in "Harrison Bergeron", what does the author assume about the attitudes of the audience in this piece?

Expert Answers
mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Harrison Bergeron," Kurt Vonnegut assumes the readers all have a positive attitude about the word "equality" and a similar image of what that would look like in action. So when the story begins, "The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal," the reader assumes a different type of equal. An equal that means the same opportunities for everyone. However, Vonnegut flips this idea on its head and goes on to explain that "Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else." So, in this world, equality does not mean equal rights, but means a lowering of everyone's ability.

Vonnegut's play on the idea of equality is really what makes "Harrison Bergeron" a classic short story. Without this idea, the reader does not shake his head when George Bergeron reacts negatively when his wife suggests he take out a few of the birdshot in his physical handicap. He defends this idea of equality because "we'd be right back in the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else."

It's relatively safe to assume Vonnegut, like his readers, does not share the definition of equality he presents in this story. Instead, he uses this term ironically in order to demonstrate what happens in a society in which people seem afraid to compete and surpass one another.