What does the title mean in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fictional characters' names are often significant. As the title of Kurt Vonnegut's short story is "Harrison Bergeron," this name may be noteworthy. 

The name Bergeron has a derivation from the Old German word berg, meaning hill or mountain, or it may be derived from the old French which means shepherd. (Genealogy archives)

Both of these meanings for the surname Bergeron carry significance for the very tall and strong Harrison Bergeron of Kurt Vonnegut's story, a brilliant young man who breaks out of prison. In a culture that values mediocrity, Harrison rebels and goes to the television station where, in his egoism, he wants to take over. He shouts, "I am the Emperor!" Then, removing all his handicaps and in great self-promotion, Harrison attempts to monopolize the cameras of the broadcast, leading the performers that are in the studio to rebellion. He chooses his "Empress" and they soar into the air in "an explosion of joy and grace!" So athletic is Harrison that he and the empress "leaped like deer on the moon." Harrison has been the leader and he has demonstrated his superiority. Indeed, there has been much significance in his name. In short, Harrison Bergeron is both a shepherd (a leader) and a mountain (a strong, tall figure).

pirateteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kurt Vonnegut names his short story "Harrison Bergeron" after the story's fourteen year old protagonist, Harrison Bergeron. At the beginning of the story Harrison is arrested by the Handicapper General for "suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government."  His only crime? Being too smart.  In this futuristic society, instead of embracing citizens' differences, the government seeks to equalize everyone to make them the same. In the end, Harrison is killed by the Handicapper General- ending his rise to power and preventing the nation from resorting to its old ways of social and individual competition (according to Harrison's own father).

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Harrison Bergeron

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