What has been done to guarantee equality in "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut?

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

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In "Harrison Bergeron," Kurt Vonnegut envisions a future world in which everyone is finally equal. This seems like a lofty and worthy goal, but as the story demonstrates, perhaps equal should not mean everyone is the same.

The story opens in the year 2081, at a time when every citizen in the country is now equal--and not just in a figurative sense. They are literally equal in every possible way.

Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. 

In order to ensure that this happens (as mandated by Constitutional Amendments 211-213), the Handicapper General is responsible for distributing handicaps to anyone who shows any sign of proficiency or talent. For example, if a person has a pretty face, he or she must wear a mask in order to avoid having an advantage over someone else in the looks department. If a ballerina is nimble and agile, she is weighed down with bags of bird shot.

The most outrageous example of this system is found in Harrison Bergeron, a young man (only fourteen years old) who is an exceptional physical specimen with many talents. He is seven feet tall and he is burdened with more and heavier handicaps than anyone else has ever borne. As quickly as he gets them, he outgrows them, which keeps the Handicapper General's office quite busy. 

Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.

Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds. And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggletooth random.

Despite these outrageous handicaps and hindrances, Harrison Bergeron is still more talented and more able than virtually anyone in the country. Of course, his parents would have been outraged, but they are no more sensible or outraged than anyone else--which means they are not sensible or outraged at all.

It is the Handicapper General's job to make sure the proper handicaps are given and kept, and keeping track of Harrison Bergeron's is practically a full-time job--until he decides he has had enough. 

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