Harrison Bergeron

Author

Vonnegut, Kurt

Genre

Article/Essay

Overview

Originally published in 1961, “Harrison Bergeron” is a satirical, dystopian science fiction story written by Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most famous American writers of the twentieth century. The story, set in the year 2081, takes place after the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution have been passed and all Americans have been mandated equal. Yet, as the reader discovers, this mandated equality is neither as fair nor as humane as it may seem. Vonnegut's story inspires discussion about the challenges that come with “absolute equality”, what people are willing to give up for equality, and the relationship between equality and individual freedom, ultimately asking whether it is possible to pursue both liberty and justice for all.

Full Text*

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Type

Reading

Themes

Diversity and DifferenceExclusion and BelongingImpact and OutcomesJustice and EqualityMotives and ValuesPower and Privilege

Big Questions

Is justice for all possible? Or will injustice always exist?What would you be willing to give up for equality? What would you not be willing to give up?What is the appropriate response to privilege?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What do we know about the year 2081?
  2. What do we know about George? What do we know about Hazel?
  3. Who in the story has handicaps? Why?
  4. Why is George kept “from taking advantage of [his] brain”?
  5. What do you make of Hazel's statement that the announcer “should get a nice raise for trying to hard”? Should people be rewarded for trying?
  6. Imagine for a second that the handicaps in this story are based on identity – so white people had to have handicaps, people from upper-class backgrounds had to have handicaps, heterosexual people had to have handicaps, men had to have handicaps, etc. How would you react?
  7. Would you be willing to give up certain skills, qualities, or rights for equality? What would you be willing to give up?
  8. Is it possible to pursue individual freedom/happiness and equality at the same time? How do these things conflict?
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