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Harrison Bergeron Commonlit Answers

  • 9th Grade

Assessment Answers

Which statement best expresses the theme of this short story?Forcing uniformity on people doesn’t result in equality, but rather causes
conflict and unhappiness.
How does Harrison’s removal of his handicaps develop the plot of the story?Harrison briefly shows people what is possible without handicaps.
PART A: How do the different handicaps contribute to the theme of the story?They illustrate how much must be done to make the most unique and talented
individuals conform.
PART B: Which section from the text best supports the answer to Part A?“And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the
dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred
pound men.” (Paragraph 40)

What message does Kurt Vonnegut convey through the satire “Harrison Bergeron,” and how does the title character develop this message?

Through the satire “Harrison Bergeron,” Kurt Vonnegut conveys the message that the pursuit of absolute equality can lead to the loss of individuality, creativity, and freedom, resulting in a dystopian society where everyone is equally oppressed.

The title character, Harrison Bergeron, develops this message by embodying the ultimate resistance to this oppressive equality. His act of rebellion, though brief, showcases the human spirit’s resilience and the inherent value of individual differences.

Harrison’s tragic fate underscores the story’s warning against the dangers of an overzealous quest for uniformity.

Discussion Answers

In your opinion, is it fair that some people in the story have more handicaps than others?
Why or why not? How do the handicaps enforce sameness rather than equality? How do
you think people in our society would respond if they had enforced handicaps?

In the story, people are reluctant to join Harrison and take off their handicaps because of the deeply ingrained fear of punishment and the societal conditioning that has made them accept their handicaps as a necessary part of life.

This reluctance also stems from a lack of vision for a different society, one where individual strengths and differences are celebrated rather than suppressed.

The story’s setting in a dystopian society where non-conformity is met with severe penalties has led to a population that is afraid to challenge the status quo, even when allowed to cast off their physical and mental burdens.

This highlights the powerful effect of government control and societal pressure in stifling individual action and change.

In the story, people are reluctant to join Harrison and take off their handicaps. Why do you
think this is?

In “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, the reluctance of people to join Harrison and remove their handicaps is a multifaceted issue rooted in the story’s dystopian setting, where enforced equality has been taken to its extreme.

Here are several reasons why people might be reluctant to join Harrison in his rebellion:

  1. Fear of Punishment: The society depicted in the story is one where deviations from the imposed “equality” are met with severe punishments. Through the character of the Handicapper General and its agents, the government enforces strict compliance with the laws mandating handicaps. The fear of repercussions, such as imprisonment or even death, for removing handicaps is a significant deterrent.
  2. Indoctrination and Conditioning: The citizens have been conditioned to believe that handicaps are necessary to maintain equality and prevent the negative aspects of competition and envy. This societal indoctrination likely makes it difficult for individuals to conceive of a different way of living or question the system’s morality and logic.
  3. Lack of Awareness or Hope: Given the constant control over their thoughts (especially for those with mental handicaps like George Bergeron, who is subjected to disruptive noises every 20 seconds), individuals might not be able to comprehend their oppression or imagine a life without handicaps fully. This lack of awareness, or the inability to sustain a coherent thought process due to mental handicapping, diminishes the likelihood of rebellion.
  4. Social Conformity and Peer Pressure: Humans are inherently social creatures, and the desire to conform to societal norms can be powerful. In a society where everyone is handicapped, the act of removing one’s handicaps can be seen as a form of social betrayal or an attempt to elevate oneself above others, which could lead to ostracization or condemnation from peers.
  5. Internalized Oppression: Over time, people may internalize the belief that they deserve their handicaps, that the handicaps are a part of their identity, or that they are somehow protecting them from the negative emotions associated with inequality. This internalized oppression can make the idea of removing handicaps seem undesirable or even threatening to their sense of self.

Harrison Bergeron’s solitary act of defiance and the subsequent lack of widespread support highlight the depth of the society’s indoctrination and the effectiveness of the government’s oppressive measures.

The story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of enforced equality taken to its extreme and the suppression of individuality.

How does the government enforce these handicaps? How does the government enforce
order in our society today?

