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HARRISON BERGERON by Kurt Vonnegut 1961 Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was an American writer, best known for his novel Slaughterhouse-Five. In this short story, all citizens have been made equal. But at what cost? 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 their brains. In the beginning, the setting is described as being “perfect”. How so? Because everybody is equal and no one is better at anything in any field, it is described as perfect. What was the first action that disrupted this utopia? (Utopia= another way of saying “perfect world” ) The H-G men took Hazel Bergeron’s 14 year old brother harrison away.
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 burglar alarm. “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. George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas. Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

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