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Explore The Restriction Of Physical Information In Fahrenheit 451 English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4015 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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A plethora of science fiction novels have been striving to envision the future world, accomplishing to offer insight to its readers. Among these novels, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most profound futuristic novels up to date. Although it was written in 1947, it applies to our society today as Bradbury's predictions of how increasingly indifferent and fast-paced our society may be, due to the government's actions are reflected in Fahrenheit 451. There is a remarkable similarity to what one can see in our current society. In North Korea, people are kept ignorant through the control of the media, whereby radios and television sets are "pre-tuned to government stations that pump out a steady stream of propaganda" [1] and this release of information unconsciously affects the minds of the people who reside there.

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The plot of Fahrenheit 451 reveals various methods of how the government restricts and controls certain types of information and unconscious thought from the dialogues several characters have with Guy Montag. When the novel commences, Montag is seen submitting to the system like his society, allowing the government to indoctrinate and restrict his unconscious thought and to limit the type of information he was able to take in until he meets his catalyst. Clarisse McClellan is a teenage girl who does not conform to the standards of the society since she is not swayed by the government's actions. She plays a significant role in the novel as she counteracts Montag's "fireman mentality to destroy literature"2 and "questions the purpose of things to Montag" [2] .

Fahrenheit 451 introduces the powerful but destructive idea of how a government can control the unconscious thoughts of its people by controlling the type of information it allows them to have access to. Society would respect what the government may say, owing to the fact that it comes from a higher authority. Information is defined as knowledge that is gained through experience, communication and education which can be derived from research, studies and even from historical events. The government's ceaseless discharge of information into the heads of the people renders them to absorb until their minds are filled with it. This will then influence the thinking as well as their actions once the society's minds are unconsciously controlled by the government. The idea of controlling information is a significant point to be explored in a deeper context, seeing as how certain societies in today's world are still under restriction, as well as the type of information that is withheld from the ordinary civilian. It is often said that if history does not learn from its mistakes, it is doomed to repeat them.

The main aim of the government in Fahrenheit 451 is to create a Utopian society in which its citizens are able to live in a peaceful, stable environment. Since a state of Utopia is only achievable when everyone lives in harmony, the government promotes the tranquility in society to prevent any disputes, thinking it would be easier for its citizens to lead blissful and relaxed lives.

The Constitution states that the members of society must be "the image of every other" (p58) so that "there are no mountains to make them cower" (p58) and to judge themselves against. If everyone were to be a replicate of each other, there would not be any basis for comparison, hence no one would "dread of being inferior" (p59) and feel threatened or insecure. With everyone alike, people would stay contented with the way things are and bring about a lower chance for conflict within the society, attaining the aims of stability and peace. Since people are satisfied with this state, they would follow the government blindly, therefore giving rise to a passive society.

The government tries to shut out whatever forms of influence which has the ability to intrigue any thinking processes by preventing any thoughts and ideas which are on the contrary to its system of no thinking and book burning values they run in the society. The government works in a way whereby "If you don't want a man to be unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none" (p61). Hence, it offers only their side of view for the citizens through the use of various means such as technology, banning and burning books and employing firemen. However, with the formation of such an "ideal" world, it often comes with a hefty price-the expense of the individuality of the people.

Books act as receptacles of valuable information and truths which are on the whole lacking in the tame society. They serve to present readers with a range of opinions and ideas, provoking thought in the readers throughout the process and allowing them to formulate their own assessments.

However, citizens despise them as books "show the pores in the face of life" (p83). This is detested since books have the ability to uncover the "ugly truths" that people prefer not to reveal. Books represent the unhappiness that people may feel in contrast to the idea of what makes a Utopian state, hence the government banishes them. When doubts are formed in the people's minds, the government's system will be questioned; this will then result in dire circumstances which the government painstakingly avoids as it could threaten their authority and the country´s stability.

Moreover, this is coupled by the fact that if citizens were capable of extracting the "fresh detail" (p83)-something new and different from what the government has always been presenting them- from the books they read and make good use of the useful information contained in them, they will realize the flaws of the system. Therefore, this builds discontentment amongst the people as they will eventually realize the truth and what the government has been hiding. Book burning allows the government to have more control over the people by limiting and restricting the thoughts and ideas flowing in the people's minds. With the lack of these thoughts, people would just take things the way they are, not further questioning anything at all, going on par with the system of sustaining the peace and stability of the government.

