by Kurt Vonnegut (1961)
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.
Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April, for instance, still drove
people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men
took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.
It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had
a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in
short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little
mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was
tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would
send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but
she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.
A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a
“That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.
“Huh?” said George.
“That dance – it was nice,” said Hazel.
“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really
very good – no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened
with sashweights 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. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be
handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio
scattered his thoughts.