Harrison Bergeron

Harrison Bergeron

by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

  • Are we equal? Can equality ever be achieved? Do we really want true equality? How are each of us "differently abled"? If not what can we say about intelligence? Is ignorance bliss?

    "Harrison Bergeron" (PDF) [click name or PDF for file] by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is a story about attaining equality using some extreme measures and methods. The constant desire to attain equality in schools and in life contrasts with a natural or unnatural desire to compete and to assert our individuality or genius. On the one hand we desire people to do their best and then in practice we set handicaps on people to prevent success. You may find this story a very interesting dilemma, not too dissimilar to our own. You may also find it disturbing. Read the story and then think how this story relates to you. Think about whether Nietzsche wasn't on to something when he criticized the naive idea of human equality. Or that uniformity (of any kind) leads to the loss of individuality, and therefore to absolute deformity of humanness.

    Use the questions below to help you understand the story. We will be using BLOG to have the discussion about this story. It will be in the BLOG where you express your ideas, you will then read other scholars' responses. You will use inquiry methods to have this conversation about "Harrison Bergeron," equity, and you. Use what you read to help you write your essay. Use the list below to help shape your file.

      1. VOCABULARY: Look these words up before you read. Vigilance, handicap, sashweights, luminous, calibrated, symmetry, consternation, cowered, hobbled, synchronizing, flounced, capered, gamboled. Look up any other words you need to and add them to your list.
      2. Are we equal?
      3. Consider how "handicap" is a negative word. How does this change our perception if instead we used the words: "differently abled" when referring to people we have referred to as "handicapped"? Are they really "handicapped" or just "differently abled"?
      4. How do schools behave like the United States Handicapper General office in the story?
      5. Examine the relationship of Harrison's parents: George and Hazel. Consider their relationship to each other and to Harrison.
      6. How does Harrison behave? How do others react to him?
      7. How does this image: "It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it." seem so inspiring in contrast to another image: "He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him."?
      8. Do you think Harrison Bergeron knows he will die as a result of his behavior? Are you shocked by his death? Is it foreshadowed in any way? If he does suspect he will die, why does he do what he does?
      9. Do you think Diana Moon Glampers is "handicapped"? If yes, how? If NO, why not?
      10. There are lots of Symbols in this story. Identify some of them and use them to help you deconstruct the story and to help you better understand it and then to write an essay about the story.
      11. Perhaps you wish to draw a picture of what Harrison looks like from the description of him from the story.
      12. Is the action of Harrison in the end justifiable? Why does he do this? What do his actions say about living?
      13. Select at least 3 sentences from the story that were important, relevant, key, supportive of your reading and understanding of this story and explain why.
      14. Do you see connections to your own "I am" or other work.