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Harrison Bergeron

Harrison Bergeron

by Kurt Vonnegut

Harrison Bergeron Story Summary

  • We're transported to the year 2081, and man, we wish we'd stayed home.
  • There have been 213 amendments to the Constitution, and they're all to make people "equal."
  • In this case, "equal" means that anyone who's above average gets handicapped in some way.
  • For example, strong people might be crippled with weights; smart folk might be crippled by having horrible noises blasted in their ears.
  • Anyone who's ever tried to study with a dog barking or leaf blower doing its thing will know how effective this is.
  • (We have a feeling this isn't what people had in mind when they campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment.)
  • George and Hazel Bergeron are watching ballet on their TV.
  • Oppressive, totalitarian government kidnappings always get us in the mood for Swan Lake.
  • They're a little bummed, because the government took away their son Harrison when he was only fourteen years old.
  • Well, actually, they don't seem as bummed as you might expect. See, because he's of above-average intelligence, George has piercing sirens going off in his brain.
  • Thanks, government-installed mental-handicap radio!
  • Hazel talks to George about changes she would make if she were the Handicapper General of the United States.
  • Hm, how about wind chimes instead of hammers breaking glass? Might be more relaxing.
  • George doesn't think it's a good idea to start breaking the rules. He's content where he is: writhing on the couch, clutching his head in pain every time a loud noise gets blasted into his ears.
  • The ballet program is interrupted when one of the ballerinas has an urgent news announcement to make.
  • Harrison Bergeron has escaped!
  • They show a photo of Harrison and all his handicaps: heavy scrap metal to weigh him down, glasses to obscure his eyesight, and giant headphones to distract him mentally.
  • Wow, if he's that decked out, he must be one special guy.
  • Suddenly, Harrison himself rips off the door to the stage and storms on screen.
  • What should be a liberating moment is kind of scary, as he announces not that he wants to free everyone, but "I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!" (54).
  • He then claims a ballerina as his Empress (to be fair, she volunteered for the job).
  • The two of them dance, fly through the air, kiss the ceiling, and then kiss each other.
  • This kind-of-romantic, kind-of-scary, all-of-weird moment is cut short when Diana Moon Glampers, Handicapper General, shoots them dead with a shotgun.
  • Revolutions just aren't what they used to be.
  • Just then, the Bergerons' television blows out and goes dark.
  • George wanders back in—evidently, he had gone to get a beer during this whole kerfuffle.
  • Hazel cries, but pretty soon she's forgotten why. George tells her to "forget sad things" (89), which she does almost instantaneously.
  • Then the story ends with a cheesy rimshot: "I could tell that one was a doozy" (92), says Hazel. To which George responds, "You can say that again" (93).
  • So she does. Word for word. Always doing exactly what she's told.
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