The main characters of the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut are Harrison, Hazel, and George Bergeron. Harrison Bergeron is a teenager whose intelligence and physical strength are above average and who is consequently seen as a threat by the authorities. Hazel Bergeron is a mediocre woman, while George Bergeron is an intelligent man forcefully handicapped. Throughout the narrative, the characters do not evolve, as they are prevented from doing so by the society they live in.
The narrative mentions other characters as well. In the TV studio, there are the ballerinas and musicians, but also the news announcer. At the end, Diana Moon Glampers, the United States Handicapper General, makes a short appearance when she personally kills Harrison Bergeron. Almost all the characters presented in the story have a symbolic function, which will be discussed in a dedicated section.
Harrison Bergeron is one of the main characters in the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. He is a 14-year-old boy who is taken away from his home by the authorities and imprisoned. The media describes him as “a genius and an athlete” and as “extremely dangerous”. He is “seven feet tall”.
Harrison Bergeron is described as “a walking junkyard”, carrying “three hundred pounds”of artificial handicaps:
Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.
He is also forced to wear “a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random”. Nevertheless, the authorities believe that Harrison is still “under-handicapped”. When he takes his handicaps off, Harrison Bergeron looks like a “man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder”.
Although the narrative does not initially explain why Harrison Bergeron was taken away from his home, the clarification comes later. The media presents him as a man who is “plotting to overthrow the government”, but no further details regarding this issue are given.
Harrison is mainly characterized by his rebellion against the government. First, he escapes prison. Then, he breaks into the TV studio, where he proclaims himself Emperor and orders everyone around: “ ‘I am the Emperor!’ cried Harrison. ‘Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!’ He stamped his foot and the studio shook.” His gesture of taking off his handicaps is also considered an act of rebellion.
When he wants to choose his Empress, Harrison challenges the women in the TV studio: “ ‘Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!’ ”. His gesture suggests that he needs a partner who is as rebellious and as willing to defy the authorities as he is.
Harrison’s motivation could be a desire to show people how normality should look like. First, he challenges the musicians to play real music. Then, he dances with his partner “in an explosion of joy and grace”). However, his success is brief, as he dies after being shot by Diana Moon Glampers, the US Handicapper General.
Harrison Bergeron becomes a symbol of rebellion, a figure who wants to overthrow a faulty government. His acts of rebellion are, however, useless, as people are either too afraid to act upon them – like George – or simply lack the intelligence to understand what they have witnessed – like Hazel.
Hazel Bergeron is another important character in the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. She is Harrison’s mother and a woman whose intelligence is “perfectly average”. Hazel also “bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General”. She is not able to think too much and, consequently, lacks any artificial handicaps. Hazel might also be a religious woman, as hinted in her references to religion.
Hazel seems to care about her husband and is sorry that he has to carry a 47 pounds handicap locked around his neck. She is also willing to make concessions for his sake:“ ‘I don't care if you're not equal to me for a while’ ”.
While George seems afraid to challenge the system, Hazel comes up with ideas of cheating: “ ‘If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few’ ”. She also imagines herself as the Handicapper General. Although she cares about her husband, Hazel does not seem to always understand his suffering. She is “a little envious” when George hears sounds through the radio transmitter, claiming that hearing them must be “real interesting”. She is sincerely curious and does not want to harm George with her ideas, and knows that not obeying laws would make a society fall apart. However, this could also mean she was taught to think like this, as she was most likely told that people being in competition with each other and having different skills leads to chaos.
When she watches TV, Hazel is not really able to understand what she is seeing. She is sympathetic when she sees the announcer struggling to deliver the news, but she forgets that she sees her son dying. Her love for her son is not completely lost, however, as George notices that she has cried and that she was affected by what she saw.
George Bergeron is Harrison Bergeron’s father and one of the main characters of “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. George’s intelligence is “way above normal”, so he has “a little mental handicap radio in his ear”. Because of his physical strength, George is forced to wear “forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag” around his neck.
Although more intelligent than Hazel and aware of the inequalities of the society he lives in, George is compliant and obeys the law. When Hazel suggests he cheats, George refuses, as he is afraid of the consequences: “ ‘Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,’ said George. ‘I don't call that a bargain’ ”. Moreover, he is aware of the consequences of rebelling against the government and what it would mean for society:
‘If I tried to get away with it,’ said George, ‘then other people'd get away with it-and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn't like that, would you?’
Each time George thinks deeply about something, his thoughts are interrupted by the radio transmitter, which makes sounds meant to confuse him. For example, when he thinks that ballerinas should not be handicapped, the radio transmitter interrupts his thoughts. The same thing happens when he remembers his son: “He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that”. When he recognizes Harrison on screen, “the realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head”.
Because of the radio transmitter, George is constantly confused and prevented from focusing on a particular issue. Consequently, he often cannot have a conversation with his wife. In the end, George misses his son’s execution on TV and advises Hazel to forget what she saw. By advising his wife to return to their normal lives, George is unaware of his son’s act of rebellion and sacrifice.