How are the ballerinas handicapped in "Harrison Bergeron," and why are they handicapped in the ways they are?

The ballerinas in "Harrison Bergeron" are handicapped with weights to stop them from moving as gracefully as they otherwise might. They also have radio transmitters in their ears to stop them from thinking too freely.

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After watching the ballerinas on television, George comments that they dance "no better than anybody else." This is because they are handicapped, or weighed down, by "sashweights and bags of birdshot." They are handicapped in this way to inhibit their gracefulness so that nobody watching them will feel inferior or insufficient. The ballerinas are also forced to wear hideous masks over their faces, so nobody watching them will feel unattractive compared to the ballerinas. The handicaps applied to the ballerinas are adjusted according to their natural talents or beauty. The more graceful the ballerina, the heavier the weights that she has to carry. The prettier the ballerina, the more hideous the mask that she has to wear.

Two of the eight ballerinas are also handicapped mentally, and this handicap takes the form of little radio transmitters inserted into their ears. These transmitters are worn by many other people too. The transmitters "send out some sharp noise" at frequent intervals to "keep people ... from taking unfair advantage of their brains."

The story is set in the year 2081, by which time the constitution has been amended to ensure that everybody is equal. This equality is enforced by "agents of the United states Handicapper General." The ballerinas are handicapped in the different ways noted above to make them equal, physically and mentally, with everybody else. These handicaps of course render their natural talents and capacities, as well as their beauty, utterly useless. In this way, Vonnegut attempts to satirize the idea that governments should intervene to impose equality. He takes that idea to its ad absurdum, dystopian extreme.

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