Does equality mean that someone has to be dumbed down and/or made weaker? Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” would imply just that. “Harrison Bergeron” takes place in 2081, 120 years after its first publication. The story also implies that the government is almost, if not completely, totalitarian. The only government official depicted in the story, Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General is the only person who seems to have final authority regarding equality. This total equality is derived from the recently passed 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments.
Although it is never stated what the amendments are, Vonnegut implies that they are repressive and severe. The goal appears to be to make everyone equal in the eyes of everyone else; to remove any occasions of advantage one person may have over another, achieving some type of “equality”. This “equality” is accomplished by both mechanical and technological means. As the author states: “They were burdened with sash weights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. Extended intelligent thought is disrupted by loud noises emitted through ear pieces. Physical advantage is hindered by weights attached to the necks, arms, torso, or other parts of the body. Beauty is literally masked by a mask. Any attempt to remove these handicaps is a serious crime. The strategy appears to be to protect the self-esteem of the inferior from exposure to the superior. The word handicapped implies below average. Therefore, to make everybody equal, everybody would have to be dumbed down to somebody with the lowest in intelligence, the mentally retarded.
Equality is the idea of something being treated, acted apon or shared in the same way. Equality is about creating a fair society, one in which everyone is able to participate and has the opportunities to forfill their potential as an individual, nobody is treated differently from another and everyone’s rights are the same, it’s defined as the act of eliminating prejudice and ...
If this were the case, then who would be running society? In other words, everybody in the country would be an idiot. Obvious problems would be deciding who is in charge, what the laws are, how they are enforced and so on. Not to mention the daily difficulties of supplying food, shelter, and medical care to the country. Would there even be medical care if all intelligence was censored to such a degree? As the story continues, the protagonist, Harrison Bergeron, makes a brazen attempt to “escape” from this conformity.
His “escape” was a serious matter because he was “…a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous. ” Bergeron’s 7 foot frame bounds onto the stage where he declares himself emperor. He then asks for a volunteer to be his empress. Then he proceeds to display both his and her superiority in a graceful, but somewhat hyperbolic dance. Their display ends suddenly as Diana Moon Glampers bursts onto the scene and kills them both with a ten gauge shotgun.
Once again, “equality” is restored and preserved. Equality, as used in our society, implies fairness, justice, and equivalence, not uniformity among all. Equal under the law is a prime example that we have gone to great lengths to insure. Miranda rights; a court-appointed attorney, and an impartial jury of our peers are cornerstones of this equality. Because we are unique individuals born into a variety of environments, we will never be totally and completely equal, there will always be competition. And most of us thank God for that.