What social tendencies is Vonnegut warning against in "Harrison Bergeron"? Analyze the flaws of the society he depicts and discuss what he seems to be recommending. Use details and examples from the story to support your answer.
In "Harrison Bergeron," Kurt Vonnegut is warning against is the social tendency to reduce the individual in order to create "equality."
Throughout the story, Vonnegut points out the exceptional people in this world—Harrison, George, the ballerina who reads the news—and discusses the weight of their handicaps. For example, George's "intelligence was way above normal" and he had to wear "a little mental handicap in his ear" and had to carry "forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag" on his back. According to the narrator, the ballerina who read the news about Harrison on television "must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous" and she also possessed athletic excellence because "her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred-pound men." Harrison's immense handicaps also show his immense potential. He wore a "tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses" and carried three-hundred pounds in his canvas bag and had to wear "a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random."
With the exception of Harrison and the ballerina he dances with at the end of the story, individuals seem to accept these reductions of themselves in order to not make others feel bad. George explains this idea succinctly to his wife who suggestS he remove his handicaps for a time:
"If I tried to get away with it ... then other people'd get away with it—and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else."
Harrison, however, gives the reader hope for the individual. When he rips off his literal and metaphorical handicaps "like celery" and "wet tissue paper," he leaps so high he disobeys "the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well." Here, Vonnegut suggests that when individuals rip off the social handicaps placed on them by themselves or by society, they can literally soar.
Unfortunately, Vonnegut also suggests consequences for ripping off these social handicaps: death. When Handicapper General Diana Moon Glampers walks into the room, she does not hesitate and fires two shotgun blasts at Harrison and the ballerina who "were dead before they hit the floor." If applied as a warning, the death can again be taken metaphorically as death of reputation, death of job, etc.
Overall, "Harrison Bergeron" is one of Vonnegut's most anthologized stories because its primary theme of equality through reduction is something modern America can recognize.