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In Harrison Bergeron, individuals with above-average characteristics are forced to wear devices that counter those 'advantages'. For example, several characters that are exceptionally bright have earphones that play loud noises to interrupt their thought processes and bring them back in line with average thinking ability.

I noticed while reading the story that while some of the devices seem to genuinely counter advantages, such as the weighted bags that counter grace or strength, other devices seem to be more retaliatory in nature. Making Harrison wear a clown nose and black teeth doesn't make him look average, it makes him look below average, which defeats the societally stated purpose of the devices (to enforce equality) by going too far in the other direction.

Am I reading too deeply into this, or is there a retaliatory aspect to some of these devices?

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You could view this two different ways - one way, the context of the story itself, suggests that Harrison really was so exceptionally handsome that a clown nose and black teeth only brought him down to average appearance, whereas anyone else you and I know would be rendered ugly. In other physical ways, Harrison is in fact superhuman - so graceful he can levitate in a dance, for instance - so he could be superhumanly beautiful as well.

Viewing this story through the lens of the satire intended by Vonnegut, as a reaction against the perceived 'dumbing down' of society, it is quite likely that a punitive level of handicap would be enacted against anyone who not only was above average, but happy to be so, as Harrison Bergeron is implied to be. I consider this likely as the foil to Harrison's character, his father George Bergeron, is presented to the reader as a citizen with above-average attributes who nevertheless believes in the society's right to handicap him; he refuses to lighten his handicap weights in the face of his wife's pitying suggestion that he do so. In light of this 'good citizen' behavior, his handicaps are painful, but not ridiculous, unlike Harrison's.

  • Thanks. I've upvoted your answer, but would like to hold out for other opinions before handing out the checkmark. – S-- Sep 18 '13 at 2:30
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Yes, the devices (I'm pretty sure all of them) are retaliatory in nature but the people enforcing such measures didn't see it that way.
If I recall correctly, (as I read this story quite some time ago), the government decided that people born with exceptional or even above average abilities was deemed "unfair" to everyone else.
So, to "even" things up, exceptional people were handicapped with numerous devices.
I think all of the devices are retaliatory because 1) they harm people, 2) they deny people of their individuality and abilities and 3) they deprive people of their right to free will, self expression and self determination.
And the damage is even greater when you add in the loss to society. Such as, all the art, science, and engineering feats that won't get created because people aren't allowed to use their gifts.
And yes, Vonnegut was engaging in satire but the really scary thing here is that there really are people in the world who believe in this misguided form of fairness.

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