Analysis of a Dystopian Novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is a book set in the 24th century written by Ray Bradbury which tells the story of Guy Montag who is a fireman. The book explores a dystopian world where firemen work to start fires and burn books. Dystopia is a word that is used to refer to the opposite of Utopia. Hence, it represents a world that is terrible in all ways imaginable. A dystopian novel, therefore, portrays a disastrous future. In this book, the protagonist is a proud fireman who takes pride in his work which involves burning illegal books and the homes of their owners. However, with time, he starts to question his work and the purpose of his life in general. Throughout the book, the fireman is faced by numerous dilemmas concerning his life and the problems facing in his society and eventually, he flees from the oppressive society which hates and condemns reading and joins a group of intellectual rebels who are against the ideas of the society. When the story begins, the protagonist befriends a teenager by the name of Clarisse McClellan who is an inquisitive and humanistic character. Her ideals make the protagonist to question his outer and he realizes that he is unhappy. He notices that he no longer loves his wife, Millie.
On the other side, his wife is not concerned with reality and she spends her time watching Television and listening to radio. She is also addicted to tranquilizers and Montag cannot stand her. He is concerned with the looming atomic war and the lack of tolerance for reading and literacy in the society. In one incident, Montag is sent to burn the book of an old woman and her home and instead of leaving her home, she chooses to die. After this incident, Montag realizes that all his life, he has been part of the destruction and oppression in the society despite the fact that he always thought he was helping in his role as a fireman. He develops a reading habit in secret with the help of his mentor, Faber. The novel reaches climax when the protagonist ends up reading a poetry book to his wife and her friends. This happens after he finds them idling in the house watching Television. This prompts his wife to tell on him and when the firemen come, Montag ends up killing his Captain after which he flees. He later encounters a group of homeless intellectuals and together, they start to memorize books with the hope that they will be able to rewrite them in future. The novel ends when the city is destroyed by an atomic bomb and the protagonist together with his newfound colleagues think about how they are going to rebuild a literate society from the nuclear ruins. This text explores the major themes, imagery, and symbols evident in the novel which the author uses to tell the story of a dystopian world where knowledge is frowned upon and oppression is the order of the day.
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Main Themes and Imagery
One theme that is evident on the book is identity. As seen from the beginning of the book, the protagonist, Montag is struggling with his identity. At forts, he is a happy fireman who takes pride in his work. He believes that he is helping the society through his tasks as a fireman. He does not question the jobs he is sent to do which mostly include burning forbidden books. He believes that he is doing the right thing (Y?±lmaz, 27). However, with time, he starts to see the reality from which point he faces a dilemma when it comes to deciding his identity and purpose on the world.
After he meets and befriends a 17 year old girl, he realizes that there is nothing good about what he does and that his whole life and career were extremely different from what he thought. He realizes that he is part of the destruction and oppression and by taking part in burning the forbidden books; he was simply carrying out the demands of the authorities. Hence, he starts to change and develops his own identity and ideologies that he deems right (Anwar, 246). He later chooses to join an underground movement that supports reading and intellectual development which is against the law in the dystopian society the book is set.
Other characters including the wife of the protagonist are also struggling with their identity. This is evident from the fact that they only watch Television and their minds are controlled by the government. They are not allowed to think for themselves or create their own identities. His wife tries to overdose on sleeping pills as she is not happy with her life despite the fact that she appears to be. This is something that is shared by most of the people in the society as they are all horribly dissatisfied with the kind of life they are forced to live.
Technology is also greatly evident in the 24th century world that the book is set. The Televisions in the story are enormous and they occupy entire parlor room walls. The TV characters are also able to communicate directly with the listener and address them by name (Y?±lmaz, 28). The people are also exposed to small seashell radios that are broadcast into their rears throughout the day. The cars found in the book are also highly developed as it is said that they are driven at speeds of at least 150 mph.
Censorship is a theme that is heavily evident in the book and it is actually the main form of oppression that the people are subjected to. There is no clear reason given by the author as to the reason and purpose of the censorship where people are not allowed to read but instead, the author gives various suggestions on the factors that might have led to the censorship. One reason the public is hostile towards books and reading in general is due to the presence of too much technology in form of advanced Television, Radio and Music (Hammett, 207). Hence, these factors might have caused the people to lose concentration which is essential to ensure a favorable reading environment. Additionally, the presence of a huge mass of published material in the society might have overwhelmed the public. The censorship is also caused by the objection of the various minority groups that do not want people to read about things they are sensitive about.
The author also touches on the concept of religion in the novel and he refers to various Christian stories found in the Bible. In one instance, the author refers to the Miracle of Canaa perfume by Jesus where he turned water into wine. Faber talks about himself where he described himself as water and he refers to Montag as fire after which the two elements fuse to produce wine. This event is also a way through which Montag can realize his identity just like Jesus confirmed his identity as the messiah when he performed the referenced miracle.
In another incident, Faber invokes the value of forgiveness as taught in Christianity. In this case, he tells Montag that since he was a member of the society before he turned against them after acquiring knowledge, he should not be furious with the members of the society but instead be pitiful as the teachings of Christianity asked the followers to do.
