A society filled with wide television screens, fast cars, and the complete banishment of literature is seen as ideal in this action-packed science fiction novel. Firemen switch their roles from being the extinguishers to the igniters of bonfires that ruin any book that they come across, watching in glee as the blaze incinerates its contents. A time where the government had complete control over a population by using their deadliest weapon: Using their authoritative power to inflict ignorance on their citizens. Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury, perfectly captures how censorship can drastically alter a society, and how one person can start a revolution with the use of knowledge.
Before diving into the details of this novel, looking for background information on the topics discussed and the author is crucial to understanding the novel. Without knowing the year the novel was published, many won’t realize how the topic displayed relates to the time period it was written in. Fahrenheit 451 was written in a time where technology was new, and censorship and ignorance ran rampant in the country. McCarthyism really highlights how America at the time dealt with conflict. They didn’t know much, so they pointed fingers at anyone and everyone that shown some sign of supporting communism. This is the same situation described in the novel, where the authoritative figures stop any sort of conflict by keeping the general population in the dark, and destroying anything that makes them think about the imperfections of their society.
Ray Bradbury was known for being a screenwriter and an author. He is known for writing Dark Carnival, which was his first published work, and The Martian Chronicles, his first major work. Bradbury’s best-known novel, Fahrenheit 451, was published in 1953. It became an instant classic in the McCarthyism era for its exploration of censorship and conformity. (“Ray Bradbury” 2019). Bradbury disputed that the main theme of Fahrenheit 451 was censorship, explaining that the book is a story about how television lessens interest in reading literature. He also wrote for several hours every day throughout his life, which allowed him to publish close to 600 short stories, over 30 books, and numerous screenplays, poems and essays.
In this novel, it seems that Bradbury detected what the future would be like when it comes to societal behavior in present-day America. He realized early on how technology would soon drastically displace any other activity in American society. Today, technology has caused many to suffer without anyone realizing until recently. Social Media skews what the average person looks like, and what is considered beautiful. Many websites have the power to spread false information to thousands of people. In this day and age, technology has become dangerous to the developing brains of children and adolescents, which can cause mental illness. Even back in the 1950’s, technology changed many things, and Bradbury saw how it can build up over time to do even more damage than what it did in his time.
An interesting plot is an essential when writing a novel. Every classic novel known to man has a distinguishable plot that makes sure that the needed information is laid out at the beginning, and the action in the novel keeps the reader engaged in the story. A plot must consist of these 5 key stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The exposition gives the reader background info on the setting and the characters that will be in the story. The rising action starts when a conflict arises, and this is the stage that leads up to the most intense part of the story, also known as the climax. Once the conflict is resolved, the falling action takes place, which helps lead into the resolution of the story. Fahrenheit 451 uses all of the needed elements of plot, and it orchestrates an amazing classic novel.
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In this dystopian society, firemen aren’t the ones to distinguish fires. These individuals have the job of destroying any form of literature they come across.. Guy Montag is a thirty year old firemen under the command of Officer Beatty. When he first joined, he found the task exhilarating, but over time his satisfaction disintegrated. He realized that his life was turning into something bleak. An unknown dread settled over him, and he didn’t know the reason why until he met a sixteen year old girl named Clarisse. The things she brought up to him about how she sees the world made him assess what was really the cause of his constant dread. “’Bet I know something else you don’t. There’s dew on the grass in the morning.’ He suddenly couldn’t remember if he had known this or not, and it made him quite irritable. ‘And if you look’—she nodded at the sky—’there’s a man in the moon.’ He hadn’t looked for a long time.” (Hearth; 50-3). Clarisse sparks a realization in Montag by inviting him to think instead of being told what to think, and this makes Montag start to question the life he is living.
