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Analysis Of A Book By Ray Bradbury

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2103 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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'Fahrenheit 451', by Ray Bradbury, is a novel which invokes much thought about the way we live in society today. Through the protagonist, Guy Montag, Bradbury makes a wider point about the dangers that a divided society can present. In the novel, Bradbury creates a society in which all books and free thought are forbidden. It is clear to us that books are seen to be the source of all unhappiness and should therefore be prohibited. As a fireman, it is Montag's job, not to put out fires, as is the case in today's society but instead to create fires in order to dispose of all unwanted books. This creates an idea of dystopia by the government trying to please everyone by using censorship to limit people's independence and free thinking. As the novel progresses we see Montag move through a series of vital changes, seeing him transform from a mindless drone, happy to do whatever anyone tells him to, into a free-thinking member of society, forming a resistance against a government set to destroy all free thought. In order to determine the effectiveness of Bradbury's portrayal of the changes in Montag, it is necessary to examine the points in the novel which are, in my opinion, the most significant in Montag's transformation.

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At the start of the novel, we are introduced to the protagonist, Guy Montag, who is characterised by Bradbury as a Fireman with no purpose in life. Montag is one of the destructive forces in society who destroys books and also independence. Montag seems to take happiness in what he does and he seems to have no purpose in life apart from burning books. Montag seems completely content with his position in life, with no want to alter himself as a person and happy with what he does for society. Throughout the novel, Bradbury describes the fire as beautiful.

'His hands were the hands of some great conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning'

Bradbury is using the motif of Montag's hands to show us that Montag sees fire,his creation, to be a thing of great beauty, in the same sense that a conductor sees the music as a work of art. Montag sees himself as an artist creating a thing of pure magnificence in the fire. Bradbury further stresses Montag's opinion of fire by using a key metaphor.

'He strode in a swarm of fireflies'

In using this metaphor, Bradbury creates the image of the fragments of past books being fireflies. Fireflies are creatures that bring light to darkness. This acts as an effective link to Montag's view of fire as a thing of beauty. Fireflies also possess a certain aura of magic and mystery creating an almost serene beauty. To Montag, things that are alight become beautiful and so the sparks of the fire are seen as beautiful. This helps to emphasise the satisfaction Montag takes in his work.

The following stages of the novel reveal an unusual feeling. At this point we are introduced to Clarisse, an innocent teenage girl with a boundless curiosity who does not follow the trend and who acts as a catalyst, speeding up Montag's change. The world that she lives in has not ruined her and therefore she seems to possess a sense of purity. She seems to be at the opposite end of the spectrum to Montag. The world Montag lives in has transformed him into an incurious human being with no notion to question anything. His lack of independence only seems to add to this characterisation by Bradbury. Clarisse plays an essential part in Montag's change. She plants a seed of realisation in Montag's mind, speeding up what would only have been a very gradual process. She asks him questions that are meant to make him think on a deeper level, something that he is unaccustomed to.

"Are you happy"

Montag is taken-aback by this question and reacts by saying 'Yeah Sure'. However, as I mentioned before, this question was meant to make him think on a deeper, more personal level. What Clarisse is in actual fact asking Montag is whether his life is fulfilled and has a purpose or a meaning. The events that follow this conversation between the two reveal to us that Montag is not in fact happy.

The suicide of a book lover is used by Bradbury to bring to light Montag's curiosity surrounding the world of books. The book lover refuses to be separated from her way of life and her culture. She feels that she would rather die than leave her culture behind.

"We shall this day light a candle as I trust shall never be put out"

This statement is intended to promote a revolution. By adopting the role of a martyr, the book lover dying for that which she believes in, ultimately in the hope that others will follow and a revolution shall be sparked.

Bradbury is alluding to the 16th century witch trials at this point in the novel. This allusion is relevant as those thought to have been witches were burnt. They died in unity with their love of their crafts. Those who burnt them did so in an attempt to discourage further acts. This is relevant to the book lover as she was burnt for her love of reading, something that they were trying very hard to discourage.

The ownership of books has been made illegal by the government in this novel as has free thinking behaviour. Bradbury's allusion to the witch trials at this stage reflects back to a period in our history in which we too criminalised people who, in our eyes, seemed different. His mention of such a horrific example of injustice merely makes stronger the idea of the sheer scale of the persecution that this book lover and many others face. As Montag is burning the books which he has been sent to destroy, the reader is given an insight into the nature of his act.

"A book alighted, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering"

Bradbury's use of the idea of Montag's hands acting for themselves charts the different stages in Montag's transformation. At first, his hands are used to create things of beauty, whereas at this stage they seem to possess a life of their own, seemingly reaching out for books sub-consciously. This clearly reveals his curiosity for books that his outer self doesn't wish him to read.

