Harrison Bergeron

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"Harrison Bergeron"
Short story by Kurt Vonnegut
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Dystopia, science fiction, political fiction, satire
Published inThe Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Publication typePeriodical
Media typePrint (magazine)
Publication date1961

"Harrison Bergeron" is a satirical dystopian science-fiction short story by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in October 1961. Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the story was republished in the author's Welcome to the Monkey House collection in 1968.


In the year 2081, the Constitution dictates that all Americans are fully equal and not allowed to be smarter, better-looking, or more physically able than anyone else. The Handicapper General's agents enforce the equality laws, forcing citizens to wear "handicaps": masks for those who are too beautiful, earpiece radios for the intelligent that broadcast loud noises meant to disrupt thoughts, and heavy weights for the strong or athletic.

George and Hazel Bergeron have a 14-year old son named Harrison. He takes after his father, who is highly intelligent and physically strong. The government removes Harrison from his home. His parents are barely aware because of Hazel's low intelligence and George's mandated handicaps.

George and Hazel watch a ballet on TV. Some dancers are weighed down to counteract their gracefulness and masked to hide their attractiveness. George's thoughts are continually interrupted by the different noises emitted by his handicap radio. Hazel urges George to lie down and rest his "handicap bag", 47 pounds (21 kg) of weights locked around his neck. She suggests taking a few of the weights out of the bag, but George resists because it is against the law.

On TV, a reporter struggles to read a bulletin and hands it to the ballerina wearing the most grotesque mask and heaviest weights. She begins reading in her natural, beautiful voice before switching to a more unpleasant one. Harrison's escape from prison is announced, and a full-body photograph of him is shown. He is seven feet (2.1 m) tall and burdened by three hundred pounds (140 kg) of handicaps.

George recognizes his son for a moment, before having the thought eliminated by his radio. Harrison storms the TV studio in an attempt to overthrow the government. He declares himself emperor and rips off both his own handicaps and those of the ballerina who previously read the news bulletin, who elects to be his empress when given the option.

Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, enters the studio and kills Harrison and the Empress with two shotgun blasts. She threatens the musicians at gunpoint to put on their handicaps again. The TV goes dark. George, who left to get a beer and has returned, asks Hazel why she is crying, to which she replies that something sad happened on television that she cannot remember.


  • Harrison Bergeron is the fourteen-year-old son of George Bergeron and Hazel Bergeron, who is 7 feet (2.1 m) tall, a genius, and an extraordinarily handsome, athletic, strong, and brave person.
  • George Bergeron is Harrison's father and Hazel's husband. A very smart and sensitive character, he is handicapped artificially by the government.
  • Hazel Bergeron is Harrison's mother and George's wife. Hazel has what is described as perfectly average intelligence, which means that she cannot think deeply about anything.
  • The Ballerina, a beautiful dancer who was burdened with an especially ugly mask and excessive weights, as she is the fairest, most beautiful and most graceful of the dancers.
  • Diana Moon Glampers is the Handicapper General. Vonnegut re-used the name for a character in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.


The story has been adapted for the screen at least four times.

  • PBS adapted several stories, including "Harrison Bergeron", in Between Time and Timbuktu (1972), with Avind Haerum in the title role.
  • In 1995, Showtime produced a full-length made-for-television adaptation entitled Harrison Bergeron, starring Sean Astin as the title character and Christopher Plummer as John Klaxon. The adaptation diverged from the plot considerably, featuring Harrison being recruited by the National Administration Center, a secret cabal of geniuses within the government who ensure that the handicapped America functions. Working for the television division, Harrison becomes dissatisfied with the status quo and attempts to start another American revolution by taking over the nation's television broadcasting. He broadcasts old unhandicapped movies and music, while encouraging people to remove the brain-handicapping "bands" on their heads.
  • In 2006, a short film also entitled Harrison Bergeron[1] was released.
  • In 2009, another short film called 2081 was based on the original story and starred Armie Hammer as Harrison Bergeron. Joe Crowe, managing editor of the online magazine Revolution Science Fiction, described the movie as "stirring and dramatic" and said it "gets right to the point, and nails the adaptation in about 25 minutes."[2]
  • In 2024, an acoustic adaptation of Harrison Bergeron was produced for radio and streaming audiences by audio producer and documentarian, Greg Barron. It was published on sounddawg.net, strictly adhering to the original story text to create a new storytelling experience tailored to audio media.[3]

Cultural references[edit]

In 2005, the story was quoted by attorneys in a brief before the Kansas Supreme Court. Vonnegut was quoted as saying that while he did not mind the story being used in the suit, he disagreed with the lawyers' interpretation of it.[4] U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia quoted the story in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin.[5] A 2013 academic paper criticizing the new hyperandrogenism policies of the International Association of Athletics Federations and the International Olympic Committee was entitled "The Harrison Bergeron Olympics"[6] and several non-academics had similar criticisms.[7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harrison Bergeron at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ "2081" by Jow Crowe, Revolution Science Fiction, retrieved January 29, 2010
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Rothschild, Scott (May 5, 2005). "Vonnegut: Lawyers could use literary lesson". LJWorld.com. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
  5. ^ Bier, Daniel (February 15, 2016). "Scalia's Greatest Dissent: "What Is Golf"". FEE Stories. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  6. ^ Karkazis, Katrina; Jordan-Young, Rebecca (2013). "The Harrison Bergeron Olympics". The American Journal of Bioethics. 13 (5): 66–69. doi:10.1080/15265161.2013.776375. PMID 23557057. S2CID 6488664.
  7. ^ Yoked, Unequally (October 7, 2014). "Harrison Bergeron-ing a Too-Exceptional Sprinter". Unequally Yoked. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  8. ^ Evans, Lauren (18 June 2018). "Caster Semenya Is Fighting New Track and Field Testosterone Rules". Jezebel. Retrieved 25 March 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Klinkowitz, Jerome (1998): Vonnegut in Fact. The public spokesman of personal fiction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press
  • Leeds, Marc (1995): The Vonnegut Encyclopedia. An Authorized Compendium. Westport, London: Greenwood Press
  • Leeds, Marc; Reed, Peter J. (1996): The Vonnegut Chronicles. Interviews and Essays. Westport, London: Greenwood Press
  • Petterson, Bo (1994): The World according to Kurt Vonnegut. Moral Paradox and Narrative Form. Åbo: Åbo University.

External links[edit]