The society in this short story functions under the mercy of an oppressive government. The year is 2081 and thanks to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments, a drastic enforcement of equality has been put into place. This enforcement is led by the Handicapper General. In efforts to make people more equal, it is the Handicapper General's job to give handicaps to people who exhibit physical and/or mental abilities that are above that of the average person. The end goal is to restrict any such talented people so that everyone has essentially the same physical and mental abilities.
Harrison Bergeron is special because he has extraordinary abilities. No one is as gifted as he is. He is only fourteen years old but he stands seven feet tall. He is so physically and mentally gifted that he continues to outgrow any handicaps the "H-G men" come up with. Fearing his abilities, the government arrests Harrison. Harrison then escapes and breaks free of his restraints. The tragic irony is that instead of criticizing the corrupt abuse of power that has handicapped him in the first place, he asserts his own power and declares himself emperor.