In Fahrenheit 451, firemen like Montag in his society were given the job of "custodians of our [society's] peace of mind" being "official censors, judges and executors" (p59). One may think that the role of firemen is to prevent the spread of fires and to give people a sense of security, however, Montag's role in his society is the complete opposite. Firemen in Montag's society are known for carrying out the law by burning books and the houses in which they are kept. The firemen are acting on the government's order to operate as watch dogs of society, further reinforcing the laws. Hence, the government uses them as a symbol of authority to promote unawareness, effectively maintaining the stability of society through the restrictive actions of the firemen.

Montag, an ignorant fireman, works under the government to maintain the sameness of the society by burning books for the wrong reasons. A dedicated fireman, he took a lot of pride in his job and showed great enjoyment in his work as he "grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame" (p4). He never questioned the government and its ways, but does solely what the government dictates. Furthermore, before meeting Clarisse, he was in a "marionette show," (p11) with the government operating as the puppeteer, and society the puppets on strings. Montag, like all other citizens in the society has no free will to carry out their own actions as they wish since every thought and move they make is subconsciously due to the government's control over them.

The restriction of thought and the control of the type of information that is released by the government start from the youth living in the society. This forces them to be molded into the government's ideas and belief in society. As youths in the society experience the shortening of school hours and "philosophy, histories, languages dropped, and finally almost completely ignored" (p55) gradually no one will be keen to learn anything else. Subjects such as history and philosophy demand a lot of thought and also the intake of new information as there will be much questioning of theories, hence challenging people to think. This suppression of learning by the government it set for its people is emphasized starting from school at an early age so as to program the youths of society to have the idea that learning new things is unnecessary.

The information which is permitted to be passed on is used to flood the minds of teenagers as "they just run the answers to you, bing, bing, bing" (p29). This describes how youths are taught to conform to the norms of society as they do not ask questions because all the answers are fed to them. As it is likely that they would not want more of it, teenagers will accept everything they are told and not be able to think for themselves. In this way, the youth in the society will never be able to learn properly and gain actual knowledge individually since worthless chunks of information are constantly being fed to them. By beginning to make people conform from an age where they are still learning and growing by gaining new experiences, youths in Montag's society will grow and mature without thinking and questioning for themselves, always accepting what is thrown at them. Eventually, when these teens mature into adults, they will carry the habit of not questioning and thinking on their own.

Moreover, gardens, furniture like rocking chairs, and front porches were gotten rid of for good to forbid a proper social life where the people had the chance to talk and time to think. Rocking chairs were "too comfortable" (p63) and gardens and front porches allowed people to sit around in, doing nothing, rocking and providing them with the opportunity to talk. Hence, they were permanently removed by the government to get "people up and running around," (p63) offering its citizens no time to carry out any of those actions if they were left with no chance to pause whatever they were doing to take a break, since they were always so busy. The removal of comfortable furniture and suitable places where reflection could be carried out spurred on Montag's repressive society. As a result, people got used to this way of life, and unconsciously, thought and talk would be forgotten gradually, with social interaction becoming nonexistent. This conveys that the government is trying to enforce an identical pace for everyone and standardize a rather faster pace for everyone where people are left with little or no free time to think or ponder about anything around them.

The government extends its control not only to the lifestyle the people live, but also on the individual as it crams its people "full of noncombustible data," and "chock[s] them so damned full of 'facts'" so they feel "stuffed but brilliant with information" (p61). Through this, the masses will be happy because they feel they are thinking, and facts like popular song lyrics or names of state capitals are the kind of information that the government fills the people with is meaningless; giving a false sense of accomplishment and hope that they have gained new useful information which can be put to good use.. Hence, people are not given with the "slippery stuff" (p61) like philosophy or sociology which cannot be defined or measured without making men feel lonely-giving rise to the unwanted discontentment the society eludes. Soon, everyone else talks about "the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else," (p31) allowing the mind to drink less.

