Harrison Bergeron Questions and Answers
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Harrison Bergeron book cover
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What is the purpose of the handicaps in Harrison Bergeron?

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This is a dystopian future (2081) in which the government has established new laws (211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the Constitution) to enforce a doctrine of equality. The government has decided that, in order to keep people happy while avoiding any feelings of superiority or inferiority, handicaps will be used to enforce this equality. If someone is a genius, he/she will be given mental handicaps to bring him/her down to a common, median level. If someone is attractive, he will be given cosmetic handicaps to make him less attractive. If someone is a superior athlete, she will be given physical handicaps to bring her down to everyone else's level. 

They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. 

Hazel has average intelligence so she has no handicaps. She is at that median average. George is above average so he has to endure a mental handicap that prevents him from thinking too deeply about anything. He must wear his handicap at all times. 

Their son, Harrison, is supremely gifted. Therefore, he has been given the most debilitating handicaps the Handicapper General can come up with. Harrison is so gifted that he eventually sheds his handicaps. However, he indulges in his self-glorifying moment and is shot by the Handicapper General. The television program is cut out, leaving George and Hazel alone and without the ability to recall what they had just seen. In this story, everyone is equal but it comes at the cost of mental and physical oppression. 

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