How old is Harrison Bergeron and why does he wear so many handicaps?"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron is fourteen in the year 2081 in which"everybody was finally equal."  However, to achieve this "equality" those who are exceptional in any way, physical or intellectual, must be brought down to the lowest in the society.  This is accomplished through the use of a program led by the Handicapper General.  In Harrison's case, he is exceptionally brillant--a genius--and has much physical prowess; so, he must wear a tremendous handicaps: three hundred pouns of scrap metal hangs all over him to weight him down.  To offset his beauty, he must wear a red rubber ball for a nose, have his eyebrows shaved and black caps placed upon his teeth, that also have been snaggled.  In order to subdue his thought processes, he has a radio on as a "mental handicap," earphones and glasses that impede his vision.

It is ironic, indeed, in the shadow of the Federal education law called "No Child Left Behind," that in 1968 after this story was published, Larry King (now of CNN) wrote in the New York Times Book Review,

I know nothing of Mr. Vonnegut's personal politics, but extand Goldwaterites and Dixiecrats might read into this the ultimate horrors of any further extension of civil-rights or equal-opportunity laws.

The reader may well wonder would Mr. King's reaction would be today to this story.