What is George's advice to his wife in "Harrison Bergeron"?

George's advice to his wife Hazel in "Harrison Bergeron" is to "forget sad things" when he notices that she is crying. Hazel tells him that she cannot recall what she saw, just that it was "something real sad." George’s dismissal of his own son's death (the reason for Hazel's weeping) illustrates how fragmented in thought the futuristic society of equality and mediocrity has made people. Forgetting becomes both a result of and means for survival.

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At the end of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s short story "Harrison Bergeron," George advises his wife Hazel to "forget sad things." After witnessing their son Harrison shot and killed on television, Hazel turns to his husband in tears… but cannot remember what she just saw.

Their son, who has superior intellectual and athletic abilities, briefly rebels against the zealously equal society that hinders anyone with above-average abilities. Imprisoned and handicapped due to his mental and physical prowess, Harrison breaks out of jail and lawlessly—according to this futuristic society—choses a mate ("Empress") with whom to dance. He orders musicians to play according to their true talents, unleashing beauty in music and movement.

An enforcer of equality and mediocrity, the Handicapper General shoots Harrison and his Empress (a gorgeous ballerina he freed to dance to her full potential) dead. The General orders the musician to stop playing and put their handicaps back on. Order is restored, and the television screen goes black.

Having gone to the kitchen and therefore missed most of this incident, George returns and is oblivious to the tragedy. He notices, though, that Hazel had been crying.

"What about?" he said.

"I forget," she said. "Something real sad on television."

"What was it?" he said.

"It's all kind of mixed up in my mind," said Hazel.

"Forget sad things," said George.

"I always do," said Hazel.

"That's my girl," said George.

Because Hazel has "perfectly average intelligence," she has limited concentration abilities; she cannot "think about anything except in short bursts." Therefore, she does not normally retain and remember anything anyway. On the other hand, George is highly intelligent and thus must wear a

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.

As a result, George also cannot concentrate and think beyond short spurts due to external distractions. Although George recognizes their son's photograph on screen, his recognition and thought are quickly knocked out of his head.

"My God—" said George, "that must be Harrison!"

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.

The characters' inability to hold onto their thoughts seems to hinder their emotions as well. Hazel recognizes her own son and instinctively grieves his murder, but she cannot retain those memories. Nonetheless, she still feels the emotion of sadness. She also does not understand why she feels sad.

Having been conditioned to expect interruptions, George still knows enough to realize that "things" of sadness—like horrific events—need to be forgotten in order for a person to survive. He seems to have forgotten his recognition of their son on television. Nonetheless, George still holds affection for his "girl" Hazel.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 13, 2021
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