Harrison Bergeron Questions and Answers
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Harrison Bergeron book cover
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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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Scott David eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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...

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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