In the society in "Harrison Bergeron," the people are led to believe that they have been made "equal" for their own benefits—to eliminate jealousy and competition.  What is the real reason that the government has imposed handicaps on them?

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It's an interesting question, and I'm not sure an answer to it is clearly stated in the text. On the one hand, suppression does not actually require a reason to propagate itself: power and cruelty can be ends in and of themselves (this is a point that Orwell very chillingly makes with 1984). On the other hand, however, you should be aware that noble ideals can very easily lead to horrifying acts of cruelty. From that perspective, the government described in "Harrison Bergeron" does not actually require any ulterior motive at all.

There are some things that Vonnegut does make clear in the text: this government mandated equality was imposed by Constitutional Amendment, and is supported through the use of handicaps, and ultimately (as the story's ending makes clear) the use of violence. So it's certainly imposed from the top down by oppressive means; that much is clear in and of itself.

But in this case, I actually tend to take the government at its word here. When you think about the world Vonnegut describes, it's almost comical in its dysfunction: we see ballerinas, for example, forced to carry handicaps to rob them of their grace and athleticism... which makes one wonder why there would even be such a thing as televised ballet at all (or a classical orchestra for that matter). This society defies logic, which is ultimately the point.

This sense of dysfunction suggests (in my own view at least) that this mandated equality is the end in itself, rather than a means to ensuring some alternate objective. The government as described in "Harrison Bergeron" strikes me as more fanatical than pragmatist. Keep in mind, fanaticism can be a causal factor in political decision making, and political ideologies can easily take on a life of their own, often leading towards directions its original champions might not have imagined (or welcomed). The world of "Harrison Bergeron," I would suggest, may well have come about in precisely that kind of fashion.

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The citizenry of America in 2081 have been made equal in order to take away their civil rights, desensitize them, and control them.

By not allowing a person to be superior to anyone else, mediocrity reigns. If no one is superior to anyone else, then conflict is reduced, if not eliminated. There is, then, no challenging of ideas, no rebellion. There is no threat from anyone because society has no people who are bright and creative, and who can challenge mediocrity. 

When, for instance, George Bergeron watches television with his wife and there are ballerinas dancing, he realizes that they are mediocre and he "was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn't be handicapped." But this idea is quickly obliterated by a noise in his ear radio that drowns out his thoughts. It is only the rebellious Harrison, who breaks out of prison and frees himself from his handicaps, who challenges this enforced mediocrity. But, he is quickly killed.

When it is announced over the television that Harrison has escaped prison, the announcer says, " a genius and an athlete, is underhandicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous." Calling him "dangerous" clearly underscores the point that the Handicapper General forcibly controls the members of society. By forcibly controlling people with handicaps, the society of Diana Moon Glampers, Handicapper General, hopes to maintain peace by limiting people's thoughts and their physical abilities.

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