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Imagine a society where books are prohibited, where the basic rights made clear in the First Amendment hold no weight and society is merely a brainwashed, mechanical population. According to Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, this depiction is actually an exaggerated forecast for the American future, and in effect is happening around us every day. Simply reading his words can incite arguments pertaining not only to the banning of books but to our government structure itself. Age-old debates about Communism are stirred by the trials of characters in Bradbury’s unique world. By studying the protagonist and main character, Guy Montag, and his personal challenges we can, in a sense, evaluate our own lives to insure that we don’t make similar mistakes.
Fahrenheit 451 was written during the fifties, a period of mass paranoia, war, and technological advancement. The paranoia in the fifties was due the fear of Communism at home. People were afraid that their best friends might be Communists. This is also portrayed in the book; you are not sure until the very end if some of the characters are friend or foe. Many inventions of the fifties have advanced mirrors in the book. One might think that the author was trying to express how those inventions would ultimately resulting in the dumbing down of society. The television was coming about in the fifties and the four screen TV's in the book hampered the thought process so people would not think.
While the book is definitely critiquing society and the government, readers are given many dominant themes to follow, and to find all of them requires several readings. The main plot, following Montag, illustrates the importance of making mistakes in order to grow. For example, at the very end of the book Granger (an outspoken rebel to the book-banning laws) compares mankind to a phoenix that burns itself up and then rises out of its ashes over and over again. Man's advantage is his ability to recognize when he has made an error, so that eventually he will learn not to make that mistake anymore.
Remembering the faults of the past is the task Granger and his group have set for themselves. They believe that individuals are not as important as the collective mass.
The symbol of the phoenix's rebirth refers not only to the cyclical nature of history and the collective rebirth of society but also to Montag's own resurrection as a new person.
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Appropriately named, Guy is just a regular person who started out as a drone. However, he began to realize that while reflecting the morals of equality in that no one was above the law, his society also takes away the power of an individual to make a difference. He starts out rash, inarticulate, self-obsessed, and too easily swayed. At times he is not even aware of why he does things, feeling that his hands are acting by themselves. These subconscious actions can be quite horrific, such as when he finds himself setting his supervisor on fire, but they also represent his deepest desires to rebel against the status quo and find a meaningful way to live. When he comes into contact with Professor Faber, a retired professor who still has a few precious books hidden away, the two devise a plan to outsmart the system and bring the “Dark Age” to an end. Faber readily admits that the current state of society is due to the cowardice of people like himself, who would not speak out against book burning when they still could have stopped it, and his newly found courage contributes greatly to the “phoenix” theme of the book. Faber’s comments reminded me of one of the most horrible passages in human history. When German citizens did not speak out against the growing horrors brought about by the Nazzi regime.
In a brief summary of Bradbury’s piece it must be noted exactly how this civilization developed as it did. Montag’s boss, Captain Beatty, describes the problem by explaining that long ago, special-interest groups and other "minorities" began to object to books and literary works that offended them. This led to a sudden monotony in new stories, as writers tried to avoid offending anybody and were afraid to voice strong opinions. The eerie fact about Bradbury’s work is that it hits a little too close to home: schools worldwide are banning more and more books from their libraries and limiting the information to which children have access. This is a very evident form of brainwashing in that students only learn what teachers feel is suitable, a truth that is leaving growing amounts of people unprepared for their own futures and unable to cope with life when it hits them. Fahrenheit 451 shows one possible place for this prohibition to lead: eventual disregard for the written word and an uneducated society.
Our world today is closer than you may think to the world depicted in Fahrenheit 451. If you look closely you can find censorship in everything. Take school for example. In our textbooks women aren’t allowed to be depicted doing housework, men can’t be show with tools, African-American cannot be athletes, and Koreans cannot own fruit stores. All this is to make a few people happy. If we don’t stop now, Bradbury’s assumption of the future may come true.