Describe fully the society in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron."

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" is a rather pessimistic take on society many years in the future.  In this story, he asserts that our society becomes so sensitive about not hurting anyone's feelings ever that they go to extreme measures to force everyone to be as equal as they possibly can be.  In this society, government enforces equality by requiring people to wear handicaps that mask any qualities they have that might make them exceptional.  After all, if there is a girl that is more beautiful than you are, that makes you feel bad about yourself, right?  Well then, that beautiful girl should wear a mask to hide her beauty--then, you won't have your feelings hurt.  That is what this society tries to do--mask any talents or beauty so that those without that talent or beauty don't feel bad.  So, if you are unusually strong or athletic, you have to carry around weighty bags of birdshot to keep you from running fast or gracefully.  If you are above-average in intelligence, you have to wear earpieces that emit loud, piercing sounds at random moments to keep you from thinking straight.  If you have a beautiful voice, you must make it sound ugly.  And so on, and so forth.  And, the government in this society enforces these handicaps with force.  Harrison, who escapes the confines of his many handicaps, is shot to death with a shotgun for breaking the rules, after he was imprisoned for his rebellions.  If you don't "equalize" yourself through the required handicaps, it's to prison with you, and to further punishment.

It is a rather extreme take on society, but does reflect on truths that do exist in small ways in our society today.  Often, being nice is more important than being successful or reaching one's potential, and sometimes there are laws and regulations put into force to "level the playing field" and try to make everyone more equal on one level or another.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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Harrison Bergeron

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