The Virtue of Virtuosity
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut is about a fictional time in the future where everyone is forced to wear handicapping devices to ensure that everyone is equal. As the story begins, George and Hazel Bergeron are sitting on the couch watching television. George is intellectually superior so every few seconds a raucous noise is played in his ear to keep him from being able to hold a consistent thought, which happens continuously throughout the story. This system of “handicappers” is overseen by a rather unsympathetic woman named Diana Moon Glampers. As George and Hazel are watching a ballet on the T.V., the show is interrupted by a bulletin warning viewers that Harrison Bergeron, George and Hazel's son, has just escaped from jail. Harrison is described as very dangerous, as well as very intelligent and strong, and “under-handicapped” despite the fact that he is fitted with a wide variety of contraptions meant to diminish his ability. This bulletin is interrupted by the appearance of Harrison himself who rushes onstage and removes his “handicappers,” while exclaiming his superiority. He challenges a ballerina to remove hers as well and, after convincing the band to play to the best of their ability, they launch into a superb display of dancing, leaping higher and higher until they touch the ceiling and kiss. At this point the “Handicapper General,” Diana Moon Glampers, rushes in with a shotgun and shoots them both dead. The story ends as George returns from the kitchen with a beer and finds Hazel crying, though neither can remember any of the events that had just unfolded. Vonnegut shows that efforts to force equality have tragic consequences.
Harrison Bergeron, the protagonist, is only fourteen years old but is described as possessing superlative ability. Vonnegut uses direct characterization when he describes him as “seven feet tall,” “a genius and an athlete” (Vonnegut 10), and “a man that would have awed Thor, the god of...
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