‘Harrison Bergeron’ by Kurt Vonnegut

Is this story any good? Heck if I know. It was assigned reading in seventh grade and it’s been in my head ever since. Revisiting it for the first time in decades to write this I find it broad, a little weird—the hero is a good six years younger than makes sense—and startlingly prescient: the parents in the story watch a terrible personal tragedy unfold on TV but the father is unable to remember what has happened and why he is crying because a device implanted in his brain constantly interrupts his train of thought. (Do you need to check your phone? I’ll wait.) The premise of the story, that people with talent, strength or intelligence are punished in ways designed to bring them down to the lowest common denominator in the name of “equality,” strikes me as peculiarly Midwestern and a little Fountainheadish around the edges now, but when I first read it I was a loudmouth fourteen-year-old Jewish bookworm in Boise, Idaho who was regularly bullied for “using big words.” It’s not hard to see why it struck a chord.

First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1961. Collected in Welcome to the Monkey House, Delacorte, 1968

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