In Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," how does the idea of equality relate to the story's conflict?

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brodertj eNotes educator| Certified Educator

America has strived (and is still striving) to become a country where people are treated equally by fellow citizens and the government. For example, the phrase “justice is blind” refers to the ideal that anyone accused of a crime should receive a fair trial. In Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron,” America’s obsession with equality is taken to an authoritarian extreme.

The reader learns at the beginning of the story that the government has passed nearly two hundred amendments to the US constitution to ensure equality among citizens. No one can be any prettier, smarter, or more athletic than anyone else. A person with an advantage is given a ‘handicap,’ a device to make him or her uglier, dumber, or weaker.

The story’s title character, Harrison, represents the opposite of American ideals about equality. On national television he rips off his countless handicaps and proclaims himself king, the very type of ruler America cast off through the American Revolution. Harrison believes that he deserves to rule because he is more handsome, stronger, and more intelligent than everyone else. This logic suggests that Harrison, if he had survived, would not have been any more of a compassionate ruler than the government that tried to restrain him.