A few days after his encounter with Clarisse, he finds Mildred, his wife, unconscious in their home by taking too many sleeping pills, and later responds to a peculiar and eye-opening encounter at an older woman’s house due to books being found in her home. When he arrived at the old woman’s house, she wanted to be burned with them. ‘’You weren’t there, you didn’t see,’ he said. ‘There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.’’ (Hearth; 46). This incident has a major impact on Montag, making him take books from the fires and hiding them away in order to find a solution to his dissatisfaction with life. When Montag doesn’t show up to work the next day, Officer Beatty heads over to Montag’s place to explain to him how it is normal to go through a phase of what books have to offer in a dizzying monologue describing how literature was forbidden in the first place. According to Beatty, certain groups were offended by opinions stated in certain books. Soon after this incident, many books seemed the same due to many authors avoiding opinionated works that will upset the population. In the end, the government decided to get rid of all literature due to this. He then leaves Montag to decide what he thinks, leaving him to read as many books as he can in a 24-hour time period.
Feeling overwhelmed by the grueling task, he looks to his wife to support him and help him out, but she prefers to watch television. She doesn’t understand why Montag would want to take such a risk by reading books. He then remembers of an old professor he met, and realizes that he could help him understand what he read. He pays a visit to Faber, which helps him understand that Montag doesn’t just need the books themselves, he also needs time to immerse himself in them and have the freedom to act upon their ideas. “‘It’s not the books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the parlor families today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not.’” (Sieve; 79). Montag and Faber then make a plan to change their society for the better. Faber plans on contacting a printer to begin printing out novels, and Montag has the job of going into firemen’s homes and hiding the books. They theorize that this will make people rethink why firemen destroy literature when they have it themselves, therefore discrediting the profession. Faber gives Montag an earpiece, referenced as the “green bullet”, so Montag can communicate with Faber while the plan is in action.
After receiving the green bullet from Faber, Montag heads back home. Soon after he arrives, two of his wife’s friends come over to watch television together. They begin to talk about the war and their families. The way they converse in a superficial manner angers Montag, which prompts him to take a book of poetry from his stash and read “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. This disturbs the women, and Faber uses the green bullet to tell Montag to stop. After Montag finishes, Mildred starts to explain how poetry is used by firemen to prove the uselessness of literature. “‘Take my word for it, I’ve had to read a few in my time, to know what I was about, and the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They’re about non-existent people, figments of imagination, if they’re fiction. And if they’re non-fiction, it’s worse, one professor calling another an idiot, one philosopher screaming down another’s gullet.” (Sieve; 86) The women then leave to file a complaint to the firemen.
After this incident, Montag heads down to the fire station and hands Beatty one of his hidden books. Beatty then confuses Montag by citing contradictory quotes from famous works. He then explains how the contradictions show how literature can be dangerous and morbid, therefore it should be destroyed. ‘’What traitors books can be! You think they’re backing you up, and then they turn on you. Others can use them, too, and there you are, lost in the middle of the moor, in a great welter of nouns and verbs and adjectives.’’ (Sieve; 94). They were then interrupted by an alarm signaling that there’s another household containing books, and Montag realizes that the alarm was at his own home.
When he arrives, he sees his wife running out of the house with a suitcase. This makes him realize that his own wife had betrayed him. Beatty forces Montag to burn his house down, and that a hound is present incase he tries to escape. He then informs Montag that once he’s done, he’ll be under arrest. Montag starts to burn down his home, but when Beatty continues to berate him, Montag points the flamethrower at him and incinerates him. ‘’You always said, don’t face a problem, burn it. Well, now I’ve done both. Good-bye, Captain.’’ (Sieve; 103). He knocks out the other two firemen and incinerates the hound. He flees the scene and takes some books to put in another home to cause a distraction while he heads to Faber’s house. He learns that another hound is after him, along with a helicopter and a television crew. Faber plans to head to St. Louis to start printing out the books, which prompts Montag to give him some money. He then talls Faber how to remove his scent so the hound won’t come. He grabs some of Faber’s clothes and heads off to a river. He drifts along until he spots a railroad track to follow, which leads him to an important group. This group is composed of intellectuals that call themselves “The Book People”. This group is lead by a man named Granger. These people are a part of an international network of book lovers to intend on memorizing as much literature as they can. This organization hopes that their knowledge will help the aftermath of the war that was just declared. Montag is told to memorize the Book of Ecclesiastes. The group looks up and sees enemy jets fly past and begin to obliterate their city with bombs. The Book People take Montag with them in order to gather survivors and plan to rebuild a new civilization.
