The novel “Farenheit 451” written Ray Bradbury between 1950 and 1953 is thought provoking novel which raises important concerns about what the future may hold. Predominantly told through the eyes of the protagonist Guy Montag Bradbury warns humanity of a future containing mind manipulation, abuse of technology and heavy government censorship. The purpose of this book is clearly to warn society of the path we are headed to if we continue to value new technology over knowledge by showing us “that although knowledge can cause disharmony, knowledge of the past can help prevent man from making similar mistakes in the future”.
The title “Fahrenheit 451” is significant to the book because it represents the temperature at which books ignite. Since the events of the book are centered around the burning books, which is the ultimate form of censoring, the title “Fahrenheit 451” is representative of the heat, temperature of the burning books. Ray Bradbury was born in on the 22nd of August 1920 and even from the young age of seven Ray Bradbury was writing stories for his family in Waukegan, Illinois. As a child Bradbury was immersed in the world of fantasy, illusion and comic strips, especially the characters Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.
During high school Bradbury founded and edited his own magazine “Futuria Fantasia” which focused on the supernatural. After graduating from high school in 1938 he began writing short stories that did not sell and had to earn his money by selling newspapers in downtown Los Angeles. In 1953 Bradbury decided to become a full time writer were he produced some of his most famous works such as “The Martian Chronicles”, “Fahrenheit 451” and “Fever Dream”. Bradbury’s hatred for thought control or investigation arises from the fact that his very own ancestor, Mary Bradbury, was trialed as a witch in Massachusetts, during the seventeenth century.
This novel is set in a futuristic dystopian society where in an effort to accomplish sameness and cleanse the population of any possible conflicts the government has banned all literature and information about the past. Guy Montag the protagonist is employed by the fire department to burn books because they are said to be the world’s source of unhappiness. Because of the ban on book people in this society do not think independently or have meaningful conversations. Bradbury refers to the society as “living in total darkness”. One afternoon Montag encounters Clarisse, a young girl who opens his eyes to the emptiness in the world.
In a search for meaning Montag begins stealing and reading the books he is supposed to be burning. After reading the books he realizes that books are not a source of unhappiness. But rather a source of knowledge and entertainment. From here he joins a group of book reader rebels who have been hording and memorizing books with a hope of eventually reintroducing them back into society. Soon after Montag joins this group a war is declared and the country is bombed, the rebel group only narrowly survive. After the bombing, Montag and the group become of the last few humans remaining in America.
Montag and his group begin to rebuild a new civilization where book and literature are valued again. In a way the setting can represent the empty emotional state of characters in the novel, Mildred’s emotional state is shown by her desire for a fourth television screen, of which to fit on all sides of the room so she can view her “family” as she refers to them. The people on the television show are more important to her than her family. Although the society that Bradbury depicts in the book is very extreme, there is a clear statement about the danger of any kind of intellectual censorship.
This novel conveys the major theme of extreme of censorship on society. Bradbury illustrates the dangers of censorship by creating an extreme dystopian society where books are banned as an ultimate form of censorship. The government bans books not only because they might offend someone, but because books raise questions that often lead to rebellions and even anarchy. Without books or any means of knowledge the citizens never have to think or confront life, only focuses only on entertainment and immediate satisfaction, they never enjoy nature or spend time by themselves.
People with interests outside of technology and entertainment, are seen as strange and are usually avoid my majority of the population. This mass media smothering and extreme censorship leads to many problems including violence, depression, and even suicide as seen in Montag’s wife Mildred. The theme of extreme censorship is conveyed through a variety of techniques including the use animal imagery and the symbolism of fire, water and the Phoenix. Throughout the novel animal and nature imagery is used to represent the force of truth and innocence.
When Clarisse convinces Montag to taste the rain it changes him irreversibly showing him the enlightening power of unspoiled nature. Most of the novel’s animal imagery is ironic because even though the community is dominated by technology and disregards nature, many of the intimidating mechanical devices are modeled or named after animals for instance the Mechanical Hound and the Electric-Eyed Snake. Bradbury also uses powerful the symbolism of fire, water and the Phoenix to paint distinct images in the reader’s minds.
Firemen see fire as a symbol of purification through the burning of books. This is quite ironic because rather than purifying the world they are contributing to the destruction of knowledge. The Chief of the Fire Department, Captain Beatty states that “fire is bright and fire is clean. ” This belief is how he explains and justifies the reasons behind burning books. Fire was used to cleanse the fire department the chief Captain Beatty. This happens when Montag sets Beatty on fire in a fit of rage leaving squirming on the floor and the Fire Department building.
Furthermore, when Montag set his own house ablaze, he changes emotionally and feels that the fire burnt his old life allowing him to have a fresh start. The fire signifies Montag sterilizing his life by burning his house and all the manipulative technology inside it. The burning flames are much like those inside of Montag as he discovers that the life he once lived was a complete waste. Water is used by Bradbury to represent the cleansing of Montag’s mind as he makes a fresh start. When Clarisse convinces Montag to taste rain water it opens his eyes to the emptiness of his life and this is the beginning of Montag’s change.
Furthermore when Montag is on the run from the government he washes his hands and face as a way of cleansing himself of all evils and to absolve himself of all that he has gone through. To the reader, the water is seen as a symbol of cleansing and change as Montag changes into a person wiser, more knowledgeable person. The final major use of symbolism throughout the novel is the symbolism of the Phoenix. A Phoenix is described as a legendary bird which burns itself to ashes on a pyre every 500 years, and young phoenix will rise from the ashes.
The Phoenix in the book symbolizes the rebirth after destruction by fire. Firemen in the city wear the Phoenixes emblems on their uniforms, and Beatty drives a Phoenix car. This suggests that firemen believe that they are ridding the world of old knowledge so that new knowledge will flourish in the society. Furthermore after the bombing of the city, Granger make a reference to a phoenix “There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up…. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again.
And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. ” this symbolizes a brand new start for the world as humanity literally rises from the ashes of the old way of life to a new lifestyle where books and knowledge are valued in the world.
Bradbury clearly conveys this theme of the consequences of extreme censorship through his wide use of techniques and language devices such as imagery and symbolism. Through this intriguing novel Bradbury has really opened society’s eyes to the real possibility of the world becoming so politically correct that the government is forced to ban books and implement harsh censorship to avoid any conflict among races in society. It also shows how misused of over-excessive technology can cause people to become totally reliant on them like the television and radio which caused many people to suicide in “Fahrenheit 451”.
Other than the major theme of extreme censorship the novel conveys many other different sub themes that have had a major effect on society such as individual vs. society, and mindless entertainment vs. interpersonal relationships are still visible in today’s society. The relevance of “Fahrenheit 451” to modern society has made it one of the most widely read dystopian novels winning the novel many awards and proving readers with an enjoyable and insightful book.