Throughout Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury develops multiple themes through the main character, Guy Montag. As Montag develops into his own person as the book progresses, he helps add emphasis to several themes including censorship and alienation, real vs fake and life vs death, religious values, technological advancements, and paradoxes. The futuristic society that Bradbury develops shows that people are afraid of criticism, do not think for their own, fail to see what is true and what is fake, depend more on technology than themselves, and fear knowledge in general.
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He also implies that without any feedback or criticism, progress of society would be nearly impossible. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury attempts to communicate the message that society can never get rid of books, thoughts and discussion, and criticism or society will become a spoon fed population that only depends on technology and the fact that everyone thinks exactly the same.
The first, and main theme that is developed through Montag is censorship and alienation. In Fahrenheit 451, an individual is considered strange if they are interested in something that is not common in society. For example, a young girl who stretches the mind of Montag throughout the book, named Clarisse, explains how she has always been interested in subjects outside of the typical interests of society. On a rainy day, while everyone is inside watching television, you could find Clarisse outside taking a walk in the rain and exploring nature and all the world has to offer, something a normal citizen would never do. As the beginning of the book develops, you can imply that the reasons why society is so sucked into a technological life may be loud music, fast cars, and the pressure to only be interested in entertainment like movies, magazines, and TV. Since society makes people the same, or at least tries to, Clarisse is viewed as weird. As you learn in the first pages of the book, Montag works as a firefighter. However, in this futuristic society, firefighters work to burn any books that are caught in someone’s possession. People believe that books encourage critical thought and would offend minorities, so they become illegal. Authors, full of evil, lock up your typewriters. They did (55). This society wants everyone to be the same so that no one ever gets hurt and everyone agrees on everything.
A fellow firefighter of Montag says, We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; men are all happy (55). In hindsight, since there is no diversity, everyone is basically braindead, and they are not able to actually express their interests and who they are because it is against the status quo. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca to cater for everyone (55). All the media that citizens have access to is the same. There are no diversity among news channels, like modern society. The government of this society does not allow or want citizens to develop their own opinions because they do not want anyone to get hurt. A lot of the idea in the book that show a censored society and show how people are alienated actually reflect the ideas of people like Hitler, or the Chinese that operate with a totalitarian regime. A totalitarian regime is where the people get no say in anything and the government tries to control every aspect of society. Also, in America during the early 1900s through the era of the red scare, there was a crackdown on communism. Originally initiated and advocated by the U.S. Senator, Joseph McCarthy, this hunt for communists included locating and persecuting anyone who was thought to be associated with communist ideals (De Clercq, Probert, Bradbury 2015). The Fahrenheit 451 society directly reflects this era in United States history. People who do not want to conform to the social norms, or just do not fit in, once again like Clarisse, were persecuted for having different interests from everyone else. In Mass Degradation of Humanity and Massive Contradictions in Bradbury’s Vision of America in Fahrenheit 451, Jack Zipes discusses the premises that Bradbury bases Fahrenheit 451 off of:
The McCarthy witch hunts, the Cold War, The Korean War, and the rapid rise of television as a determinant in the culture industry, the spread of advertisement, and the abuse of technology within the military-industrial complex, the frustration and violence of the younger generation, the degradation of the masses- these are the factors that went into making Fahrenheit 451 (Zipes 4).
Zipes mentions how the book is often viewed at by describing issues that occur in the world as a whole, however when it is given a closer examination, it actually targets the problems in America in the 1950s, keeping in mind that the book was published in 1953.
Due to the fact that everyone that is living in this society is just breathing potatoes with no opinions or personalities, they are no able to distinguish what is real and what is not. For example, Montag’s wife attempts to kill herself. He comes home to find his wife in bed and then he stumbles over an empty pill bottle in the darkness of their bedroom. Immediately, Montag calls for help. As he sits and watches as his wife receive medical attention, he is informed by the paramedics that suicide revival is a very common task that they have to perform. The paramedics tell him that they get call after call each night with reports of attempted suicide. This shows that the people approach life with no distinctive boundaries between life and death. People are approaching life with this blurred boundary because of their dependence on technology. The problem with this is that you can only depend on technology for so many things. For example, if the Fahrenheit 451 society was to have a major power outage or for some reason all their technology stopped functioning, people would literally be helpless. Bradbury was trying to highlight this flawed aspect of their society to show people that technology is not always a good thing,and could actually cause people to be helpless and uneducated in drastic situations.
Another theme presented throughout the book is religious values. Although this theme may not be obvious at first glance, it is incorporated a little bit. There are multiple Biblical allusions that make themselves known throughout the course of the story. The book describes one time where Montag and his fire crew have to respond to call of an old woman who had a stash of books hidden in her house. The old woman seems to be stubborn and fixated on the idea that books are magical and when you read, books can make you feel as if you are living in the story. In the end, the old woman refuses to leave her books and burns with them. Through the midst of all that chaos, Montag saves on book. The book that he saves is The Bible. As the book progresses, Montag becomes interested with this book and says that he he will reprint the book in a new society, implying that more people can have access to The Bible and so they can see the Word of God. This new society parallels with what the Bible actually says about the need for the renewal of the world. In the New Testament of the Bible, it prophesies that when the Second Coming of Jesus occurs, anything in the world that needs replaced in God’s image, will end up being replaced. The final book of the Bible, Revelation, tells about how the Second Coming of Christ will happen, but first there is going to be struggle that has to take place. That struggle, in Fahrenheit 451, is the corruption of society. Another parallel that can be made between the Bible and Fahrenheit 451 is Montag and the group of men he found after floating down the river and the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Sisario 1970, p. 205). The Twelve Tribes of Israel descend from the early biblical figure Abraham. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (who later became known as Israel) had twelve sons, each of which became the head of their own tribe. The tribes dispersed themselves throughout various locations in the Land of Canaan, on both sides of the Jordan River. As time passed, a monarchy that was established caused the splitting of the state, which made it seems as if all the tribes had diminished. However, the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed that land would not be divided anymore and that the tribes would take back their original land. (Where are the Ten Lost Tribes? 2000). (Sisario 1970, p. 205) compares the two concepts by saying:
The lines Bradbury has Guy recall not only reinforce the idea of a cyclical world, but also give us a key to Bradbury’s hope that the ‘healing of nations’ can best come about through a rebirth of man’s intellect. We must use our minds to halt the endless cycles of destruction by warfare to rebirth to a world of uneasy peace and intellectual death. The Twelve Tribes of Israel wandering in the desert seeking a new nation can be recalled here as Montag, Granger, and the others wander away from the city with hope that their new world will soon be established.
