How does Harrison's death affect his parents in "Harrison Bergeron"?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kurt Vonnegut's science fiction story "Harrison Bergeron" is set in the year 2081, a time when everyone is equal.  Any talents or abilities are counterbalanced by handicaps, which of course simply ensure that no one has any gifts at all.  One young man, Harrison, is magnificent despite his handicaps. 

His parents, George and Hazel, are typically handicapped.  As the story begins, they are watching TV; some handicapped ballerinas are dancing.  George leaves the room to get a beer; when he comes back he sees tears on Hazel's face. She knows she must have been sad (presumably because she is still able to recognize beauty), but she doesn't remember why.  This is what equality has done. 

As they watch the ballerinas together, they see their son enter the television studio, they watch him soar in a glorious final dance...and they see him get shot to death.

Your question is how do his parents react to seeing this sight.  Their reaction is appallingly empty and eerily similar to the opening scene.  The shots were fired, the TV tube burned out, and Hazel turned to George who had gone to the fridge for another beer.  When he returned, he saw tears on his wife's face.

"You been crying" he said to Hazel.

"Yup," she said.

"What about?" he said.

"I forget," she said. "Something real sad on television."

"What was it?" he said.

"It's all kind of mixed up in my mind," said Hazel.

"Forget sad things," said George.

"I always do," said Hazel.

This emotionless acceptance of such a tragedy is a reflection of Vonnegut's themes and fears for a future in which no one is an individualand no one is better or different than anyone else.  Hazel was equally moved (or unmoved) by the sight of untalented ballerinas and the death of her son.  Equality has, indeed, happened--in the worst possible way.

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Harrison Bergeron

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