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Harrison Bergeron

Kurt Vonnegut

Important Quotations Explained

Humor

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. “I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”
“Good as anybody else,” said George.
 “Who knows better’n I do what normal is?” said Hazel.

This passage appears near the beginning of the story. Vonnegut seems to suggest that Hazel’s similarity to Diana Moon Glampers is disturbing because it means that the country is being run by people just as clueless as Hazel. When George says that Hazel is as “[g]ood as anybody else,” we get the idea that she is just as confused and incapable of serious thought as every other average American living in the year 2081. Hazel’s confidence in her understanding of “normal” is both funny and sinister. Her self-confidence in understanding “normal” is amusing, especially because it comes on the heels of her ludicrous suggestion that the government should interrupt thoughts on Sundays with religious-sounding chimes. But it is also a disturbing and subtle reminder that in this futuristic America, the people who run the country are in power not because of their brains or savvy, but because of their normalcy.

2. “The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?”
. . . . A siren was going off in [George’s] head.
“Reckon it’d fall all apart,” said Hazel.
“What would?” said George blankly.
“Society,” said Hazel uncertainly. “Wasn’t that what you just said?”
“Who knows?” said George.

This quotation, which appears near the beginning of the story, exemplifies the meandering, nonsensical human interactions that have become standard in Vonnegut’s fictional America. Because he is smart, George is able to formulate an idea that society would disintegrate if people disregarded the laws and to pose that idea as a hypothetical question. But because his thinking is interrupted by one of the innumerable noises the government broadcasts over his radio, he loses track of the conversation completely. Even though Hazel is able to follow his reasoning, he can’t remember what he was talking about moments before, and she isn’t bright enough to get him back on track. The disturbing implication is that America’s laws of equality go unchallenged not because citizens believe in them deeply but because they are too bewildered to figure out what they think of the laws in the first place. If George were able to think in peace for a few hours, he might come to believe that the laws he defends are absurd. However, these laws, against which he would likely protest if he could, are the ones that prevent him from thinking for more than a few seconds at a stretch.

3. [T]hey remained suspended in air . . . and they kissed each other for a long, long time.
. . . . Diana Moon Glampers . . . came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Harrison’s midair dance with his empress near the end of the story is the only moment of unadulterated beauty in “Harrison Bergeron,” and its brutal conclusion suggests the beginning of still darker days for America. Harrison is as amazing as the rest of the world is dull. In a narrative full of stupidity, mediocrity, and terror, Harrison brings strength and beauty into the story by removing his and the empress’s weights and disguisess. Whereas his parents are so compromised that they can hardly put two logical sentences together and merely sit in front of the TV like automatons, Harrison is a whirlwind of activity. He bursts into the studio, takes control, and forces the musicians to play lovely music instead of hackneyed tripe. His physical vigor is superhuman: defying the laws of gravity, he manages to suspend himself and his empress thirty feet above the ground. The long kiss he exchanges with her also provides the only moment of sensual pleasure in the story. But Diana Moon Glampers interrupts Harrison’s dance almost as soon as it has begun. The spare, unflinching language with which Vonnegut narrates her murder of the emperor and empress mirrors the cold, inhuman nature of the deed. It is clear that for all his braggadocio, Harrison never had a chance at unseating the government for good.

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