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Equal every which way

April 16, 2014 - Jim Anderson
I haven’t read the short story “Harrison Bergeron” in 30 years or so, but a single line has been in my memory so long I decided to revisit it.

When you reach the line, you’ll understand.

The story opens like this:

“The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

“Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime.”

And, of course, there it is. That’s the line.

“April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime.”

Enjoy the snowfall, folks. (I’ll be here all week.)

As for the rest of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 story, if the opening has piqued your interest, here’s a link.

If you prefer a two-sentence CliffsNotes version, it’s a satire. Everyone is ridiculously handicapped to make everyone ridiculously “equal.” Conservatives seem to like the story, even though Vonnegut’s politics were decidedly otherwise.

In re-reading it, I mostly take it as a satire on scorekeeping. We lose humanity if our sole focus is on measuring life. The redundant distractions that scramble George's brain are an attempt to keep all scores even, which leads nowhere.

Finally, Harrison Bergeron strips the government's handicaps only to declare himself a tyrant. Not much of an answer there, either, if you’re looking to solve society’s great challenges.



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