Harrison Bergeron

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"Harrison Bergeron"
Author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Dystopia, Science fiction, Political Fiction, short story
Published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1st release)
Publication type Periodical
Media type Print (Magazine)
Publication date 1961

"Harrison Bergeron" is a dystopian science fiction short story written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and first published in October, 1961. Throughout the story Vonnegut uses satire, and the story itself could be classified as a satire. Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the story was re-published in the author's collection, Welcome to the Monkey House in 1968.


[edit] Plot summary

In the story, societal equality has been achieved by handicapping the more intelligent, athletic or beautiful members of society down to the level of the lowest common endowment. This process is central to the society, designed so that no one will feel inferior to anyone else. Handicapping is overseen by the United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers.

Harrison Bergeron, the protagonist of the story, has exceptional intelligence, height, strength and beauty and thus has to bear enormous handicaps. These include headphones that play distracting noises, three hundred pounds of weight strapped to his body, forty pounds of birdshot around his neck, eyeglasses designed to give him headaches, and a rubber ball on his nose, black caps on his teeth, and shaven eyebrows to hide his beauty. Despite these societal handicaps, he is able to invade a TV station, declare himself emperor, strip himself of his handicaps, then dance with a ballerina whose handicaps he has also discarded. Both are shot dead by the brutal and relentless Handicapper General. The story is framed by an additional perspective from Bergeron's parents, who are watching the incident on TV, but because of their handicaps and less than average intelligence, cannot concentrate enough to appreciate what occurs nor remember it.

A similar (though less developed) version of this idea appeared in Vonnegut's earlier novel, The Sirens of Titan.

[edit] TV film

In the 1995 made for television movie, after the handicapping devices are discovered to be ineffective against Bergeron, he is recruited to become a member of the secret unhandicapped elite who keep society running. Eventually disgusted by their duplicity, Bergeron commandeers a TV station in order to broadcast censored materials to the masses. Bergeron is eventually stopped by the government, and later forced to apologize, claiming that the incident was an act. During this on-air apology, Bergeron breaks from his script and commits suicide after explaining that it was not an act. The film shows Harrison's son as he watches old clips of his father from TV. The mother of Harrison's child, a now-lobotomized former member of the elite society, hears Harrison's voice as her son watches the television, and clearly recalls something of Bergeron.

[edit] Adaptations and references

  • One segment of the 1972 teleplay Between Time and Timbuktu was based on the story, and it was later adapted into a TV movie, Harrison Bergeron (1995) with Sean Astin in the title role.
  • In 2005 the story was quoted by attorneys in a brief before the Kansas Supreme Court. Vonnegut was quoted as saying that while he didn't mind the story being used in the suit, he disagreed with the lawyers' interpretation of it.[1]
  • "Handicapper General" has entered colloquial use as a pejorative term used to describe a person or institution that seeks to achieve equality of outcome by leveling down rather than leveling up, e.g., a school system that cancels advanced classes out of a fear of elitism.
  • The hardcore band Snapcase referenced the story in the song "Harrison Bergeron" on their 1997 album Progression Through Unlearning.
  • In season 1 of Frisky Dingo, the Xtacles, when asked about Flowers for Algernon, confuses it with Harrison Bergeron, Tom Bergeron, and finally Agamemnon.
  • The upcoming short film 2081 is based on the story.
  • The plot of the manga "Personant" by Naoshi Komi has a very strong resemblance to the plot of Harrison Bergeron, except that it ends on a more positive note.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • John Tierney, "When Every Child Is Good Enough," The New York Times, November 21, 2004.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ Scott Rothschild (May 5, 2005). "Vonnegut: Lawyers could use literary lesson". LJWorld.com. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/may/05/vonnegut_lawyers_could. Retrieved on 2007-06-12. 

[edit] External links

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