What does "Harrison Bergeron" suggest society's values are?

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physics223 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron," equality is not only desired in society: it is imposed. Handicaps are created for the people who are better at something. The central characters in this short story consist the Bergeron family. Between the mother and the father, the father is the more intelligent one. What does the Office of Handicapper-General do? 

Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

Physical handicaps are imposed upon the father, George, in order to prevent him from even thinking. He restricted from thinking by a buzzing radio and restricted from movement by 47 pounds of buckshot hanging on his neck. In a world obsessed with equality, excellence is transmogrified into mediocrity: genius is considered a monstrosity.

Harrison Bergeron was a once-in-a-generation genius: he was tall, physically competent, and intelligent. In other words, he would be the envy of this world. Because, however, of his society's fixation with equality, creativity is stultified, even choked to death: both the beautiful ballerina and Harrison were made to wear horrible masks because their physical appeal needed to be covered. When, however, all these accoutrements were removed from their bodies and the two revolted on television, the society totally fixated with equality resorted to the gravest resolution: murder. 

People may not be equal in life, but we are all made equal with death. Martin Heidegger even considered human beings as "beings-unto-death." Death is the great equalizer; death is also the great silencer. Glampers, desperate because she could no longer restrict Harrison and the ballerina, shot them both with a shotgun. 

All became equal once more. 

brodertj eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 short story "Harrison Bergeron," Americans live under an authoritarian government obsessed with equality. No one can be prettier, more athletic, or smarter than anyone else. For that reason anyone with an advantage is given a 'handicap' to keep his or her abilities in line with everyone else.

A variety of handicaps are shown throughout the story. A radio earpiece blasts a loud noise in George Bergeron's ear every few seconds to dull his intelligence. Ballerinas on the television wear masks to hide their beauty.

The most prominent handicaps portrayed in the story are those put on the 14-year-old Harrison: three hundred pounds of weights to counter his strength, headphones blasting noise to stop his thinking, and even grotesque makeup to hide his handsome face. When Harrison attempts to shed these handicaps and overthrow the government, the government employs its most extreme handicap against Harrison: murder.