In the story "Harrison Bergon," how does Harrison convey the conflict between the ideals of society and the realities of the actual people?

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jimbodonahue eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The defining characteristic in the society of "Harrison Bergeron" is physical equality, in intelligence, strength, and beauty. Three constitutional amendments and Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, ensure that people are made artificially equal through the use of handicaps. Intelligent people like George have aural devices that send loud noises into their ears to disrupt their thoughts. Strong people have to wear bags of bird shot, small metal balls, and beautiful people have to wear masks.

The conflict arises with the fact that people are not naturally equal, but that does not make others feel bad. Vonnegut alludes to this idea when George wonders "that maybe the dancers shouldn't be handicapped." This musing suggests that George would enjoy watching the dancers moving gracefully, even though they would be better at dancing than he is.

The stern penalties also suggest that the reality of the people does not align with the quest for equality. When Hazel suggests that George take out a few of the metal balls, he reminds her that the penalty is "two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball [he] took out." In the end, the killing of Harrison and his Empress underscores this tension. Their only crimes include being strong and beautiful, but they are shot dead by Diana Moon Glampers. Any law that must be upheld with such force must be contrary to the inner desire of the public.