Kurt Vonnegut hauntingly depicts a society in which a culture that values mediocrity makes everybody "finally equal" by forcing those who are naturally not mediocre to wear handicaps, such as masks to hide beauty, weights to hamper athleticism, glasses to reduce keen eyesight, and a mental handicap radio in the ear that emits a sharp noise to prevent intelligent people from "taking advantage of their brains."
As the story opens George and Hazel Bergeron have lost their son to prison because he has not complied by wearing all his handicaps. As George and Hazel watch television and see ballerinas dancing, George entertains the subversive thought that perhaps ballerinas should not be made to wear handicaps. "George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas." The sound that ripped through George's head was so excrutiating that George was "white and trembling," so his wife Hazel suggests that he remove his bags of birdshot that weigh forty-seven pounds.
"Go on and rest the bag for a little while," she said. "I don't care if you're not equal to me for a while."
Of course, the irony here is that Hazel, who is so low in intelligence and physical abilities that she is not required to wear any handicaps, feels superior to her husband who must wear these burdensome weights. She is complacent, content with the idea that low intelligence and mediocre abilities are satisfactory—an idea that has been reinforced by her government.