Harrison Bergeron Summary
In "Harrison Bergeron," a future authoritarian government has decreed that in order to ensure social equality, people with exceptional traits or abilities, such as beauty or intelligence, must be handicapped.
- Harrison Bergeron is brilliant, handsome, and seven-feet-tall. The government arrests him when he is fourteen on suspicion of conspiratorial activity.
- The Handicapper General rules over the United States. People have learned not to openly question her for fear of repercussions.
- Harrison escapes from his imprisonment and breaks into a TV studio that's hosting a dance competition. He tears off his handicaps and briefly dances with a ballerina before the Handicapper General kills them both.
Last Updated on December 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 887
“Harrison Bergeron” takes place in the year 2081, which is depicted as a time when everyone in the United States is finally equal. Society has engineered equality in the form of physical handicaps; these include weights that are worn to discourage physical advantages and earbuds that play jarring sounds, halting the thoughts of more intelligent citizens. These regulations have been added to the Constitution and are enforced by the United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers, who ensures no one is better than anyone else by removing any “unfair advantage.”
The story opens with the main characters, George and Hazel Bergeron, who are in their living room watching television. The narrator mentions their “abnormal” son, Harrison, who was taken away from them at fourteen for supposedly plotting to overthrow the government. However, George and Hazel can’t seem to focus on that tragic event, because Hazel has a merely average intelligence level, and George is given a handicap to reduce his intellectual capacity in the form of an ear radio that plays a harsh sound every twenty seconds to disrupt his thoughts.
As they watch a group of ballerinas dance on television, George acknowledges their artificial handicaps: sash weights and bags of birdshot that burden their movements and masks that cover their beauty. As George thinks about how the ballerinas shouldn’t be given handicaps, a sound rages in his ear, and the thought is lost.
Hazel notices George flinching and begins to talk about how she would make a great Handicapper General because she knows what normal really is—she doesn’t need to wear any weight or ear radios. The conversation makes George think about Harrison, who is currently in jail, but just as the thought appears in his mind, he hears a twenty-one-gun salute that again scatters his thoughts. Two of the ballerinas also appear to receive jarring transmissions, and they grab their heads and throw themselves to the floor.
Hazel notices how tired George looks and tells him to sit on the sofa so that he can rest the weight strapped to his neck. She claims she doesn’t mind if he’s “not equal to [her] for a while,” but George refuses, saying he’s used to the weight. She then suggests they could make a hole in the bag of birdshot and remove some of the weight, but George reminds her that for every ball removed, he would face two years in jail and a two-thousand-dollar fine. George says if he starts cheating the system, everyone will, and they’d all return to a world of competition. This idea of competition upsets Hazel, but they are interrupted when a buzzer goes off in George’s ear. The conversation ends as the two forget what they are talking about.
The announcer on television interrupts the dancers with a breaking news story but can’t seem to read the announcement due to a speech impediment. He hands his paper to one of the dancers, who must apologize for her beautiful voice and forcefully speaks in a “squawk” so as not to offend anyone. She reads that Harrison Bergeron has escaped from jail. He is described as seven feet tall and dangerous due to his being “a genius and an athlete.” Even though the Handicappers gave him headphones to stop his thoughts, glasses to make him half blind, and weight that would crush an average human, Harrison has overcome these impediments. They even shaved off his eyebrows and capped his teeth to reduce his attractiveness. None of the handicaps stopped Harrison, and he is now on the loose.
All of a sudden, the sound of a crash is heard on the television. George hears the sound and knows it’s his son. Moments later, Harrison appears, and the television crew sinks to their knees as he walks in and takes center stage, declaring that he is “the Emperor” and that everyone must obey. Harrison rips off all his handicaps and throws them to the ground. He claims he needs an “Empress” and tells the women in the room to rise if they feel worthy. After a moment of silence, one ballerina stands. Harrison rips off her handicaps and reveals that she is “blindingly beautiful.” He yells at the musicians in the room to play their best music, nothing average. Once the sound is sufficiently delightful, Harrison and the ballerina dance without constraint. They twirl, spin, and kiss as they leap high into the air, where they remain suspended in defiance of gravity.
Before the pair can land, two shots ring out from a double-barreled shotgun, striking both of them. It’s Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, ensuring that order is restored. She then aims the gun at the musicians and tells them to put on their handicaps, or they’re next.
During this frantic episode, the Bergerons television short-circuits. Hazel turns to George, but he is walking back from the kitchen with a beer. He sees the television and notices Hazel has been crying, but she can’t remember why. George tells her to “forget sad things” shortly before his ear radio plays the sound of a riveting gun. Hazel says the sound must have been “a doozy,” and George replies, “You could say that again.” Hazel, taking him literally, repeats her remark verbatim.
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