is tuned to a government transmitter at all times. When any intelligent thoughts come to him, the radio transmits crashing, loud sounds to his ears. The painful experience often stops his thoughts in midstream, and he is unable to pick them up again even after the discordant sounds ebb away.
Despite his suffering, however, George is adamant about keeping his handicaps. He feels comfortable with them and thinks that the handicaps serve a good purpose. In other words, George is too brainwashed to rebel against the powers that hold him in captivity. When Hazel suggests that they try lightening George's canvas bag of birdshot, George is horrified. He maintains that two years in prison and a two thousand dollar fine for every ball he takes out is no "bargain."
He vehemently believes that all laws are to be obeyed. George worries that, if he tries to get away with breaking the laws of his government, others may soon follow his example. To George, any attempt at rebellion may hasten the return of a competitive society that leads to inequality. So, George would rather suffer his daily indignities than to break the laws an oppressive government has imposed upon him.
Hazel and George Bergeron represent the typical American couple watching television together in the evening. Hazel wears no handicaps because she possesses "normal" intelligence, appearance, and strength. however, in Vonnegut's dark future, ‘‘normal’’ has become the lowest common denominator. It implies that one is incompetent, or unable to fathom anything beyond that which is superficial.
Harrison's father, on the other hand, bears multiple government-imposed handicaps which repress his ‘‘way above-normal’’ intelligence. George wears birdshot weights and a mental handicap radio in his ear that receives a "sharp noise'' transmission designed "to keep people ... from taking unfair advantage of their brains.'' He refuses to remove any of them, however, for he believes that any attempt to change the present situation will inevitably cause civilization to regress back into the ‘‘dark ages,’’ when there was competition. Thus, he is a willing participant in the government's attempt to control its population.
Hazel is "of perfectly average intelligence." Honestly, Hazel is less than average and does not have the brains to question the handicaps. She is of no threat to the government and the way things are going. George, on the other hand, is bright enough to know that the handicaps are unfair and are ruining society. He, however, can't think a thought long enough to express that or remember that he was trying to.