When Montag meets Faber, further change begins to occur. Faber is an old man whose passion for books has been extinguished. In his opinion, it is those who did not speak up against the movement of book burning who are to blame for the current situation. If he had acted when the change was occurring, he believes that , as before, others would have followed his act up by doing the same. Faber encourages Montag's individuality and reveals to him the fact that he must learn to think for himself and not let himself be ruled by anyone else. It is his intention to show Montag that the answer is not always obvious and that he must always be acting on his own ideas.

"Remember Caesar, thou art mortal"

Bradbury makes this intertextual reference to Julius Caesar to illustrate Faber's warning against Montag's overconfidence. Caesar was a Roman emperor and tyrant who put himself above his country in the same way as the government does in this novel. This comparison between the government and Caesar strongly shows how Bradbury feels about the government's actions. In this novel, the idea of censorship is used to convey how through restriction of free-thought, whole societies can implode. At this point in the novel, Montag seems not to be fully changed and therefore he begins to take on Faber's personality as well as his own.

"Say 'Yes'"

His mouth moved like Faber's


Bradbury clearly reveals that Montag is not capable of fully acting for himself. Montag finds himself at a moral crossroads; following Faber or following Beatty (his captain). By following Beatty, he would continue to pursue the 'ignorance is bliss' approach. It would be an easy life to follow Beatty but his life would never be properly fulfilled and he would have no sense of individuality or purpose. If he chooses to unite with Faber and pursue a common goal, the dream of a fulfilled life, then he would become one of a similarly directed minority, fighting against the majority for what they believe in.

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After choosing to unite with Faber, Montag burns his own house while Beatty watches. By doing this, he seems to be burning away a part of his life that he wants to forget. In his view, the house represents this period of his life that he does not want to be part of any more. By burning it all, it is made clear to the reader that he has moved on with his life. The sheer ferocity with which he acts illustrates that he wants to burn everything, right down to the minutest thing that reminds him of his previous self. Bradbury's language in this stage in the novel is similar to that at the start of the novel. However, here Bradbury is illustrating that Montag has changed. His pleasure is now drawn from burning those items that he hates the most.

"Once again it was a pleasure to burn"

Here, Bradbury is telling us that Montag is again taking pleasure from burning things but, rather than being the mindless drone that he was at the start of the novel, he takes this pleasure as is he realises that burning the things that he hates the most, he can burn away his life preceeding this and start a new life.

Bradbury's use of symbolism to represent the river merely emphasises Montag's change. As Montag passes through the water we are led to believe that he is being baptised, being reborn and separated from his past life. Montag has a sudden realisation that time is always passing and that the sun will always rise and set. This brings him to the conclusion that life is limited and that if he burns things, this combines with the sun's burning to destroy everything good in life leaving only a shell behind.

"He was not empty. There was more than enough here to fill him. There would always be more than enough"

At this point Montag's change is illustrated. He was previously empty and yet now his curiosity of the world around him and the world of books has filled him with a constant flow of thought, enough to fill him for an eternity. Upon leaving the river he realises the promise of a fulfilled life. This commits Montag to finding that which makes him truly 'happy'. He meets Grainger, a fellow outcast, who is part of a group of men who memorise books in order to read extracts to the others in time of need.

"You are the book of Ecclesiastes"

Montag has memorised the 'Book of Ecclesiastes' before it is burnt and therefore becomes the book, ready to be called upon whenever he is needed. This gives his life a meaning and purpose showing that he has finally found his own self-importance.

In the closing stages of Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury compares society to the phoenix, a bird that can be reborn from its own ashes. Montag is also similar to the phoenix in this way as he has risen from the depths of his own destruction. Society does likewise as it creates wars which destroy things, but out of the ashes it rebuilds itself. Human society can be superior to the phoenix as it can learn from its mistakes and avoid destruction. In this novel, society seems to be so badly damaged that ironically the only way that it can rebuild itself is to be destroyed. By doing this Bradbury tells us that if we learn from our mistakes before it is too late, there need be no more destruction.

To conclude, Montag is successfully portrayed by Bradbury through his clever use of imagery, symbolism and characterisaton. Bradbury refers to fire to convey Montag's initial feelings toward it in the opening stages of the novel. This shows Montag's lack of change. However, following his meeting with Clarisse, Montag begins to question his own life and kick-start his own change through Bradbury's word choice. After the suicide of a book lover, Bradbury's references to earlier periods illustrate the importance of books in today's society. Within the rebirth stage, the river is used as a symbol to convey Montag's total change. This only has the effect of emphasising the fact that the society in the novel is a utilitarian one. He follows to tell how bringing happiness to the greatest number of people does not always mean that they have the right idea. In this novel, Bradbury acts as the voice of the minority. He tells us that our individuality sets us apart from anyone else and that our differences should be acted upon and not suppressed.


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