Harrison Bergeron Questions and Answers
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Harrison Bergeron book cover
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What point is the author making through the irony in "Harrison Bergeron"?

The point is the author making through the irony in "Harrison Bergeron" is that equality and sameness are different things. If a society misunderstands the goal of equality, there can be dangerous implications in trying to make everyone the same.

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"Harrison Bergeron" contains much irony. The leaders of this society have tried to achieve equality by making everyone equally talented, equally beautiful, equally intelligent, and so on. But instead of working to improve the conditions of citizens, they punish the outliers of success, forcing them to endure handicaps to lessen their abilities. George is intelligent, so whenever he has an intelligent thought, he is forced to endure painful sounds being pumped into his ears to break up his thoughts. We can infer that his wife isn't nearly as smart as she is forced to endure no such handicap herself. George is also strong, so he is required to carry around a forty-seven pound bag which is padlocked to his neck, making it harder for him to move.

The great irony is that this society mistakes sameness for equality. We typically consider equality in terms of rights and laws and believe that everyone should be granted an equal chance to be happy, productive, and successful.

Instead of working to ensure this occurs, this society has chosen to do the opposite—punish those who excel in some area so that no one excels at anything. Everyone is the same, and they are equally hampered in mental abilities, physical abilities, and appearance.

It is also worth noting that the handicaps which are designed to hide great abilities and beauty actually highlight those same attributes. Hazel knows that the ballerina must be beautiful because

the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.

Vonnegut's point, then, is that total equality among all citizens can be a dangerous proposition if the understanding of equality is "sameness."

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