Animal and mature imagery is spread throughout the book where nature is depicted as a force of truth and innocent. One character, Clarisse, who is a good friend of the protagonist loves and admires nature. She convinces Montag to taste the rain and this is one of the most instrumental incidents in his transformation. Irony is heavily portrayed in the animal imagery used in the book. Most of the people in the society which the book is set are ignorant of nature and animals and they prefer technology to any of the two natural elements (Rodr?guez, 61). However, they have built various mechanical devices that are modeled after animals and also named after them. These devices are scary with the most notable examples being the mechanical hound and the Electric-eyed snake.
Hence, the entire society is dominated by advanced technology and Montag even talks about this issue with Clarisse when he starts to develop an interest in books. Eventually, the city is destroyed by atomic bombs which show the negative technology that is present in this world. However, after Montag joins the underground movement, he uses very little technological tools and equipment and together with other individuals he meets in this movement, he talks about how the technology had affected the world and they start to devise ways to rebuild the already destroyed world (McGiveron, 338).
Animal imagery is also widely used in the book from the beginning. In the first page of the book, the pages of the books that are being burned are compared to birds that are attempting to fly away from the inferno. The protagonist makes a comparison between the tool that is saving him and a snake. Firemen are also represented by a salamander throughout the novel in addition to the phoenix that is widely referred to in the book.
In most cases, the animal imagery is used to depict negative situations. This is seen in the development of the mechanical hound that is used to show the death and destruction that takes place throughout the book. However, in one instance, animal imagery is used to portray positivity when Montag encounters a deer after he gets out of a river in one situation. Initially, he thinks it is a hound but then realizes that it is a deer which seems to be peaceful and elegant. This is a symbol that represents the new life that Montag is about to lead after he had abandoned his former life (Mirenayat et al., 264).
The concept of life and death is seen throughput the book most notably when the protagonist’s wife tries to commit suicide by overdosing on her sleeping pills. Montag discovers her in time and calls for medical assistance to save her life. At this time, it is not indicated where she will live or whether she is going to die (Thakur and Divya, 240). At this point, he also learns from the emergency medics that it is normal for them to be called to save people who have attempted suicide. Hence, this shows that the world portrayed in the book is filled with instances which are characterized by death in form of the regular suicide attempts and life represented by the attempts to save these people who attempt suicide. This leaves the protagonist with questions on the concept of life which seems to be full of emptiness and death.
In the story, a combination of the hearth and the salamander is used symbolically and it is also the title of the first part of the book. The hearth is a representative of a traditional home while the salamander is among the official symbols adopted by the firemen. In fact, the fire trucks used by the protagonist and his colleagues are named after the salamander. The two symbols mentioned above are used to depict fire which is a consistent image in Montag’s life. The hearth found in homes contains fire used for heating purposes while the salamander is also linked to fire from the ancient beliefs that the animal lives in fire and cannot be burned.
The sieve and the sand is the title of the second part of the book. It is derived from the childhood of Montag when he was playing with his cousin in the beach. In this incident, he tried to fill a sieve with sand to no avail. This futile task disappointed him and he compares the incident to another futile attempt where he tries to read the entire Bible as fast as he could while in the subway hoping that some content would stick in his memory if he read with speed. Hence, the sand represents the elusive knowledge that Montag seeks to find while the sieve symbolizes his mind which cannot seem to grasp any long term content (Durand, 387).
The phoenix is also used in the book to symbolize mankind. According to legend, the phoenix burns itself completely but still manages to rise up from its ashes again stronger than before. Hence, this is used to show the possibility of recovery after the city is destroyed by atomic bombs (Thakur and Divya, 237). The people had made mistakes that led to their won distraction but Granger, a character in the story believes that mankind is like the phoenix and will also rise again from the ashes. Hence, the phoenix shows the ability of mankind to resurrect or rise from destructive mistakes.
Another symbol used in the book is mirrors and it is referenced towards the end of the story where Granger says that they must build a factory to make mirrors so that the people in the new society can use them to take a long look at themselves (McGiveron, 282). Hence, the mirrors symbolize self-understanding and the ability to examine oneself and clearly recognize the reality.
Overview of the Dystopian World
As seen from the analysis of the main themes, imagery, and symbolism, there is a cleral depiction of a dystopian world in which people are oppressed especially by being prevented from reading and owning books by the law. The society in the story also lacks independent thought and the people are obsessed with Television, and Radio. The media obsession blocks them from independent thought and they only absorb what they are shown. There is no free will in this society as seen from the punishment people are subjected to for choosing to read and won books. The authorities use family members and fried s to police one another which causes the people to live in fear of everyone including their loves ones.
As seen from text, Fahrenheit 451 is a novel written by Ray Bradbury about a dystopian world that is set in the 24th century. In the book, people are forbidden from reading any illegal book and those caught with such books are punished severely. The fire department is in charge of burning these books and the protagonist in the book, Montag works as a fireman. Hence, the book follows Montag as he transforms from a proud member of this society that seems to hate knowledge to a rebel who tries to restore the concept of knowledge-seeking. Various themes are evident in the book such as religion, technology, censorship, among others as described in text. Animal imagery is also used to tell the story as well as various symbols including blood, mirrors, the phoenix, and salamanders. Hence, the author explores a dystopian world that does not tolerate reading and knowledge where essential institutions in the society such as the fire fighting department are used to oppress the public and at the end, the city is destroyed by atomic bombs.
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