Within the group on men, each of them acts as a different book. Each man memorizes passages from different literature so that they can just reference each other instead of risk getting caught with books. One of the verses that Montag recalls from his book, The Bible, is from the Revelation. It says, It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations (The Bible, NLT). The fact that this verse mentions on each side of the river ties the comparison together perfectly, considering that, as I mentioned earlier, the Twelve Tribes Of Israel settled on each side of the Jordan River. Just as the Twelve Tribes of Israel are wandering, waiting, and looking for peace to be restored to their land, so are Montag and his group of men who are waiting for peace to be restored regarding societal corruption, especially with literature. Montag desires for his society to be renewed so it is rid of almost all the things it currently stands for, such as the obsession with technology and the fact that no one can think for themself, especially with books. If Montag could create his own society or alter his current one, the first thing that he would do is provided access to all different types of books and get rid of the corruption that is enforced regarding literature or other arts and nature.
Montag also begins to relate his real life and personal situations to different stories and parables in The Bible. The last Biblical comparison regarding Montag has to do the apostle Paul. Paul’s story begins as he is taking a long trip to the city of Damascus, where he is a non believer in God. As he is traveling, he is blinded by a bright light from God. Once he comes to the realization that God is calling him, he changes his name to Saul (by the orders of God) and begins to preach the Word and tell everyone along his travels about the Lord. This is significant to Fahrenheit 451 because both Paul and Montag make a conversion from non believers to believers. Montag is also blinded by society in the beginning of book. He transforms from going with the flow of society to realizing that how he was living was no correct and recognizes that something needs to be done and changes need to be made. Both figures, Paul and Montag, also go on to spread the Word. Montag often tells his friends of the parables that he reads about in the Bible and Paul preaches to the people. So, in a way both of them are communicators of the Word of God. Another association between Paul and Montag can be found in Scripture when Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:17-18: This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus. They have left the path of truth, claiming that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred; in this way, they have turned some people away from the faith (The Bible, NLT). In this verse, Paul recognizes that these two men, Hymenaeus and Philetus, are false prophecies and try to turn people away from faith, the same way that society tries to get people to think one way and Montag realizes it (Kopanksi 2011).
Another pretty prominent theme that ties into other themes in the book is technological advancements. People in this society pretty obviously rely on technology more than their own brain power. Some examples of technology that people rely on most commonly in this society are basic things such as TV. The people get all their sources and information from the same media. Another example of technology that many people rely on is the machine that saved Montag’s wife when she tried to kill herself. As I mentioned earlier, the paramedics explained to Montag that they get suicide attempt calls very often and they have become almost a routine, common thing to have happen. This implies that people make stupid decisions everyday because they always have the mentality that it will be okay, and technology, like the paramedics used to revive Montag’s wife, will help them escape any sticky situation that they could possibly get themselves in. But what if the technology that they rely so religiously on stops working? How would the husband of a wife who just tried to take her own life react if he was told that there was no way of saving her because the technology was down or damaged in some type of way? If this ever happened to this society, no one would no what to do.
Technology is nice because it makes things easier, but it should not end up at the point where people are trusting their lives to it. Bradbury highlights this to show people that technology should not be something that people put 100% of their faith into. When it comes to the science fiction genre, usually a society or a certain aspect of society can be described in a dystopian manner or a utopian manner. Dystopian society is associated with concepts that represent a negative connotation. This can include an aspect that leads to more deterioration within a society, rather than the building up of a society. A utopian society is associated with positive advancements that help civilization live in the most fruitful way possible. In Fahrenheit 451, technology is described as a dystopian concept. Three main characteristics of a dystopian society that are present in Fahrenheit 451 include a background story that causes a new definitive structural system to be locked in place (the criticisms of literature that caused books to be burnt so feelings we no longer hurt), many new advances in technology, and less individuality. So in this way, the Fahrenheit 451 society is very comparable to Nazi Germany (Mahida 2). More than anything else, thus, Nazism from the outset embodied a new ideal group, a community of human beings who are physically and mentally alike this entity was to be judged solely by the degree of goodness of its institutions for its own people’ (Claeys 178). In Nazi Germany, the goal was for all people to think the same, just like it was in the Fahrenheit 451 society.
All these themes add up to the importance that Bradbury was trying to emphasize about the need for diversity in society. He portrayed that like minds lead to less progress as a nation. He also showed how technology can be a good thing, but it is something that you have to be on watch for. He shows that getting consumed too much in media can be dangerous and in the end proves the point that disputes and criticism can actually be a vital part of individuality and compromise.
Clercq, Anne-Sophie de, et al. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Book Analysis) : Detailed Summary, Analysis and Reading Guide. BrightSummaries.com, 2015. Book Analysis. EBSCOhost, proxy-ship.klnpa.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e900xww&AN=1236984&site=eds-live&scope=site.
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