Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
"Harrison Bergeron" is a short story written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1961. In Harrison Bergeron, Kurt Vonnegut writes of a future world in which anyone that has better than average intelligence, physical beauty, or athletic ability is handicapped to create an artificial equality. This satisfies the populace and their Crab Mentality—best described as "If I can't have it then neither should you."
Kurt Vonnegut begins Harrison Bergeron this way: The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal in every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was quicker or stronger than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Tall Poppy Syndrome
In order to achieve social equality—long the goal of progressive idealists—people who are above average looking must wear masks; the more beautiful they are, the more hideous the mask. People who can run faster, jump higher, have quicker reflexes, or have stronger muscles are encumbered by weights—different weights for different people adjusted to make them all equal in physical capabilities. People who are more intelligent than others must wear headphones that generate distracting noises to prevent them from keeping their thoughts together.
And so Tall Poppy Syndrome is eliminated and society finally has equality. This desire for social equality is explained succinctly by Jante Law, the urge felt by many to punish achievement and success; to want a world in which no individual stands out above others. A world made by man; thought to be superior to that made by God.
Harrison Bergeron is the name of the star of this story by Kurt Vonnegut. Harrison Bergeron is a genius, who is not only incredibly handsome, but enormously strong, and he stands seven foot tall. Thus, Harrison Bergeron must wear all of the various handicaps—more than anyone else—including 300 pounds of weights strapped to his body.
This story conveys the truth about social equality: It can only be achieved by bringing down the best and brightest among us; there is no way to make us all beautiful, super-smart, great athletes. The only way to equalize outcomes in a society is to punish those with remarkable gifts.
I won't reveal more of the story. It is a very short read. The Kurt Vonnegut story Harrison Bergeron was made into a television play in 1972 entitled Between Time and Timbuktu. It was adapted and made into an eponymous TV movie in 1995. The 2009 short film 2081 is based on Harrison Bergeron.
Kurt Vonnegut is best known for his tremendous novel Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969, for which he created the artwork as well. The title comes from the slaughterhouse meat locker (# 5) in which he survived the fire-bombing of Dresden while a POW in World War Two. Kurt Vonnegut had been captured in the Battle of the Bulge by the Germans, ironic since he was of German descent.
After the war, Kurt Vonnegut married his childhood sweetheart. They divorced in 1979. Kurt Vonnegut worked as a reporter in Chicago; in Public Relations for General Electric in New York; and then managed the first Saab dealership in America at Cape Cod, before being hired to teach writing at the University of Iowa. His first short story was published in 1950; his first novel debuted in 1952. In 1999, an asteroid was named after him.
Kurt Vonnegut also found time to rear seven children, four of whom were adopted, three of which were orphaned when his sister and her husband tragically died young one week apart in 1958. Kurt Vonnegut died at age 85 in 2007 from brain injuries suffered in a fall. Besides his children, he left behind his widow, the author and photographer Jill Krementz, whom he married in 1979.
Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922 in Indianapolis. His father and grandfather were well known architects. When Kurt Vonnegut was but 22, his mother committed suicide. Harrison Bergeron is my favorite short story.
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