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In the first conversation with Clarisse, Montag's rashness is revealed as "You [Montag] never stop[ped] to think what I've [Clarisse] asked you [him]" (p8). He laughs when Clarisse was not being funny and answered questions without thinking of an answer before speaking. Their first dialogue reveals his extreme lack of thinking which is similar to the society as seen through Montag's behavior, due to the government's successful attempts of controlling over the people's unconscious mind, hence the stimulation of critical thought in the people's minds are absent in Montag's society. Being used to submitting to the government's control and being influenced by his society, thinking becomes scarce due to his inability and lack of experience to think.

In trains, advertisements are broadcasted endlessly-an act by the government to avert the majority of the society from thinking by constantly filling their minds with useless information. When Montag was on the subway, he tried memorizing lines from the Bible. At that time, an advertisement for a dental detergent: "Denham's Dentifrice" was broadcasted on the train radios for the people to be "pounded into submission" (p79). Through the use of broadcasting unimportant information, this exposes how the government uses advertisements which are targeted at the commuters to control the unconscious thoughts of the citizens since it is a recurring process. This also plays a role to lower their chances of remembering any useful, valuable information since the minds of the people are incessantly bombarded when they are on board the trains.

The use of technology is a prevailing force in Fahrenheit 451 which led to a fast-paced society whereby people do not have time to take a stroll and relax as Montag "hadn't looked (at the moon) for a long time" (p9). This illustrates how Montag, like the majority of his society, has not had the time to even notice the things in his everyday life, more subtly; nature and its beauty. The government takes advantage of the ubiquity of technology and keeps its people occupied with several forms of entertainment like Seashell Radios which would be tamped tightly in people's ears and replete their minds with "music and talk and music and talk," (p12) giving them no time and room to think. 'Parlor walls' were television screens which allows interaction with the characters on the program and "tells you what to think and blasts it in," (p84) rushing to its own conclusion so that people's minds have no time to think.

Over time, these forms of technology substitutes communication between people; consequently showing the lack of human relations within the society and how "No one has time any more for anyone else" (p23). When this becomes habitual, people live in isolation and become devoid of feelings, forming cold and distant relationships with one another as people are unable to show affection. This is seen from the unloving marriage between Montag and his wife Mildred as "she [Mildred] was so strange he [Montag] couldn't believe he knew her at all" (p42). In addition, he concluded that if Mildred were to die, he would be "certain he wouldn't cry" as it "would be the dying of an unknown" (p44). This is indicative of how they were both strangers to each other who live together as they showed no love for each other at all; as Montag was certain he would not be sorrowed by her death. In contrast, he would cry not at her death, but because he did not cry at the thought of her death.

Bradbury creates a dynamic character and the protagonist, Guy Montag; to reveal the effects of restricting thought and certain information by the government through various methods evident from his character, and the different involvement of the people like Clarisse bringing into light the governmental control. With the character Montag, Bradbury uses indirect characterization to enable readers to look inside him by providing a greater narrative focus on his development as a character. In Montag's case, his life is irrevocably altered when he meets Clarisse on his way home. This vital encounter with Clarisse sparked his discovery to the state in which he was living, that of artificial happiness in the lives of many, and hence advancing the story onward as he makes a decision of the path he chooses to take in life by thinking "beyond what the government wants him to" [3] .

Clarisse is a unique seventeen-year-old individual who exudes inquisitiveness and knowledge. She is considered an "odd duck" (p60) by society as she is queer and what she does daily is extremely different from what the rest of society. People who do not fit into the ideal standards as set by the government are deemed as outcasts by the rest of society, and are sent to psychiatrists to try to tune them to act the same. Hence, she is sent for regular sessions to see the psychiatrist as there is a stark contrast in the way she behaves compared to the rest of society. She goes to "hike around in the forests and watch the birds and collects butterflies" (p23), while teenagers her age will go to "Fun Parks to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place" (p30). This shows how she is not violent compared to children of her age group, as she does not conform and fit into the norms that the society has been molded into by the government. She is very different because she is capable of questioning the state of affairs in her society and has the ability to put together her own thoughts and ideas.

