What is the role of the handicapper general in the story "Harrison Bergeron"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," the Handicapper General is a woman whose name is Diana Moon Glampers.  Her role is to enforce the Constitutional amendments that provide for the equalization of all American citizens and any laws or regulations created pursuant to those provisions. In the story, equality is meant not to level the playing field so that all have equal opportunity and treatment, but to handicap people so that there is a lowest common denominator amongst all the people, with talent, beauty, creativity, and intelligence repressed in those who might rise or excel.  So, for example, ballerinas are weighted down, literally unable to rise, and people of intelligence, such as George, are forced to wear radio transmitters that interfere with their thought processes.  Glampers has agents everywhere to assess what kinds of handicaps people need to keep them down and to enforce the use of these handicaps.  In the penultimate scene in the story, Glampers herself makes a personal appearance when George and Hazel's son, Harrison, an "underhandicapped" person who has escaped from jail, appears on the set of a show in which weighted-down ballerinas are dancing.  He seeks to overthrow this government of "equality," and after he selects a beautiful ballerina to dance with him, he and she are gunned down by the Handicapper General.  Vonnegut's story is meant, I think, to be a cautionary tale about not confusing equal opportunity and treatment with a blindly literal application of the concept of equality that hobbles individuals who have a great deal to contribute to society. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial