Harrison Bergeron

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"Harrison Bergeron" (1961) is a science fiction short story written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. depicting a dystopian future in which a powerful, authoritarian government goes to extreme measures to ensure that absolute equality exists between every individual.  It was originally published The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in October 1961, and was republished in the author's Welcome to the Monkey House collection in 1968.


  • The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal.  They weren't only equal before God and the law.  They were equal every which way.  Nobody was smarter than anybody else.  Nobody was better looking than anybody else.  Nobody was stronger or quicker 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.
    • Paragraph 1 (p. 7 of Welcome to the Monkey House)
  • "All of a sudden you look so tired," said Hazel.  "Why don't you stretch out on the sofa, so's you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch."  She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George's neck.  "Go on and rest the bag for a little while," she said.  "I don't care if you're not equal to me for a while."
    • Paragraph 24 (p. 9 of Welcome to the Monkey House)
    • In this quote, Hazel Bergeron is speaking to her husband, George Bergeron.
  • "If I tried to get away with it," said George, "then other people'd get away with it—and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else.  You wouldn't like that, would you?"

    "I'd hate it," said Hazel.

    "There you are," said George.  "The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?"

    • Paragraphs 29–31 (p. 9 of Welcome to the Monkey House)
  • "That's all right—" Hazel said of the announcer, "he tried.  That's the big thing.  He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him.  He should get a nice raise for trying so hard."
    • Paragraph 39 (p. 10 of Welcome to the Monkey House)
    • The announcer to whom Hazel Bergeron refers was unable to relay any information to viewers due to a serious speech impediment.
  • And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use.
    • Paragraph 41 (p. 10 of Welcome to the Monkey House)
    • When the announcer failed to read the bulletin, one of the ballerinas that George and Hazel Bergeron was watching on television had to read the bulletin instead.  Said ballerina briefly forgot to hide the beauty in her voice and thus apologised for her faux pas.
  • It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun.  She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.
    • Paragraph 78 (p. 13 of Welcome to the Monkey House)
    • "The Emperor" refers to Harrison Bergeron, who had escaped from custody, and "the Empress" refers to a ballerina with whom Harrison Bergeron was dancing at the time of their murder.
  • George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up.  And then he sat down again.  "You been crying?" he said to Hazel.

    "Yup," she said.

    "What about?" he said.

    "I forget," she said.  "Something real sad on television."

    • Paragraphs 82–85 (pp. 13–14 of Welcome to the Monkey House)
    • Although Hazel Bergeron had just witnessed the murder of her own son on television, she is unable to recall the incident moments later.

Quotes about "Harrison Bergeron"[edit]

  • The Institute for Justice, in a recent paper (Streets of Dreams), reported that of America's fifty largest cities, nineteen allowed mobile vending carts to stay in one spot for only short periods, twenty prohibited setting up near brick-and-mortar businesses selling similar goods, and thirty-three established No Vending Zones in well-travelled areas.  And in Atlanta, the city actually set up a corporate street-vending monopoly, forcing former cart vendors to rent kiosks for $20,000 a year.  That's $1,667 a month in additional overhead for a business model that previously had almost none.  …  In Kurt Vonnegut's story "Harrison Bergeron," a Handicapper-General imposed handicaps on those that were smarter, better looking, or more talented than average so that nobody would feel bad.  In this case, the Handicapper-General works for downtown business establishments, imposing a $20k penalty for being more competitive.
    • Kevin Carson, "When the Mafia Can’t Compete With the Chamber of Commerce" (C4SS, 2011)[1]
  • Although not a libertarian, Kurt Vonnegut has long had an important place in my heart as well as my anti-state thinking for his great antiwar books Slaughterhouse Five and Mother Night as well as his terrific short story "Harrison Bergeron."
  • Vonnegut's protagonist/hero is no libertarian.  Unlike Anthem's protagonist, who dreamed of becoming a scholar, Harrison Bergeron wants to be emperor.
  • Rousseau incorrectly held, essentially, that we are all free insofar as we are equally enslaved.  My own view to the contrary is that Rousseau's main failure was his not taking his own anti-slavery position (found elsewhere in his Social Contract) to its logical conclusion.  Had he done so, he would have had to adopt the libertarian position and recognise that the so-called "equality" (later) found in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" is not, in fact, conducive to Liberty.
  • The horror we all instinctively feel at these stories is the intuitive recognition that men are not uniform, that the species, mankind, is uniquely characterized by a high degree of variety, diversity, differentiation.

See also[edit]

  • 2081, a short film based on "Harrison Bergeron"

External links[edit]

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