How is the word winced used in the story Harrison Bergeron?

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gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Vonnegut’s classic story is very inventive, and provides considerable insight into contemporary political trends. Perhaps because he is so inventive conceptually, stylistically this story is often fairly basic.

That’s the case with Vonnegut’s use of the word “wince” and “winced.” Vonnegut uses these as a clear, even obvious, signal. Every time George winces, he’s had his thoughts scattered by the mental handicap imposed by the Handicapper General. The sounds vary. Sometimes they sound (George says) like a hammer breaking a glass bottle. Sometimes like construction machinery (riveting). All they have in common is that they are painful and loud enough to keep him from thinking. And that they hurt, making him wince.

Those winces may be the saddest part of the story. They impose a private reality on George—Hazel can’t hear them—and break up his experience. Every wince is a reminder that even his thoughts are monitored.