Friday, November 06, 2009

Harrison Bergeron - social equality

.... social equality has been achieved by handicapping the more intelligent, athletic or beautiful members of society. For example, strength is handicapped by the requirement to carry weight, beauty by the requirement to wear a mask, etc. This is due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the United States Constitution. 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, 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, a rubber ball on his nose, black caps on his teeth, and shaven eyebrows. 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 his father's handicapping due to his superior intelligence, and his mother's less than average intelligence, they 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.

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