Harrison Bergeron Questions and Answers
A Study Guide For Students
This question and answer guide is meant to help students understand "Harrison Bergeron". The questions and answers cover basic themes, ideas and concepts in the story.
Scroll down the page to view the questions or click on a specific question in the table of contents.
1. What does Vonnegut satirize?
Vonnegut satirizes people themselves. In Vonnegut's utopian society people are born different and then "made" equal in several aspects: intelligence, looks, strength... The situation is taken to an extreme by the means taken to ensure that people stay equal: people with high intelligence are required to wear a mental handicap radio in their ear, beauty is covered up by hideous masks, and special "police" ensure that everyone follows the rules. The extreme in the story is the fact that all this has become a reality, normal. There is humor in the whole situation. People are not equal. We are born different for a reason. Everyone is unique. By taking away our uniqueness and making everyone the same, we are creating monsters.
2. What is the sound George hears in his ear?
The sounds George hears in his ear are his mental handicap. Every twenty seconds or so the transmitter sends out a sharp noise to keep people from taking "unfair advantage" of their brain. Depending on the depth of George's thoughts, a sound goes off. The deeper the thought, the sharper and more piercing the sound. George also has a handicap covering his strength and height. He is required to wear a 47 pound birdshot canvas bag on his head at all times. Thus meaning that he is an intelligent man who is forced to cover up his talents by society. Society is trying to stop him from thinking.
3. What are "the dark ages"?
The dark ages according to the story are actually our era. As a natural human quality people compete over grades, looks, jobs etc. Competition can be a good thing, it makes you strive for your best results. However it must be taken in the right dose. If exaggerated it can become uncomfortable, obsessive, and unhealthy.
4. What is the meaning of the word "Under-handicapped"?
4. The word "Under-handicapped" means Harrison's abilities are not covered up enough by handicaps. His handicaps (earphones, glasses, heavy birdshot canvas bag) are not able to control this man the way the government wants. Harrison is considered dangerous because he is everything that this future society doesn't want and fears. He is intelligent, handsome, and strong. Harrison has found the flaw in the society and plotted to overthrow the government.
5. What are Harrison's handicaps?
The handicaps Harrison was given were the following: tremendous earphones, glasses with thick wavy lenses, three hundred pounds of metal to carry around. Harrison was also forced to wear a red rubber ball for a nose, and cover his teeth with black caps. The author gave him these handicaps to show us Harrison's qualities. Harrison is brilliant, strong, tall, and handsome. The effect produced by all these handicaps is of an extremely powerful young man.
6. What is the sharp sound George hears in his ear?
The sound George hears in his ear in this section is an "automobile collision". In contrast to the previous sounds George heard this is the most piercing, loud sound. The deeper George's thoughts, the more powerful the sound. In the beginning of the story, George hears a buzzer while watching ballerinas on TV. The buzzer is not a painful sound, it merely scatters his thoughts. However when he begins to think that ballerinas shouldn't be handicapped a stronger noise goes off. This sound is of "somebody hitting a milk bottle with a hammer". Next when George begins to think of his son, Harrison, a twenty-one-gun salute goes off. This sound affects George more than the previous. He is described as "white and trembling with tears" The mental handicap is placed to stop people from thinking. With people like George thinking freely they could overthrow the government. Hence the more George thinks about society's flaws and his son, a stronger sound goes off. This represents an attempt to force his thoughts away violently, almost desperately.
7. Describe the picture on the television screen
The picture on the television screen in this section is spellbounding.The previous pictures were all average (anyone could have done the same) and perhaps even dull. This scene goes against everything-society's rules, laws of gravity, and logic. In the picture Harrison the "emperor" and his "empress" dance the ballerina dance. This dance of theirs is everything but average as it is graceful, beautiful and full of power. The couple is jumping gracefully towards the thirty five foot ceiling. When they reach it, they kiss the ceiling and each other for a long time. The effect on the viewers is magical. They have never seen something like this. It is foreign to them, scary, unknown yet beautiful and eyecatching. The viewers who have been blinded by society are witnessing magic by a couple who has escaped society's grasp.
8. What effect does Harrison's rebellion have on the reader?
8. Harrison's rebellion is meant to create a certain effect on the reader. As a natural first reaction we think: impossible. According to the laws of gravity this should not be possible. However after getting over the feeling of impossibility we are captured by power, beauty, and strength. This is a truly beautiful rebellion in a monotonous almost ugly new world.
9. Who is Diana Moon Glampers?
Diana Moon Glampers is not handicapped like everyone else. As the handicap general her job is to make sure people follow the rules. In order to do so she needs to be superior to everyone else. She can't be dumb, or forget her thoughts every several seconds. She has a key if not the most important job in the entire future society.
10. Explain the closing section
In this closing section, Vonnegut shows us that we can never make everyone equal. Everyone is born different, unique with strengths and weaknesses of their own. Just by the fact that the handicap general is not handicapped goes against the whole idea of the society. The idea is that everyone is exactly the same, equal. Glampers is different then everyone in that she is able to take "unfair advantage of her brain". The science fiction genre helps Vonnegut put across his point more effectively. By taking us to a future world, Vonnegut shows us and extreme possibility. While reading the story we imagine this world and it becomes real to us. Vonnegut is able to convey his point without ever stating it directly. His theory comes across through the story.
11. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an equal society?
In a society where everyone is equal, we would find advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand competition would be stopped in all its forms: looks, money, happiness...In this way it would be a healthier world. People wouldn't go to extremes to do better than others thus pushing people off along the way. In addition it would be a socially easier world. People wouldn't have to worry about fitting in, being misfits or outsiders. Everyone would be accepted the same way and everyone would have the same opportunities and options for jobs, partners, popularity etc. because everyone would be exactly the same. On the other hand we would have to deal with many disadvantages. People would be stripped of their talents and uniqueness whether beauty, sports, intelligence, creativity, leadership…and be covered up with a mask. Everyone is special in a different way and people like to show off their talents. An equal world would be extremely frustrating not to mention dull. An equal world would be hard to maintain and could cause pain and violence towards the society.
12. Explain the last two lines of the story
The last two lines of the story are humorous. George and Hazel have forgotten everything they have seen on TV. Hazel says that the whole situation was woozy. In agreement George says "You can say that again." This is said as a phrase to show that he feels the same way. Hazel, whose "true" intelligence is low, says the sentence again. This shows how unequal the two are. Although society is trying to stop George from thinking, he is intelligent. Hazel on the other hand is not bright. She fits society's criteria perfectly. Vonnegut shows us the failure in trying to make everyone equal. It is not possible. We are all different in numerous ways.
13. What is the tone of the story?
The tone changes throughout the story. However the main tone is of despair. The whole feel to the story is dark, frustrating, and sad. As the readers we become frustrated when George and Hazel forget things they have just said. We are angry at this strange future, angry that everything is so foreign. The story reaches an emotional climax at the end. We cry for the two rebels. I found the whole feel to the story almost stuck. People are glued in their places unable to burst out and show their special qualities and abilities. This was exasperating.