Study Guide

Harrison Bergeron Weights

By Kurt Vonnegut


In "Harrison Bergeron," only the weak survive—because people who are labeled "strong" end up having to carry bags filled with lead weights around their necks. And Harrison Bergeron must be a superhero, because he has to wear 300 pounds. But …

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We have to wonder if these weights might have an effect the government didn't intend. After all, lugging weights around is exactly the recipe for getting stronger. And when Harrison takes off his weights, he literally flies up into the sky.

Have you ever tried this? Stand in a doorway and push the backs of your hands against the frame. Hard. Count to 30 or so. Then, step out of the doorway. It should feel like your arms are rising all by themselves—that they're just flying up in the air.

That's what we think is going on here—but metaphorically. Harrison has been struggling against the weights so long that, without that resistance, he just soars up.

See, the weights are a symbol of oppression. The people are literally being weighed down into submission. George Bergeron has no wish to fly. He just lets his weights pull him down, down, down, into the creases of his living room sofa cushion. But if he would just pull them off, he'd soar too.

Once again, we're confronted with seemingly conflicting themes from Vonnegut. Could the weights be representative of too much government control weighing us down? Or do they represent the fact that if you want this country to succeed, you need to pry yourself from the couch and start pulling your own weight? Vonnegut saw American as a team that needed to pull together for everyone's benefit.

Hm, that actually sounds a little socialist to us.

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