What does the consequence for lessening the weight of the handicap bag imply about the government in "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Kurt Vonnegut writes about the crippling effects of "equality" in his short story "Harrison Bergeron." In this story, everyone is equal because they are forced to wear handicaps based on their skills, talents, abilities, and appearance. No one can be prettier, stronger, smarter, or better in any way than anyone else. These handicaps are distributed and enforced by 

the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Harrison's father is the one who tells us the penalty for tampering with one of the handicaps in a conversation with his wife. Hazel tells George he looks tired and suggest it is probably because of the forty-seven-pound bag of bird shot he has to wear in a canvas bag which is padlocked around his neck. She tells him she does not mind if they are not equal for a short time, but he says he is used to the bag and is fine. Hazel continues: 

"You been so tired lately-kind of wore out," said Hazel. "If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few." 

"Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out," said George. "I don't call that a bargain."

This extreme penalty (imagine how many pellets of bird shot must be in the bag to equal forty-seven pounds) is an indication of how seriously the government now takes this concept of equality. This outrageous measure by the government is reinforced later in the story when Harrison breaks out of his handicaps and is immediately shot and killed. 

People being equal is clearly more important to the government than the people themselves. 

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