Books are printed works that compile knowledge or contain the author’s thoughts, which enables people to think in depth. In the world of Fahrenheit 451, books in fact, all printed materials are banned from the society. People are fascinated by their world of leisure and are as stolid as ever. Guy Montag, a fireman in the book, burns all books that he sees for his job. He enjoys seeing the books turn into ash, as he thinks that it is a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed (Bradbury 1). However, after he meets Clarisse, a girl that is a social outcast, he starts to question and grows eager to find out what is in those forbidden properties that people die for them.
In Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag tries to find spirituality in books, demonstrating Ray Bradbury’s criticism of the spiritual emptiness of contemporary society. Guy Montag starts to break apart from the stereotypical role as a fireman and doubts his society as well as notices the loss of values in his life. In the beginning of the book, Montag is portrayed as a man amused by the destructive work he is doing, as he admires the sight of flapping pigeon-winged books [dying] on the porch (Bradbury 1). It is clear that Montag is unconscious of what he is doing, that the books he is burning are more than just printed papers bound together. He never questions, nor is he curious about the operations he is ordered to do. The representation of books as dying pigeons shows atrocity of the society, as well as supports of the apathetic characteristics of Montag. Yet on the way back to his house, he meets Clarisse McClellan, a girl who [loves] to watch people (Bradbury 6), and likes to smell things and look at things (Bradbury 5).
Clarisse, unlike everyone else in the society, observes her environment, comes up with questions and has the courage to state her opinions and seek to find answers to those questions. She gets along with Montag and has conversations with him, which is abnormal in their society. Eventually, she asks a very simple yet essential question to Montag, which is Are you happy? (Bradbury 7). Montag confidently says yes, but realizes that he is actually not. He starts to see everything differently; his wife overdosed with drugs, having “seashells” in her ears all the time, and treating TV parlors as her family, all which used to seem usual, suddenly appeared abnormal to him. He wore his happiness like a mask (Bradbury 9), and now that he noticed this problem that has been in his life the whole time, everything he used believed that was true starts to crumble. The advanced technology severed communication from people’s lives, causing people to lack emotions. Montag changes from a conformist of their world to a person who questions the wrongdoings of the society. Montag tries to find the answers to his questions by reading books.
For the first time, he does something that contradicts the law: reading the books before he burns them. After he witnesses a woman that chooses to die with her books (Bradbury 33-37), he starts to wonder about the contents of those books. As a result, he steals a book and takes it with him to his house (Bradbury 39). He thinks about all the kerosene And books (Bradbury 49), and realizes that books are worth much more than things that he needs to burn and get rid of. He shares his thoughts with Mildred, her wife; however, she does not understand, for that she is more addicted to the leisure that the absence of books provides. She claims that books are nonsense that makes people “unhappy” since she has never been exposed to negative information. It is shown throughout Fahrenheit 451 that war is present. However, the government never emphasizes the danger of the war and its situations, broadcasting incorrect information to the people because it will make them “unhappy” (Bradbury 88), which later results as the death of countless people, including Mildred herself. The conflict between Mildred and Montag shows that Montag is already starting to change, and is discovering the values of books. At the end of their quarrel, Montag decides to show Mildred all the books he had collected. He says, I want to look at them, at least look at them once (Bradbury 63), which reveals his struggle to find true “happiness” by reading the books. He constantly reminds himself of Clarisse and how she observed everything around her, as shown when he says but Clarisse’s favorite subject wasn’t herself. It was everyone else, and me She was the first the first person who looked straight at me (Bradbury 68). Montag continuously tries to see things in Clarisse’s perspective, tries to figure out what was so special about her. Montag asks endless questions to himself and tries to absorb what he reads, even though he does not know how to interpret the text to find the deeper meanings. Montag’s mind finally awakens from the suppressive society’s callousness and determines to change the society with Faber. After reading books without knowing what it means, he remembers Faber, a former English Professor that he met some time ago, and decides to call him for help. Contrary to his expectations, Faber denies answering the questions (Bradbury 71-72), leaving no choice but to make Montag visit his house. On the way to Faber’s house, there is a scene where Montag is trying to read the bible but is disturbed by the commercial of Denham’s Dentifice (Bradbury 74-76). This scene shows a contrast of Montag and the other passengers of the subway that builds up to the indoctrination of the government, forcing everyone to pay attention to it and nothing else. Montag, who completely got out of the ideology of his society, feels like his whole life is trapped, and forced to not be able to think. After Montag arrives at Faber’s house, he confesses everything he did to Faber: stealing books and reading them, and asks Faber to teach him how to understand what he reads. Faber teaches him the necessities of books and why people ended up censoring them. Montag tells Faber, I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me. I can’t talk to my wife; because she listens to the walls (Bradbury 78). Throughout the book, it is shown that Montag did not give any thought to his job or his marriage. He tries to remember how he first met his wife but fails (Bradbury 40). He thought he loved his wife, but it turned out as he didn’t. His wife, Mildred on the other hand, also never shows affection to her husband. When Montag says he is sick and asks her to turn the TV parlor off, she refuses (Bradbury 45-46), which shows that she values her own entertainment over her husband. Also, she constantly calls the parlor her family, and her behaviors show that she loves them more than Montag. Other than that, the philosophy in the society is different. Captain Beatty once said, The word, ‘intellectual’, of course, became the swear word it deserved to be… Not everyone born free and equal…not everyone made equal (Bradbury 58). Being intelligent is a flaw to people, and people get persecuted for being bright. Due to all these factors, Montag shows his definite intents to change the society to Faber, and together, they come up with the plan to destroy the fireman system. Montag perceived the frigid reality of his world and decides to change it back to the way it should be.
In short, Montag changes from a typical conformist of his society to a person who exerts all possible efforts to bring back what is lost that is essential to human lives by breaking apart from totalitarian ideology, striving to find answers through books, and attempting to change the society. Although this book was written sixty-five years ago, Ray Bradbury’s depiction of Montag’s society’s censorship, people’s addiction to entertainment, and the loss of feelings are awfully similar to what the current societies are trying to achieve. These factors criticize the people’s replacement of family values with egocentric entertainments, which can happen anytime in the close future of present age. It is the responsibility of all humans to prevent this disaster from happening.
- Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Neil Gaiman, 60th Anniversary Edition, Simon & Schuster, 1953, pages. Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018