In “Harrison Bergeron,” the government enforces handicaps through a variety of physical and mental restraints designed to neutralize individual talents and abilities, ensuring everyone is “equal” in every conceivable way. The United States Handicapper General carries out this enforcement, led by Diana Moon Glampers, and her team of agents. The mechanisms of enforcement include:

  • Mental Handicaps: For those with above-average intelligence, the government mandates the use of mental handicap radios or earpieces that emit sharp noises to disrupt thinking and concentration. This prevents intelligent individuals from using their cognitive abilities to gain an advantage or contemplating their circumstances too deeply.
  • Physical Handicaps: Physical strengths and abilities are neutralized through the use of weights and other devices. Strong individuals wear heavy bags of birdshot or weights to tire them out and prevent them from moving too swiftly or gracefully. The intent is to ensure no one is physically superior to anyone else.
  • Visual and Aesthetic Handicaps: The government uses masks for those deemed too beautiful to prevent anyone from being more attractive than others. Similarly, other devices or modifications, like Harrison’s grotesque rubber nose and black caps for his teeth, are used to disguise any physically appealing features.
  • Legal Enforcement and Punishment: The government enforces compliance with these handicaps through strict laws and severe punishments. The story mentions the penalties for tampering with or removing handicaps, which include fines and imprisonment. This legal framework creates a culture of fear that dissuades people from challenging or disobeying the handicap system.

In contrast, the enforcement of order in our society today relies on a complex system of laws, cultural norms, and institutions rather than on artificially imposed handicaps. Key elements include:

  • Legal and Judicial Systems: Laws define acceptable behavior, and the judicial system enforces these laws through courts and penal systems. Punishments for breaking laws can include fines, community service, and imprisonment.
  • Law Enforcement Agencies: Police and other law enforcement agencies play a crucial role in maintaining public order and safety, intervening in situations where laws are being broken.
  • Educational Systems: Education not only imparts knowledge but also socializes individuals into the norms and values of their society, including respect for laws and the rights of others.
  • Media and Communication: Media plays a role in shaping public opinion and norms, informing the public about laws, and highlighting the consequences of unlawful behavior.
  • Economic Incentives and Sanctions: Economic policies and incentives can encourage certain behaviors, while sanctions and penalties can deter undesirable actions.

While the mechanisms of control in “Harrison Bergeron” are fictional and exaggerated for satirical purposes, they highlight concerns about government overreach and the suppression of individual freedoms.

The balance between maintaining order and preserving individual rights is a complex and ongoing challenge for societies.

In the context of the short story, what should the future look like? What implications does
this story have for how people and the government should act?

In the context of “Harrison Bergeron,” the future envisioned by Kurt Vonnegut is a cautionary tale against the pursuit of absolute equality at the expense of individual freedom and diversity.

The dystopian world he depicts, where the government imposes physical and mental handicaps to ensure uniformity, serves as a stark warning about the dangers of overzealous egalitarianism.

From this narrative, we can derive several implications for how people and governments should act to foster a more desirable future:

  1. Value Diversity and Individuality: The story underscores the importance of celebrating and preserving individual differences rather than suppressing them. A future that values each person’s unique abilities and characteristics can lead to a more vibrant, innovative, and adaptable society.
  2. Balance Equality and Freedom: While striving for equality is a noble goal, it should not come at the cost of individual freedoms. The story highlights the need for a balance between ensuring fair opportunities for all and allowing personal talents to flourish. Governments and societies should aim to reduce inequalities in access to resources and opportunities without mandating uniformity in abilities or outcomes.
  3. Encourage Critical Thinking and Dissent: The passive acceptance of the oppressive measures by the majority in the story illustrates the dangers of a society that stifles critical thinking and dissent. A healthy future society should encourage its citizens to question, debate, and challenge unjust practices and policies.
  4. Avoid Overreach and Totalitarian Control: The government in “Harrison Bergeron” exemplifies the dangers of totalitarianism and overreach in its attempt to enforce equality. This serves as a warning against the concentration of too much power in the hands of any government or authority. Checks and balances, along with a vigilant and informed citizenry, are essential to prevent abuse of power.
  5. Promote Equity Through Empowerment: Instead of handicapping those with talents, a more constructive approach would be to empower those at a disadvantage. Providing access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities allows individuals to reach their potential without dragging others down.
  6. Recognize the Value of Art and Culture: The suppression of artistic expression and the mediocrity of the ballerinas’ performance in the story highlight the bleakness of a world without true art and culture. Supporting and celebrating artistic and cultural expression is crucial for a society’s vibrancy and humanity.
  7. Foster Compassion and Understanding: Finally, the story suggests the need for compassion and understanding in addressing societal issues. Instead of imposing harsh measures to force conformity, governments and individuals should work together to understand the root causes of inequality and address them in ways that uplift everyone.

“Harrison Bergeron” serves as a powerful reminder that the quest for equality should enhance human dignity and freedom, not diminish it.

As implied by the story, the future should be one where diversity is celebrated, individual rights are protected, and governments act to empower all citizens rather than suppress their unique qualities.

Other Commonlit Answers

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