What do the 213 amendments added to the U.S. Constitution in "Harrison Bergeron" show readers about government in the story?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As was mentioned in the previous post, the 213 amendments to the United States Constitution illustrates the extensive, prolonged change that took place throughout American society since its inception. In the opening paragraph of the story, Vonnegut writes that it is the year 2081, and everybody is literally equal because of the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the United States Constitution. The reader immediately understands that in Vonnegut's fictional story, the government of the United States is still a recognized, active, authoritative body. The high number of amendments also illustrates the shift in society's perspective and beliefs. Having 213 amendments suggests that the issues limiting equality have been gradually accepted over a long period of time. The extremely high number of amendments are also satirical in nature. Amendments to the United States Constitution are a way of improving society through democratic means, which obviously have been taken too far in Vonnegut's fictional story. Continually amending the Constitution of the United States has the ability to corrupt the fundamental ideals America was founded on, which is what Vonnegut illustrates in the opening paragraph of the short story. 

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This detail tells us several crucial things about government in this story.

First, it tells us the government in this story is still technically the government of the United States. This is not some alien world or another country with a different legal tradition.

This also suggests the oppressive actions the government in this story take come from principles and ideals that already exist in the United States.

Third, the number 213 is extremely high. Right now, there have only been 27 amendments to the Constitution, and when Vonnegut wrote the story, there were even fewer (22). This means there has been a tremendous amount of change in the intervening years. The government in this society has introduced change after change, modification after modification. It suggests democracy is out of hand, and the people are making changes to get what they want that ignore the core principles upon which America was founded.

Finally, this means this is a government that keeps the appearance of legitimacy, but which is now hollow. This fits the story; the kind of equality the handicappers enforce is not the kind written into the original Declaration of Independence or Constitution.