Who is Harrison Bergeron in Kurt Vonnegut's story, "Harrison Bergeron"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harrison Bergeron is the main character in Kurt Vonnegut's story of the same name. He is fourteen years old, tall, extremely athletic, handsome, and intelligent; he is an Übermensch except that this superiority is against the law.

The culture in which Harrison lives values mediocrity, rather than superiority:

The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal....They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anyone else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. 

Amendments to the Constitution--211, 212, and 213--have made this equality law, along with the vigilance of the United States Handicapper General. In order to enforce this equality, everyone must be "average." Since Harrison's mother is average, she wears no handicaps. But, her husband George, who is quite intelligent, must wear a radio transmitter that zaps higher level thoughts from his mind. He also must wear handicaps--padlocked bags of bird shot around his neck. 

As George and Hazel watch television, the program is interrupted by a news bulletin announcing that Harrison has escaped from jail, where he has been incarcerated for suspicion of being an insurrectionist. Harrison "look[s] like a walking junk-yard" because he must carry three hundred pounds as his handicap. He also has to wear a red rubber ball on his nose, his eyebrows are shaved, and his perfect white teeth are covered with black caps that make them appear "at snaggle-tooth random."

Harrison breaks into a television station, where a show is broadcast; in fact, it is the same program his parents are watching. Harrison quickly announces that he is the Emperor, and he takes one of the beautiful ballerinas of the show (her beauty is revealed when he removes her handicaps) as his Empress. Having removed his handicaps, Harrison puts his large hands on the dancer's waist and they leap into the air with joy and perfect grace. Shortly after this, the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, enters and fires a ten-gauge shotgun. In an instant, Harrison and his Empress are dead. Now, beauty and grace and individualism are dead in the "equalized" world of Harrison Bergeron. 

When their television blacks out, Hazel and George cannot recall what program they have been watching. But, Hazel remembers that it was something sad; however, she cannot think of what it was.


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Harrison Bergeron

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