In the story "Harrison Bergeron," through the passage of the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments of the Constitution and "the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General," an equality of intellectual and physical abilities has been established in America: "It is the year 2081 and everyone is finally equal."
These amendments have made the equality of sameness mandatory by forcing anyone who has too much athletic ability, intelligence, beauty, or talent to wear handicaps in order to become equal to those who possess what is considered the standard. In the society of 2081 in which Harrison Bergeron and his family live, a compulsory sameness is enforced. As requirements of this standard of equality, the people must accept oppressive measures or risk imprisonment. Harrison is imprisoned because he has plotted to overthrow the government. In a police photograph, Harrison is shown wearing three hundred pounds of handicaps.
His father, George Bergeron, is handicapped physically with forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a bag that hangs from his neck, and he wears a mental handicap that issues sounds that drown out his higher-level thoughts. His wife, Hazel Bergeron, needs no handicaps because she has been judged to be "perfectly average." These handicaps make all citizens equal to everyone else in their society.
As Hazel and George watch television, they notice that the ballerina wears a hideous mask to cover her beauty, along with several handicap bags to prevent her from being stronger or more graceful than any of the other dancers. She must also apologize for her voice, which is "a very unfair voice for a woman to use."
In this futuristic society, the concept of equality is considered to be sameness; everyone must be on the same level. Sameness supposedly ensures that all citizens are on what is metaphorically called a fair playing field. No one can be smarter than anyone else, no one can be stronger, no one can be better-looking, and so on. This sameness is strictly enforced, and those who do not comply are incarcerated or even shot and killed by the Handicapper General.
[In "Harrison Bergeron"] Vonnegut pokes fun at the absurd and extreme steps taken to ensure equality in the futuristic society, with cumbersome low-technology handicaps forced on above-average citizens upon pain of severe punishment. (eNotes)
The only way to defend the idea of placing everyone upon an even playing field and offering everyone opportunities is through programs that assist those who may be disadvantaged in some way. This is what is done in the contemporary United States with such programs as Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity programs, Outreach and Assistance programs, Head Start programs, voucher programs, HOPE schools, and other programs that work to assist people. These programs allow people to succeed and rise in their society. Also, their abilities and self-esteem are improved rather than destroyed as in the country of 2081, in which fortunate or talented people are forced to be made ugly, clumsy, dull, or apologetic for their talents.