What do Harrison Bergeron's rebellion reveal about his character and values?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Harrison Bergeron is an extremely talented, athletic fourteen-year-old boy who was imprisoned for attempting to overthrow the government. In the short story, Harrison escapes from prison, takes over a news station, and declares that he is the emperor of the United States. After throwing off his handicaps in dramatic fashion, he floats into mid-air with one of the beautiful ballerinas and kisses her before he is shot dead by Diana Moon Glampers. Harrison's rebellion reveals that he is an independent thinker who is willing to take extreme risks to alter the trajectory of his life. Harrison is also depicted as a fearless leader who is passionate about usurping power and ruling the United States as its emperor. He evidently values independence and disagrees with the government's policy, which requires each individual to be completely equal in all facets of life. Harrison's actions also depict his dictatorial nature and authoritative personality. His actions and mindset also validate the government's stance on equality. Overall, Harrison Bergeron is depicted as a determined, authoritative individual who wishes to use his talents and abilities to rule the United States after escaping from prison.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At first Harrison Bergeron was jailed for presumably plotting to overthrow the government. He was accused and deemed a threat because of his above average intellect and physique. Harrison was forced to bear handicaps as dictated by the law, which sought to effectively ensure and promote equality among the members of the society.

Harrison was conceited- He did not marshal the people towards addressing the oppression but instead publicly declared himself emperor. His actions confirmed the need for the handicaps that the government had introduced.

Harrison was a non conformist- He rejected every attempt by the government to control him, up until his death.

He was courageous- He did not try to escape when the Handicapper General arrived to contain the situation during his public display of rebellion. He was willing to die for what he believed in.

Harrison was dictatorial- He intimidated the musicians in the television show to play their best. He did not attempt to negotiate with the musicians and instead displayed some level of corruption when he enticed them with titles if they played well.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Harrison's rebellion reveal about his character and his values?

The reader knows he is exceptionally strong, intelligent, and good-looking based on his handicaps, at only fourteen years old.

In his television takeover, Harrison is almost a caricature. He removes all of the fortified handicaps as easily as one changes clothes. He also boldly declares himself the emperor and implores “the first woman who dares to rise to her feet [to] claim her mate and her throne.” This quote is honestly ridiculous, even within the context of the story. Based on Harrison’s age, one might suggest that he is performing for the cameras in an over-the-top, nearly comical manner. The studio workers and performers’ fear, however, suggests they believe Harrison is a threatening presence.

As far as his values, one could argue that Harrison is certainly willing to risk his life to stand up for what he believes is right. He is actively protesting the handicapping system in the most public way he can. This bold choice reflects his emotional strength as well. Living in a totalitarian state, Harrison had to have known that his actions would have dire consequences. For Harrison, the reward of exposing the government is worth his life.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Harrison's rebellion reveal about his character and his values?

In Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron, the titular character rejects the handicaps placed on him by his society's oppressive government, declares himself Emperor, and exhibits his superhuman physical skill on live television. Harrison's actions primarily show his bravery; he very publicly denies the authority of a totalitarian government, breaking several laws by removing each of his handicaps as well as those limiting the ballerina and musicians. Additionally, Harrison is shown to be very confident and strong-willed when he declares himself Emperor, claiming that he is "a greater ruler than any man who ever lived," and begins issuing orders to those in the room with him. Harrison's intelligence and capability are established by the extent of the limitations on his vision and hearing, but further confirmed by his ability to resist even the strongest handicaps. Despite having his abilities restricted on every level, Harrison still manages to concoct a plan of resistance, something no one else in the story manages to do on their own.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Harrison's rebellion reveal his characteristics and values?

Harrison is seven feet tall, extremely athletic, and extremely intelligent. As such, the government and the Handicapper-General have attempted to use the most debilitating handicaps they can think of. In such an oppressive society, it would make sense to encourage and root for Harrison (or anyone) in his rebellion. However, he doesn't use his gifted mind and body to liberate society. He doesn't free others and try to take over the government or revolutionize it. Rather, he goes to a television studio and proclaims himself emperor. "Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!" Instead of using his position to liberate others, he becomes more like a (temporary) dictator. The dancing scene is romantic but it lacks substance. It lacks any real attempt at rescuing this oppressed society. 

We can applaud Harrison's spirit to revolt. And he does free one ballerina and some musicians. But he only does so in order to add to the spectacle of his own ego. The manner of his rebellion shows him to be selfish, only interested in showcasing his power. He, therefore, becomes no better than the government which uses its power to oppress the masses. Once he realizes his great power, it corrupts him. This underscores one of the themes of the story which is that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on