In "Harrison Bergeron," why does George have to wear a mental handicap?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Vonnegut's classic short story "Harrison Bergeron," the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, along with assistance from the Handicapper General and her agents, have created a society where every citizen in the United States is completely equal in all facets of life. Above average citizens with more athleticism are forced to wear heavy, cumbersome handicaps while beautiful individuals are required to wear ugly masks. Citizens who have above average intelligence are also required to wear a mental handicap radio in their ears, which makes extremely loud noises every twenty seconds in order to interrupt their thoughts. Harrison Bergeron's father, George, was born with above average intelligence, which is why he is required to wear the loud mental handicap radio in his ear. In the third paragraph of the short story, Vonnegut writes,

"And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains (1).

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brodertj eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In “Harrison Bergeron,” George is the title character’s father. George was born with higher than average intelligence, and it is for this reason the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, makes him wear a small radio over his ear. Every twenty seconds the radio emits a loud sound, making George forget what he was thinking about.

George doesn’t have a choice whether or not to wear the handicap. The radio is legally required by the U.S. Constitution, and taking it off would make George guilty of a federal crime. Even when he watches his son Harrison attempt to overthrow the government, for not one second does George consider taking off the handicap. For the government’s benefit, the handicap causes George to forget about Harrison shortly after after Diana Moon Glampers kills him with a shotgun.

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