In the beginning of the novel, Montag's ruthless character is brought out as he felt "It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed" (p3). Montag's profession of ten years entailed him to ignite fires and burn books and houses which were found to be hidden. The fact that he has been carrying out the same routine for so many years, it further emphasizes the satisfaction he gained looking at things burning. Fire is a symbol of danger and destruction, and due to the fact that he found delight in witnessing things being engulfed and eaten by the flames it gives the impression that he is insensitive. This is one of the many chief characteristics which are visible in the many other inhabitants in his society as well since the masses have become so desensitized due to their loss of authentic human feelings because they have to conform to the government's system. This directs them on to the route of carrying out activities only where they can seek pleasure from, which essentially involves killing and destroying.

The characterization of Montag being destructive is because of his kerosene "scent". Kerosene is the "perfume" that Montag constantly wears due to his job as a fireman for the past ten years, and overtime, he likens perfume to the kerosene he uses to burn and destroy books as "Kerosene is nothing but perfume to me [Montag]" (p6). Perfume gives pleasure as it is nice smelling and also creates an aura around the wearer, creating the personality wished to be conveyed. In Montag's case, he finds kerosene-an important component of starting and spreading of fires-aromatic, hence showing that he seeks contentment in the burning of books and houses as books were "a pleasure to burn," (p3) portraying how he has fitted into the mold of his callous society. As he "wears" the potent scent of kerosene, and since one can "never wash it off completely" (p6), it speaks evidently of Montag's destructive character illustrated from the never dying satisfaction he feels when he sets books and houses on fire even after many years, showed by his smile which "never ever went away" (p4), and this character is further brought out by the distinctive kerosene "scent" on him.

Being the antithesis of anyone he has ever met before she converses with Montag about nature, and topics are meaningful and forgotten by people. His first encounter with Clarisse spurred his quest for knowledge and thought process onward through the entire course of the novel. In their conversation, she talked to him about the truths in their society and asks him numerous thought triggering questions- how drivers do not know what flower or grass is as they see it in blurs from driving so quickly, the reason for the length extension of billboards, the fact that there was dew on the grass in the morning, questioning the firemen's role in the past and the most important question: "Are you happy?"(p10)- All so peculiar and shocking to Montag in the beginning, after which inciting him to question reality.

Montag's friendship with Clarisse contributed to his awakening to the malevolence of "government-controlled thought and the invaluable worth of literature, philosophy and theology" [4] conveying what the government is doing to its people. Montag is then able to see things in a new light and begins to question the life he lived and the system in his society. He concludes that he "was not happy" (p12) and "recognized this as the true state of affairs" (p12). He then wonders why he is unhappy and learns about his society's past and how it differed from the one he lived in to amend several aspects of his life. Thus, Clarisse acts as a catalyst in the novel to speed up Montag's process of changing the way he views his life ultimately, with the ability to think on his own.

Analysis of Montag's character after he befriends Clarisse elevates his vulnerability as he found he did not "know anything anymore" (p18). This suggests Montag is utterly confused of whom or what to believe as he was presented with two opposing views about issues concerning his job, and the state of life he was living. With one extremely accurate view from Clarisse, a teenage girl he just met and the other, his own which he had been so certain of his entire life. When feeling doubtful of which view to pick and dwell on, Montag feels insecure. This helplessness he was experiencing is exactly what the government fears its people will face the most as when different viewpoints are offered to the citizens, they will begin to doubt the system and soon, lose faith in the government and its ways. Thus, the government tries to curb certain types of information on its people for peace and stability to be maintained in the society.

The crux of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 centers on the concept of the necessity to protect individuality as a result of governmental control over the certain types of information released and concealed through various methods, hence leading to the control of the unconscious thoughts of the people as seen from real world examples in North Korea. In the novel, there is a tremendous amount of oppression present in the society. This fear instilled in the minds of the people permits them to be afraid of the government so the laws would be obeyed. Through the analysis of Montag's character, the effect of the government's control over its people is evident as it influences the thinking and subsequently Montag's life. Montag's encounter with Clarisse by Bradbury serves to emphasize the restrictions of the government, and eventually instigates his awareness to be able to see through the government doings in his society. Montag then begins to question the state of his life, his profession and society- how people simply accept as fact. Hence, Bradbury portends humanity's plight due to the extensive censorship and control by governments over its people, through the use of technology and various means. Although the television has made books obsolete for many, we should be thankful that our firemen today still put out fires!


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