In "Harrison Bergeron," why is the punishment for removing a handicap so harsh?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When George's wife suggests that he take some of the balls out of his cumbersome bag of birdshot hanging around his neck in order to give him some relief, George elaborates on the punishment for removing handicaps by saying,

Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out (Vonnegut, 2).

George's extraordinarily talented son also dies when he removes his handicaps and attempts to undermine the government. These two examples of the harsh punishments for removing one's handicaps are a result of the "unceasing vigilance" of the Handicap General, Diana Moon Glampers. She is portrayed as an extremely callous, persistent woman who is dedicated to ensuring that every individual in society is completely equal. The penalties are severe for removing one's handicaps, which are in place to maintain a stable society where everyone conforms and cannot undermine the government. If people continuously broke the law, then American society would become unstable and the more talented individuals would be capable of usurping power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this futuristic society, the goal the government is trying to attain is equality of the people.  This is not being done by improving people's circumstances.  Rather, people are being handicapped to reach the lowest levels of physical attributes.  Beauty is hidden.  Intelligence is thwarted. Strong or athletic people are laden with weights.

Should one try to go without their handicap, even in the privacy of their own home, the fear is that others would try to get away without their handicaps, too.  This would lead to a society where some people might try to go public without their handicaps.  That would lead back to a society where some people are smarter, or better looking, or stronger and agiler than others.  That would in turn lead to competition.  Better to be average looking, thinking, and fit in this equal world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial