How are the dancers handicapped in "Harrison Bergeron"?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like everyone in the dystopian society described in the story, the dancers are handicapped according to their gifts.  If they are beautiful, their faces are masked, and if they are exceptionally coordinated, lithe, and able to be physically expressive, they are "burdened with sash weights and bags of birdshot".  The purpose of these handicaps are "so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face", would feel badly about themselves, if they have not been blessed with equal physical gifts.  In addition, the ballerinas who are overly intelligent are forced to wear "a little mental handicap radio in (their) ear(s)".  Loud, distracting noises are transmitted by these radios at unpredictable intervals, making it impossible for them to concentrate for any length of time, and causing them to wince and recoil from the pain caused by the din in their earpieces, even in the midst of their performance.

Burdened by these handicaps, the dancers are not really very good; they are "no better than anybody else would have been", which is the point of the handicapping done in the society.  It is the year 2081, and "everybody (is) finally equal...every which way".  In order to eliminate competition and put everyone on a level playing field, so to speak, handicaps are meted out as they are in theory in a horserace or in sports like golf or bowling, only in a much more literal, concrete manner, so that everyone has an equal chance to succeed at everything in life.  In the case of the dancers, the resulting performance is a ludicrous production, with the ballerinas stumbling around under the weight of their handicaps, presenting a spectacle that is completely unexceptional both artistically and aesthetically, in complete support of the theme of this satirical work.

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Harrison Bergeron

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