Study Guide

Harrison Bergeron Appearances

By Kurt Vonnegut


On the television screen were ballerinas. (5)

Kudos to Vonnegut for this simple, deceptive line. The first thing you think of is a graceful ballet. Maybe a lot of ivory satin, feathers, and tulle. It's not until a few lines later that you realize the ballerinas are also handicapped with masks, weights, and ear radios. The Nutcracker Suite this ain't.

"That was a real pretty dance, the dance they just did" (7)

We guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing a bunch of lumbering ballerinas stumble over themselves might be entertaining in a Bad Girls Club train wreck sort of way, but we would never call it "real pretty." Hazel doesn't have a choice to watch anything better, and she might never have seen anything better in her lifetime. Do we give her credit for making the best of a bad situation?

Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General. (16)

Since Hazel isn't wearing a mask, we can infer that the Handicapper General (and Hazel) must not be that pretty. Also, she forces women prettier than her to wear a mask. That's just a smidge petty and makes us wonder if men have to wear masks too, or if Diana Moon Glampers wants to keep all the man-candy to herself.

[The ballerina] must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest [...] for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred-pound men. (40)

You can tell who is the prettiest by how ugly the mask is, and how strong by the size of the weights. This is quite a reversal of standards. "That is the ugliest mask I've ever seen" and "My, what big weights you have" suddenly become glowing compliments.

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen—upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. (43)

We're not sure why they have such difficult getting the photo straight. Maybe the person in charge of police photography is blind, similar to the newscaster with a stutter. Or maybe Harrison is just so grotesque in appearance, so inhuman, they have no idea which way the photo is supposed to go at first. Or maybe there's a little government trickery at work.

[Harrison] was exactly seven feet tall. (43)

There has to be something in the water that makes a fourteen-year-old this tall. Or, again, maybe just a smidge of government trickery.

The rest of Harrison's appearance was Halloween and hardware. (44)

As if a seven-foot-tall fourteen-year-old with anger-management issues wasn't scary enough, now we've got a sort of Halloween costume going on. Another brief description by Vonnegut: one word that carries tons of meaning (just like Harrison carries tons of scrap metal).

Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. (45)

Smart: the government knows that people judge based on appearances, so they go out of their way to make Harrison look like a "junkyard." Way to play to people's worst impulses, government.

To offset [Harrison's] good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random. (46)

Harrison doesn't have to wear a mask; he gets dressed up like a grotesque clown. It's almost like the Handicapper General wants to make an example out of him and humiliate him to the public.

[Harrison and the ballerina] leaped like deer on the moon. (74)

This is one of the only similes in the entire story. Vonnegut breaks from his basic writing style for a moment to show the lyrical beauty in this moment of liberation. To the Handicapper General, this is a Very Bad Thing. (We can tell because she shoots them both on the spot.) Wonder what she'd do to Vonnegut?

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