Are the characters in "Harrison Bergeron" truly equal?

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They're only equal in the sense that they're all equally repressed by a cruel, manipulative regime that doesn't understand the value and importance of diversity. Human beings, of their very nature, are unequal in their respective talents, abilities and intellectual capacities. Yet in the dystopian society of "Harrison Bergeron," the government sees differences between humans as a bad thing, artificially constructed and imposed by the strong upon the weak. If the differences between us are environmental, not innate, then that means that the environment must be changed.

Among other things, this means embarking upon a massive project of social engineering in which handicaps are imposed on those individuals, like Harrison himself, whose natural endowments have been esteemed by society to the extent that these individuals are placed on a pedestal that puts them ahead of others less gifted. In other words, if society can artificially construct, say, sporting prowess as something worthy of veneration, so it can also opt to change that by equally artificial means—that is, handicaps.

And yet the government hasn't really abolished inequality at all; it's simply changed, in a rather crude and brutal fashion, how we should feel towards any degree of human excellence, be it physical, spiritual, or intellectual. Because our differences are innate, the repressive use of handicaps cannot ultimately change them. The government seems to acknowledge this—privately, at any rate—which is why it tries to manipulate and control the outward cultural and social manifestations of our human diversity.

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The citizens in the short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” are not equal because the society in which they live has a warped view of what equality is.  This dystopian society thinks equality is achieved by making everyone the same. Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, makes sure everyone is “equal” by giving them disabilities that oppress their natural talents and abilities.  Harrison, who is young, tall, and strong, is handicapped by wearing metal around his neck and thick “coke bottle” glasses so he cannot see well.  Because of his intelligence, George, Harrison’s father, is handicapped with earphones that blast loud noises in his ears so he can’t think clearly.

The society is this story doesn’t understand that equality means that you give everyone the same rights while celebrating their individuality and differences.  If everyone is given the same rights like freedom of speech or freedom of religion as outlined in the Bill of Rights and Constitution, then, in theory, everyone is equal.  Therefore, no one in Harrison Bergeron’s society will ever be equal until they change their perception of what equality truly is.

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In "Harrison Bergeron," were they successful in creating an equal society?

In my opinion, they were not successful in creating an equal society in Kurt Vonnegut's short story, "Harrison Bergeron." In an effort to create an equal society, they destroyed a functioning one. 

The opening paragraph lets the reader know the purpose of the society that's been created in the year 2081. 

The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law, they were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anyone else. Nobody was better looking than anyone else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of the agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Although the Handicapper General's office met the definition of "equal" by handicapping everyone so everyone was equal in physical and mental qualities, the very equality which they sought to achieve caused the functioning society to cease to exist. Equal is defined by Merriam-Webster as "A person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality." By using radio alarms to send out sharp signals, people with above-average intelligence weren't allowed to use their intelligence to its full capacity. Graceful dancers were burdened with weights to inhibit their abilities. Beautiful people had to wear masks so they wouldn't stand out.  

The problem is that no one is allowed to contribute their gifts to society, which is what is required in order to have a well-functioning society that meets the needs of its citizens. The Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, focused on handicapping those who have abilities that might make other, more average people, feel badly about themselves. This led to the entire unraveling of society, in which nothing is particularly excellent, inspiring, or meaningful. Hazel and George are examples of this unraveling. They watch television, but do not find enjoyment in it. They don't seem to contribute to the world around them in any way. George is constantly burdened by the radio signals interrupting his thoughts. He also wears a forty-seven-pound bag of birdshot around his neck as a burden meant to equalize him with everyone else.  

Hazel and George have a conversation about the handicapping where they decide if they didn't have it, society would go back to the "dark ages" with everyone competing with everyone else. They say they would both hate that, but then their thoughts are interrupted again. They can't have a normal conversation. The society may have equality in ability, but they have sacrificed inspiration, meaningful relationships, and the unique contributions of its members as a result. They are no longer even capable of processing emotions. 

Hazel and George's son, Harrison Bergeron, is seven feet tall and gorgeous. He is the strongest and most intelligent, and wears three hundred pounds of handicaps as a result. He decides to throw these away and express his unique abilities. He calls himself the Emperor and chooses an Empress. He and the ballerina dance extraordinarily. Diana Moon Glampers shoots them both, as Hazel and George watch the scene unfold on television. They both state that they are sad, but can't process why. The death of their own son doesn't even penetrate the handicapping and resultant dullness.

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In the story "Harrison Bergeron," what makes us think that all is not perfect in a perfectly equal society?

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The immediately obvious remaining problem in the United States in 2081 was that the weather was not as controlled as the lives of the people. "April, for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime."

Other problems stemmed in large part from the efforts to ensure that all persons were equal. Hazel, who is "perfectly average" and therefore doesn't need any handicapping devices to bring her mental capacity to the level of equality with everyone else, is curious and a little jealous that she is left out of experiencing the sensations George does. "I'd think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds," said Hazel a little envious.

Apparently some individuals attempt to reduce the load of their handicapping devices through various means. George is not willing to risk the penalty for being caught removing even one piece of birdshot from the bag around his neck. He respects the necessity of enforcing equality, regardless of how heavy it is.

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. You wouldn't like that, would you?

The largest imperfection portrayed in the story is embodied in  Harrison himself. As described in the news bulletin, he was a threat to society because it was not possible to reduce him to equality with everyone else. "He is a genius and an athlete, is underhandicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous." Anyone who was so different from the norm would have been considered very threatening to society as a whole. Even if Harrison was an extreme exception, there may have been others who were also underhandicapped, thereby disturbing the equality for which the perfectly equal society was striving.

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Is "Harrison Bergeron"'s society equal in all ways?

The society of "Harrison Bergeron" is one of forced equality.  Those who are superior to others physically are made to wear handicaps that reduce their abilities to the average level.  Likewise, the intelligent are handicapped by devices such as the mental handicap ear radio so they cannot take  "unfair advantage" of their brains. So, "normal" means below average and ignorant. Blind allegiance to the authoritarian government comes as a consequence of this dumbing down; people easily believe that obeying the laws is the right action to take in order to live safely.  Thus, compliance is a result of all the handicapping as any individual spirit is removed from people.  While the author Kurt Vonnegut does not describe what jobs people hold other than the broadcasters, the reader may assume that people are assigned roles as in similar science fiction narratives like "Brave New World."  Much like the Alphas in BNW, the Handicapper General agents are the only ones who can move upward in the society; all others are held back because of natural mediocrity or because of forced mediocrity by means of handicaps.

The media is a key element in maintaining this equality of mediocrity.  In 1961 Vonnegut perceived the power of television to control information and lower people's attention abilities.  His is a powerful story if one reflects on certain aspects of 21st century American society.

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