What is the main conflict in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," and how is it resolved? How does the story's ending make it successful?  

What is the main conflict in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," and how is it resolved? How does the story's ending make it successful?

 

 

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict in Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" stems from society's desire to be equal. The story is set in the year 2081, and there have been amendments added to the Constitution of the United States that mandate that no one can be smarter, more attractive, stronger, or more talented than anyone else. 

Harrison Bergeron, the title character, is the most handicapped member of society. The Handicapper General's office assign handicaps, such as ear transmitters that emit screeching noises anytime someone has a thought. Harrison's father is equipped with a pair of these. Harrison's mother is not very intelligent or good looking, so she does not have handicaps. 

Harrison was fourteen when he was taken by the Handicapper General's office. Hazel and George, Harrison's parents, are watching ballerinas dance on TV when the show is interrupted by a news bulletin.

"'Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen, she said in a grackle squawk, "has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.'"

The next paragraphs describe a monsterHarrison is "all Halloween and hardware," outfitted with more handicaps than anyone in history. He is seven feet tall, extremely good looking, strong, smart, and talented. He tears three hundred pounds of scrap metal handicaps off himself as his parents watch him on TV and then declares himself the Emperor. He takes a ballerina and declares her his empress. Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, shoots them both dead and threatens the other dancers if they do not immediately resume their handicaps. Neither Hazel nor George can remember that they just saw their son die on TV.  

Kurt Vonnegut wrote this story in 1961. This a cautionary tale about what will happen to society if we stop celebrating differences and demand equality for all. Everything that makes a society interesting, pleasurable, and challenging will disappear, and it will be a sad existence of governmental control in which no one is truly happy. The ending is successful because of its ability to make readers consider what that type of society would be like, and what would be lost.  

pnhancock eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict in Kurt Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron is the use of restrictive handicapping devices on the intelligent, talented, strong, or otherwise gifted, in order to ensure total equality in society. For example, the titular character, Harrison, is so talented and strong that he must wear several devices to limit his natural gifts. He is weighed down by heavy hindrances, deafened by large earphones blaring static, and near-blinded by a pair of glasses. Harrison illustrates the conflict between government-mandated limitations and the people burdened with them, because he resists his handicaps on live television. He removes his handicaps and those of a dancer, declaring himself the Emperor and her his Empress, and the two dance around the room.

The story ends with a government official, the Handicapper General, shooting Harrison and his "Empress" on live television. Harrison's parents are watching at home, and the final dialogue in the story adds poignant emphasis to the extent of the limitations placed upon people. Harrison's mother is naturally unintelligent, and his father has been limited by deafening earphones to the point of matching her level of ignorance. The two forget that they have watched their son die on television immediately after witnessing it.