What is the role of authority in the story "Harrison Bergeron"?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Authority is oppressive and all-encompassing in Vonnegut's short story.  Any type of familial duty, loyalty, or even parental guidance has been obliterated by the totalitarian regime.  At the beginning of the story, the narrator mentions that Harrison is taken away from his home by the "H-G men," and while his parents find his imprisonment "tragic," they can do nothing about it.

Not only does the authority control the whereabouts of all its citizens, but it also suppresses or redirects their thinking.  George who possesses above-average intelligence has a tiny transmittor from the government which "zaps" him with sounds and shocks as soon as his thinking is out of line with government regulations.

The Handicapper General's destruction of Harrison at the story's end demonstrates just how "ultimate" the government's power is in the year 2081.  While Harrison was able to escape, remove his handicaps, and preach his message for a brief moment, it was just that--short-lived.  Since the authorities cannot keep him imprisoned, they kill him and regain control.  Harrison's own parents, George and Hazel represent the reaction of the rest of the citizens--they forget what happened almost immediately or have the memory destroyed in their minds.

Vonnegut's story is reminiscent of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, where authorities do not simply use propaganda to control their subjects but where they literally control the thoughts and physical actions of all citizens.