Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
5/12/16. Book. "Welcome to the Monkey House"
In an effort to keep every person equal in all ways, no one can excel at anything in this version of the world. If they're beautiful, they must wear grotesque masks. If they're too intelligent, they must wear something in their ears that emits all sorts of noises to distract them. So what happens when a tall, attractive genius decides to question this system?
Harrison Bergeron was taken from his parents at 14. He was too attractive, too intelligent, and seven feet tall. Since that time, he's been in prison as a danger to society. The actual story concentrates on Harrison's parents, George and Hazel. Hazel is of "normal intelligence" (read: pretty simple-minded) so she doesn't have any mental handicaps put upon her. Her husband is another question. Because of his intelligence, he has to wear ear buds in his ears that produce random sounds every 20 seconds, like a 21-gun salute or the sound of a baseball bat hitting a milk carton to distract him and prevent him from exploring any train of thought too extensively. He also has to wear a canvas bag containing 47 pounds of birdshot around his neck. He and his wife are watching a ballet on the television, but it is a sad yet comical affair with Handicapper General Diana Moon Glampers' rules in place. The better the dancer, the more handicaps they are wearing. The dancers are fumbling around on stage, wearing varying amounts of weighted bags and hideous masks.
A news bulletin interrupts the performance and a man tries to read it but cannot due to his speech impediment. One of the dancers reads it, but she quickly realizes that her voice sounds too good for society and she alters it to sound worse. The bulletin is about Harrison's escape from prison. At first, they show pictures of him. Later, he shows up on the screen--the most handicapped man ever but still considered "under-handicapped." He looks like "a walking junkyard," with 300 pounds of weights on him, and he has black covers on his teeth, has to wear a red rubber nose and has shaved-off eyebrows.
In the studio, he rips off all of his handicaps and declares himself Emperor. He rips the handicaps off one of the dancers and declares her his Empress. He encourages some of the other dancers to take theirs off and he will give them titles. The group dances around with an unknown freedom until Handicapper General Diana Moon Glampers comes in with a double-barreled shotgun and kills Harrison and his empress.
In the house, George has gone to the kitchen and he misses all this. When he returns, Hazel is crying but she doesn't remember why--probably something sad on television. She agrees and they talk about how they must always try to forget sad things.
Thoughts or Additional Info:
This was made into a movie in 1995 with Sean Astin as Harrison Bergeron.
"The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal."
Memorable Lines or Passages:
equality, handicap, handicaps, weighted bags, dystopia, satire, social commentary, futuristic, classic, ballet
I'm just a short story lover and voracious reader who wants to keep track of the shorts I read and help others remember the ones they've forgotten.