The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal … every which way.
The story is set in America in the year 2081, by which time three amendments to the Constitution have mandated equality. No one is allowed to be smarter, stronger, or more capable than anyone else. The government achieves and enforces this form of egalitarianism by handicapping everyone with above-average ability.
H-G men took … Harrison, away … but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard.
The government agency in charge of enforcing handicaps, the Handicapper General (H-G) imprisons George and Hazels exceptional son, Harrison Bergeron. He impedes their ability to thwart his talent, strength, and size. Hazel’s average intelligence and George’s handicap in the form of a radio transmitter that interrupts his thoughts every few seconds leave them incapable of resisting the government taking their son or even remembering much about him.
A little mental handicap radio in his ear … to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
The earpiece George is forced to wear emits extremely loud noises at regular intervals, disrupting his ability to sustain a train of thought. The government uses the transmitter to reduce George to the intellectual ability it deems average, ensuring he has no advantage over anyone else.
The ballerinas … weren’t really very good—no better than anybody else would have been, anyway.
The dancers, many weighed down with bags of heavy bird shot, others disfigured by ugly masks, and some intermittently crippled by earsplitting noises from the radio transmitters they are forced to wear, can of course not perform ballet well. Their ability to dance has been purposefully reduced to the level any citizen in the dystopia could achieve. Advantage and competition have been effectively eliminated—but so, it seems, has art.
Who knows better’n I do what normal is?
Hazel personifies average. She requires no handicaps, as neither her strength nor intelligence nor appearance gives her an advantage over anyone else. She believes this means she is just as capable as anyone else, including Diana Moon Glampers, to do any given job, including being Handicapper General.
If I tried to … soon we’d be … back to the dark ages … with everybody competing.
George dismisses Hazel’s suggestion that he remove some of the weights that encumber him in order to rest when at home. According to George, flouting the law in this way would threaten the egalitarian society. Carrying less weight would give him an advantage over others, which would lead to competition, a fate he and Hazel agree would be terrible.
Harrison Bergeron … has … escaped from jail … a genius and an athlete … under-handicapped, and … extremely dangerous.
In a televised news bulletin, the government warns the populace that Harrison Bergeron is on the loose. It describes the teen as a threat because of his exceptional abilities. The Handicapper General has been unable to fully restrain the young man. As a result, Harrison Bergeron is definitely not equal to everyone else, which makes him a danger to society.
I am the Emperor … Even … crippled, hobbled, sickened—I am … greater … Now watch.
Harrison Bergeron declares himself emperor, an authoritarian, unassailable leader. He makes the claim based on his superior abilities—even with his absurdly excessive handicaps, Bergeron insists he is better than anyone else and is here to prove it. He commands the attention of the audience as he prepares to show them his seemingly superficial abilities—his strength and looks. An questionable hero, he will use his abilities not to help society, but to help himself.
Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles … revealed a man that would have awed Thor.
Harrison Bergeron easily rips off the handicaps the government has placed upon him. He destroys the glasses and earphones that have limited his perception, and everyone can see him clearly for the first time. His physical superiority is shocking and undeniable, something that would have amazed even a god such as Thor. The author parodies such heroes and the superficial abilities idolized by society.
I shall now select my Empress … Let the … woman … claim her mate and her throne!
Harrison Bergeron not only names himself emperor after his escape from prison, but also announces he will name his own empress. He will give the honor to the first woman with the courage to volunteer.
Play your best … and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.
After escaping from jail, ripping off his handicaps, and declaring himself emperor, Harrison Bergeron promises titles to the musicians who remove their handicaps and play with talent, creating music for his first dance with his empress. The positions are not democratic but autocratic, bestowed at the pleasure of a sovereign rather than earned through election.
It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.
Unencumbered by handicaps and free to use their full strength and grace, Harrison Bergeron and the ballerina dance as no one has danced before. They defy not only the government, but the laws of gravity, leaping all the way to the ceiling.
Glampers, the Handicapper General … fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead.
Armed with a shotgun and with ruthless, unhandicapped skill, Diana Moon Glampers shoots twice. Harrison Bergeron and the ballerina are dead before their bodies fall to earth, their reign and rebellion violently ended. Resistance proved pointless.
I forget … Something real sad on television.
After witnessing her son’s televised murder, Hazel cries. Almost immediately she forgets what has upset her, only vaguely remembering it was something she saw on television.
Forget sad things.
George advises his wife, Hazel, to forget about whatever had upset her, not remembering himself that it was the death of their son. Hazel agrees that she doesn’t seem to remember disturbing things or really anything at all.