At a Glance
- Harrison Bergeron: a brilliant, handsome fourteen-year old who has been handicapped because of his intelligence and good looks.
- George Bergeron: Harrison's father, a fiercely intelligent man who refuses to remove his handicaps because he fears that society will return to the "dark ages" of competition.
- Hazel Bergeron: Harrison's mother, a "normal" person with no handicaps, which in this society means she is unintelligent and unattractive.
- Diana Moon Glampers: the Handicapper General, a looming figure whose H-G men enforce her Draconian laws. The Handicapper General makes a brief appearance at the end of the story when she shoots Harrison dead.
Harrison's father, George Bergeron, bears multiple government-imposed handicaps which repress his ‘‘way above-normal’’ intelligence. He refuses to remove any of them, however, for he believes that any attempt to change the present situation will inevitably cause civilization to regress back into the ‘‘dark ages,’’ when there was competition. George and Hazel, his wife, witness Harrison's rebellious act on television, but afterwards cannot remember why they are sad. George wears birdshot weights and a mental handicap radio in his ear that receives a "sharp noise'' transmission designed "to keep people ... from taking unfair advantage of their brains.''
Harrison's mother, Hazel Bergeron, does not need to wear any handicaps—mental or physical—as she possesses "normal" intelligence, appearance, and strength. In this story, however, ‘‘normal’’ entails that one is incompetent, or unable to fathom anything beyond that which is superficial. Hazel's dialogue with her husband, George, recalls the comedic team of George Burns and Gracie Allen.
Diana Moon Glampers
Although Diana Moon Glampers, the United States Handicapper General, appears briefly toward the end of the story in order to quell Harrison's rebellion by killing him, her presence pervades the story. As Handicapper General, she ruthlessly maintains law and order without due process. One of the few descriptions of her implies that Glampers herself is not "above normal.''
Although he is only fourteen-years-old, the title character, Harrison Bergeron, stands seven feet tall and possesses an intelligence so immense that, at the beginning of the story, the Handicapper General has Harrison arrested "on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government.’’ Harrison escapes, however, and goes to the television station to publicly declare himself emperor. He selects a ballerina as his empress, and the two begin to dance.'' [N]eutralizing gravity with love and pure will,’’ the couple leap high enough to kiss the ceiling and remain suspended in mid air. At that moment, Diana Moon Glampers, the United States Handicapper General, blasts the couple out of the air with a "double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun,'' ending Harrison's life and his self-declared reign.
Harrison's actions suggest an ironic theme: corruptive power. Upon his escape, Harrison repeats government errors by establishing himself as the sole, non-elected, source of governmental authority. Had his rebellion succeeded, he would have forced people to break the law by making them remove their government-imposed handicaps. That act, according to Harrison's father, George, would send society back to the "dark ages'' of social and individual competition.
Themes and Characters
This is a fairly typical story from the early part of Vonnegut's writing career. What critic Conrad Festa says of Vonnegut's writing is particularly true for "Harrison Bergeron": "The early satire is primarily concerned with the evils of technology and the follies of the American way of life."
"The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal," is how the story begins, as told from a limited omniscient, impersonal point of view, more like a camera than a human narrator.
They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than...
(The entire section is 1,734 words.)