What is the purpose of the handicaps in "Harrison Bergeron"?

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Supposedly, the purpose of the handicaps is to make all citizens in Harrison's world equal. The definition of equality leaves much to be desired in his dystopian world, though.

For example, no one is allowed to be better-looking, more talented, stronger, or smarter than anyone else. The government has just passed the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, which are ostensibly laws that ensure equality for all. Government agents under the jurisdiction of the United States Handicapper General are tasked with ensuring universal compliance, which means no dissent is allowed. Basically, we have a totalitarian form of government here, and all citizens are expected to comply under pain of death.

In the story, Harrison's father, George, must wear a handicap radio tuned to a government transmitter. When he has unusually intelligent thoughts, the radio sends out sharp and disorienting noises to scatter his thought processes. Later, we discover that Harrison must wear considerable handicaps in order to hide his physical beauty and intelligence.

Harrison must wear a huge pair of earphones, thick glasses, and three hundred pounds of scrap metal. Then, to ensure his good looks are well hidden, Harrison must wear a red, rubber ball over his nose, keep his eyebrows shaved, and cover any straight teeth with black caps. The main purpose of the handicaps is to ensure that no one has an advantage over another person. Although the handicaps are meant to ensure total equality, they serve instead as tools of universal oppression.