This study guide will help you analyze the text “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was an American writer of novels, short stories, plays and non-fiction essays. He is well-known for his preference for science-fiction settings and plots, as well as for his dark, often satirical humor. His most popular novel is “Slaughterhouse-Five” in which the author criticizes the absurdity and the atrocities of war in a morbid, yet comical way.
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The story’s social setting presents a dystopian egalitarian society of the future. In 2081, US citizens live in a society where all people are equal and no one is considered more talented than anyone else. This happens with the help of artificial handicaps, which force intelligent, beautiful, and strong people to become mediocre: “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”.
The purpose and use of artificial handicaps becomes clearer as the story progresses. Intelligent people are forced to wear radio transmitters in their ears. Beautiful people are forced to wear masks that hide their beauty or are disfigured. Physically strong people are burdened with weights: “Scrap metal was hung all over him”. The artificial handicaps are used to brainwash citizens, who are not allowed to think for themselves, and to repress their uniqueness.