Fahrenheit 451

Essay by krdixon83High School, 10th gradeA, September 2009

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a fictional novel about a man who breaks through a brainwashed society and tries to find a truer meaning to his life. The book describes a vivid picture of a world where books are burned as if it was normal. The story mentions that the setting takes place in America, and that the time period is in the future. Fahrenheit 451 centers on a fireman, Guy Montag, who burns houses and the books which they are housed. However, because the houses are fireproof Montag is ultimately only burning books. I believe that Ray Bradbury shows a prophecy of an insane future for a modern world and that it is impossible for an individual to beat a system but has an option to escape from it.

The system in Bradbury's world is represented by Montag’s wife, Mildred. Although Mildred is not the most important character, she is important for understanding the system.

Mildred is a shallow woman and bases her life on a T.V show called “Family”. In fact, Mildred is so shallow that she cannot even think properly. As a result, she does not have morals or values because it is beyond her comprehension. The book shows Mildred’s impaired judgment when she takes in a full bottle of sleeping pills. Although she was not committing suicide, Mildred did not even notice. Usually one feels depressed or very sad when committing suicide, however Mildred was neither and it concludes that she does not feel either. These monotone images of Mildred that Bradbury depicts are essentially the system in which Montag lives and breathes in.

Montag continues to live in this system of bliss until he meets a young girl named Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse was considered an ‘oddball’ in the society; she was part of the minority. Clarisse represents the individual challenging the system which in Bradbury’s world, is masked by his surreal society. Clarisse was a piece of a small group of people who dared to think. They dared to contemplate situations in life. However, the world is so twisted that thinking has become a crime. Clarisse was able to pull Montag out of the system and show him what it is like from the outside, to see how the system really works and what it is really doing. Her words and thoughts proved to be so powerful to Montag that at first he was confused by them. Montag was so intrigued by Clarisse that he began to challenge the system. However, people like Clarisse cannot live with people like Mildred because Clarisse’s level of competency is much higher than Mildred’s. This example also shows how an individual differs from a system. While systems are linear and dull like Mildred, Clarisse as an individual is able to ponder and think in different and unique ways where Mildred cannot. Clarisse also demonstrates another quality for an individual who is not part of the system: when a person has a conflict with the society, that person has the option to escape and run away from it. However Clarisse did not run away and therefore she was beaten by the system which is represented when Montag did not see her anymore and assumes she is dead.

However if that individual has a conflict with himself, they have two solutions: he can either die or become mentally insane and twisted. Capitan Beatty had a conflict with himself. He knew that there was a system that he must beat, however he did not dare challenge it. So being another individual who is not part of the system, Beatty seemed to be the spirit of the people of Bradbury’s world- a fireman, a Capitan, a Renaissance man and a wonderful public figure. Montag discovers Beatty’s true nature during his speech. The speech was very simple; it explained why reading is damage. However, the most interesting quality is that Beatty thinks he is insightful. Although his explanations are wonderful, he uses the universal way to solve it: burning. One of his explanations says that reading is a cause for wars. The black people are angry because of "Sambo Nigger", so burn it. The white people are angry because of "Uncle Tom's Cabin", so burn it. Although the solution is effective, it is also Beatty’s problem. He, similar to Mildred, does not know if he is right or wrong. However, different than Mildred, he understands the system but does not want to be on the other side of it. Deep down he knows that he lives in a wretched society, and he knows he has to survive. Beatty’s conflict is that he fights against himself. His fight is only a small part in the eternal struggle between values and survival. He could survive by living in the system, but he knows that his values and judgment tells him the system he lives in is wrong. However, when Beatty died, it was because he failed the struggle against himself. He wanted to die, like he was almost glad that his end had come. Beatty’s future is perhaps what Montag’s future would have been had Montag not challenge society.

Although Montag did not see how he is similar to Beatty, Bradbury subtly shows that he represents the present; a result of the past and a warning of the future. While Clarisse told Montag a past where people were not afraid to think and read books Montag meets a professor who told him of a future much like the past where people could think and read books. Professor Faber’s role symbolically shows Montag how he is trapped in the system and if he does not find a way to beat it, his fate will ultimately be the same as Beatty’s. Faber also demonstrated another quality of an individual, imagination and Faber imagined a free world. For Faber, freedom was the right to read and to think. Consequently, Faber was a criminal according to the system rules. Unfortunately, Faber’s character shows that the system cannot be beaten. Faber is an old man and he continuously says that he cannot accomplish the task of beating the system because it cannot be beaten. However Montag does not realize this so he decides to do Faber’s dream task. With the knowledge of Clarisse’s past and the dreams of Faber’s future, Montag wanted to build a world of both.

Although Montag fails in his quest to bring down the system, he manages to escape it. While all the other characters in the story show similar qualities in that they challenge the system, Montag is the only character who represents the only other option: to run away. This choice which Montag chose is a significant difference between him and Beatty. Montag failed in beating the system because he carried too much responsibility. Montag wanted to have Clarisse’s past and Faber’s future without having the fate of Beatty. When Montag was to execute the plan, the responsibility proved to be too overwhelming which forced Montag’s escape. All in all, Montag challenged a system and did not beat it, but did not submit to it. He instead ran away from the system and entered into a new realm, one where people could read books and think freely, much like Clarisse’s stories and Faber’s vision.

Bibliography: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury