Harrison Bergeron Questions and Answers
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Harrison Bergeron book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Is it a good thing for people to believe that no one is better than anyone else? Would it be a good thing if, in fact, no person were better than any other person? Why or why not?

Expert Answers info

Colin Cavendish-Jones, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Professor, Lawyer

bookM.A. from Oxford University

bookPh.D. from St. Andrews University

calendarEducator since 2019

write2,273 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

"Harrison Bergeron" is set in a society in which everyone is "equal." The word "equal," however, is ambiguous and Vonnegut's dystopia has settled on the worst possible interpretation, which is "exactly the same." Since people cannot be made cleverer or more beautiful, therefore, everyone is handicapped to the lowest common denominator in every area.

A more sensible definition of equality would be "equal treatment." This would ensure equality before the law and, subject to the natural restrictions and differences the Handicapper-General in the story seeks to eliminate, equality of opportunity.

This means that it is good for people to believe that no one is "better" than anyone else, and it is a good thing that no one is in fact "better" than any other person. Some people have greater abilities in particular areas. This does not mean they are better or should be treated better.

To give a simple example: are all people the same height? Obviously not. Can we extrapolate from this simple fact that tall people are superior to short people and should be treated and regarded as "better" people? Again, obviously not. People are unequal in height, weight, intelligence, and many other categories, but who is to arbitrate which of them are better?

check Approved by eNotes Editorial