An analysis of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 with a special focus on Guy Montag’s communal development and the theme of censorship This essay will analyse Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” with a main focus on the key character and the theme of censorship. Censorship is the cause of all actions in the story bound society, and is the main influence on the Guy Montag’s personal development. As censorship constantly influences his lifestyle, he realizes what is wrong with the system and undergoes a change in his attitude towards his surroundings and standard of living.
Analysing the effects of censorship and Montag’s development we will closely follow the three stages of his progress; ignorance, doubt, rebellion. To do this we will follow from the beginning of his story, investigating his every action and state of affairs in the key events of his development. By the end of this essay we will have been through the whole development, revealing us the result of Guy Montag’s progress and how he has handled his conflicts with censorship.
We will analyse the factors and reasons to what made him revolt against the society, and analyse the actions and roles of the characters that have influenced the results of his achievements. Having done this we will be able to extract the message Ray Bradbury is sending to the public and the background for writing Fahrenheit 451. “Picture it. Nineteenth -century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids.
Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending. … Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, the cut again to fit two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-dictionary ri?’sumi??. Now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours. “1 The futuristic society in Fahrenheit 451 had developed having modernised largely between the two centuries as explained by Captain Beatty, causing that in the late twentieth century, articles were cut shorter, great novels were cut down and summarised into radio shows.
Writing books also became a bigger problem for the authors, due to the world having suffered two world wars and two atomic wars, it became a harder task not to offend minorities and other interest groups. Due to this development, the population generally stopped reading books. The issue of ignorance versus knowledge quickly developed into a growing concern. The government were to stop this growing development by hiring fire department personnel to burn all the books they came across, promoting sameness; “none were to be more educated than their neighbour”2.
Our main character is called Guy Montag, a proud fireman, constantly pulling with him the smell of kerosene3 and ashes. He and his wife, Mildred Montag, are to begin with perfect examples of the government’s vision of how modern individuals are to behave, being slaves to modern media, such as parlours4 and sea shells5, and not having the desire of becoming more knowledgeable or wiser. Instead they are to live their lives in constant pursuit of true happiness, not knowing that they are also living a life of ignorance.
This has been the common fashion of living for several generations. Montag, unknowing of the past, thinks that the firemen have always had the role of burning down houses and not the opposite. He has no reason to question the way the system functions, not until the evening he meets a young girl called Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse McClellan is the total opposite of the modern individual, and Montag is quickly fascinated by her outgoing personality and how she questions every little detail of life and what’s happening in the society they live in.
Clarisse asks Montag if he is truly happy. This is the first turning point of Montag’s life. Was he happy? He lies to himself, by saying that yes, he is truly satisfied with his life, his wife and his profession6. But as soon as he enters his home he is struck with a sudden feeling of guilt, he has something hidden in the house that should not be there, something illegal, truly incorrect and very appalling, not really knowing what it is.
However, his focus is removed from his illegal affairs, when he finds his wife having swallowed all her sleeping pills, and he quickly alerts the alarm central. Two young men pump out her stomach and replace her blood using an “Electric-eyed snake”, but to Montag’s disgust they treat his wife’s near-death with enormous inhumanity, as if human lives do not count for more than a careless object. That night he lies in bed thinking; “Are people just disposable tissues?
Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow, wad, flush. “7 From this night on, he knows he is not happy, his whole life he has been false to himself, supporting the life of sameness and living after the philosophy of hedonism8. But none of this has worked for him, he has been married to an empty shell of a human being who prefers to live her life in the parlours and isolate herself with her sea shells. He also realises that his job has been to promote this kind of lifestyle, censoring knowledge and individual thought.
Montag’s daily routine starts changing, he starts thinking about what’s happening around him, especially as he greets the fire station’s mechanical-hound, a machine dog programmed to kill what it is programmed to hunt, growls at him, suddenly reminding him of what he has hidden behind the ventilator grill at home. Does anybody from the fire station know that he is hiding books at his home? But at this time it seems like he does not truly know why he feels guilty, as if he is no longer master over his actions, as if he has a schizophrenic half that controls his body.
Is it a different Montag that is truly fascinated by expanding his thoughts, learning new ideas, gaining knowledge and stealing books from the houses that the fireman-Montag burns to the ground? 9 He avoids these thoughts, hiding them not only from his colleagues, but also from himself. Not like any other citizen in the nation, Clarisse shows real interest in people and is truly fascinated by Montag, him being the only one she can ask deep and personal questions, as in why Guy doesn’t have any children?
10 This question strikes him hard as he realises how empty and meaningless his home, marriage and life is. It is at that moment of enlightenment that an urge for reading, expanding his horizon, pulls at him even harder11. Even at this phase in his development, realising how shallow the society is and that he has no meaning of life; he still covers the truth with denial, by exploring his guilt and self-consciousness by thinking to himself; “Guilt? What guilt was that? ” .
One day the fire department is alarmed about a house concealing illegal books, but as they arrive the owner of the house, an elderly woman, is still in there. Normally book-criminals are arrested and taken away by the police, so that the fire department only has to clean out an “empty house”. While speculating why the elderly woman is staying with her books instead of fleeing from the chaos, a book falls into Montag’s hands. While staring at the book in total terror, his body takes control of his actions;
“Montag had done nothing. His hand had done it all, his hand, with a brain of its own, with a conscience and a curiosity in each trembling finger, had turned thief. Now, it plunged the book back under his arm, pressed it tight to sweating armpit, rushed out empty, with a magician’s flourish! Look here! Innocent! Look! “13 It is at this moment he realises what he is doing behind his own back, his curiosity is winning over his loyalty towards ignorance.
He cannot believe his own eyes, looking at what his body is doing, risking his job, home and life, now realising what is behind the ventilator grill. But still he keeps the book in his pocket and continues raiding the house. As they have filled up the house with kerosene, the firemen storm out the house, but on his way out, Montag is met by the owner of the house who has stayed by her books. He desperately tries to drag her out with him, but she refuses to follow him. Instead she ignites the kerosene herself, burning herself with the books.