In any novel you pick up, characters are present to shape the story. There are many different ways a character can be made. An essential to any novel is a protagonist for the reader to follow throughout the plot. A protagonist is usually considered the “good force”, and the one that the reader supports. Another necessary character to add is an antagonist to go against the protagonist and cause the conflict needed to create an engaging story. Even though these two characters are the main focus, secondary characters are needed to add more interaction. There tends to be a “sidekick” that sticks by the protagonist’s and antagonist’s side. Background characters are also important, due to the fact that they can offer insight when it comes to the main characters and their personalities. Overall, every character added into a novel has an impact on the plot.
Guy Montag is described as having “a fiery face, and a blue-steel shaved yet unshaved look” (Hearth; 33). He is a third-generation fireman who realizes how empty he feels about his life, and starts to search for meaning in the objects that he is meant to destroy. He tends to act rash, and he has a hard time thinking for himself, yet he is determined to break himself away from an ignorant and oppressed society. He also forms strong attachments at an unusually fast rate with anyone who seems to want a genuine conversation, due to the fact he doesn’t have that kind of connection in his everyday life. He regrets not trying hard enough to have that kind of connection with his wife while he still could, and this carries on throughout the novel.
Beatty is the captain of Montag’s fire department. This character in particular is fairly complex, and full of contradictions. He is a fireman that knows a lot about literature. This point is made obvious, due to him reciting bible references throughout the novel. “Give a man a few lines of verse and he thinks he’s the Lord of all Creation. You think you can walk on water with your books. Well, the world can get by just fine without them.” (Burning; 118). It is also important to mention how Beatty’s speech to Montag describing the history of firemen was strangely ambivalent and slightly poetic. He calls them dangerous weapons, yet he uses his knowledge on literature to manipulate the main Guy Montag. On the other hand, Beatty describes how he has tried to understand the world and how it can make people feel lonely and bestial. He quickly explains how he prefers the life he has now, but it’s easy to realize his true feelings towards literature. His role in the story is complicated by the fact that he is used to do explain the background of the novel. His pessimistic outlook of the world and his lack of attempt to stop Montag from killing him, he seems like he became too sympathetic to really function as a pure antagonist.
Fahrenheit 451 heavily revolves around the idea of censorship and knowledge versus ignorance. The novel describes how the population is living in darkness while being surrounded by large screens and radios that are constantly blaring in their ears. The government declared that all forms of literature are considered subversive, as it makes the population aware of the unpleasant aspects of their own society. If the population was kept in the dark about these aspects, that gives the authoritative figures more power to influence them. Montag’s conversion to literature suddenly basks his world in light rather than the rest of society that’s shrouded in darkness. “Do you know why? I don’t, that’s sure! Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes!’ (Sieve; 17). It helps set him free from the oppression and the uncertainty he once had about his life, and made him realize how important knowledge really is in a world of ignorance. Fahrenheit 451’s direct message is that reading can give people knowledge about the imperfections in their society and give them ideas that are deemed threatening to authority. Even thought ignorance is bliss, knowledge is powerful (Censorship).
In conclusion, Fahrenheit 451 shows how easily censorship can shape a society. It highlights a controversial topic that is relevant in today’s society; The battle between knowledge and ignorance, and the use of censorship by government officials to herd a country. Montag is a perfect example of what some people want to do in their life. They see something that is wrong, and they want to do whatever it takes in order to make the world change for the better. Everyone else in this story is what many individuals are in a society controlled by censorship. They follow what they are told, and never question anything that they do. At the end of Fahrenheit 451, it finally describes what a perfect civilization should be; It should be full of truth, and most importantly, the power of knowledge.