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Critical review Fahrenheit

Fahrenheit-451 is the story of the future world-or the futureless world! Today’s values have become the curses of tomorrow! The materialistic civilization is so perfected– human beings have to be often reminded that they are human beings. The shape of things to come and the nature of cities that will come into existence are mind-boggling! The duty-lists of essential services are altered beyond comprehension. Another Darwin must be busy at research to find out what the human beings were like in the 21st Century or a few specimens of the present day human beings must have been preserved in some museums, for live demonstration.

Guy Montag is a Fireman working in the essential services department and his duty is to kindle fires than to put them out. Gone are the days of making career as Literary Agents and giving hefty advances to authors. The stage-managed shows of promotion of paper back and hardcover editions are the thing of the past. Montag will arrive anytime to seize the books, because his Organization has been created to burn books! “Book-burning Week” will be celebrated every year to give impetus to this ‘constructive’ program.

Children in this type of society must be very happy as parents encourage them to watch excessive amounts of television, and thousands of channels must be squeezing you to demand their share of time from your TV watching schedule! Nobody has time for themselves, refuse to think independently, the joyous and meaningful conversation are not there a all, not driving very fast is an offence and the brand of “Seashell Radio” is a craze, wherein the sets are attached to the ear on an annual contract basis by multinational organizations, who give free deaf insurance plan, valid for six months and things like that..

The basic drawback of humanity, I mean every human being, is that one wishes to achieve progress (only material progress) and one doesn’t have time to look within; stop for a while to review one’s performance in life. What has been achieved and what has been lost! Why one is interested in analyzing the chemical content of the colorful petals of the rose, than their fragrance! The seventeen-year old girl named Clarisse McClellan, who enters Montag’s life, is symbolic of the process of his inner awakening. Her unusual love and innocently penetrating questions indicate divinity.

At this juncture the important aspect of divine forces—destiny– plays its part to hasten the process of awakening in Montag. A series of unfortunate events follow, those disturb and shake Montag. His wife, Milded swallows sleeping pills in an attempt to commit suicide. The immediate question is, she wants to end her life because she is unhappy with it. She can’t be a part of a happy and enlightened society. Suicide is the final weapon of the cowards and those who do not possess the moral and spiritual power. Another shocking episode puts him on the dock.

He gets an alarm that an old woman owns a hidden stash of literature; she responds to his call of duty by opting to be burnt alive with her precious stock of books. Here again, ‘old’ symbolizes experience and wisdom. Literature is divine to the old woman. She doesn’t care for her mortal body, given the choice between the spirit of literature and the perishable body. The final blow to his failing mental equilibrium comes when he comes to know about the death of Clarisse, in a car accident. The symbolism is, the hurrying pace of life was too much for the tender child of seventeen to bear!

Faced with such unfortunate chain of events, Montag becomes cynical and turns to books in an effort to get at the solution. He had saved those books in an air-conditioning vent, which were actually the fodder for the incinerator. Here is another turning point in the life of Montag, now on the quest to know the true meaning of life. When he doesn’t report for duty, his boss, Beatty comes to his residence for verification. Montag’s condition was nothing new for Beatty, being an experienced firefighter ;( he knew how to tackle intellectual fires) he said that such a phase in a fireman’s life was normal.

He gives profound explanation, why the books came to be banned and how they lost the revered place in the life of human beings. He attacks the society and the political practices of the day. How lobbying is part of the politics, and how the politicians appease the minorities and the social-interest groups, who would not tolerate any sort of criticism against their cherished beliefs. When books are written with the pre-conceived notions they lose the status of true literature, and devoid of originality all books look alike.

The writer and the publisher did not want to hurt the sentiments of anybody. Soon, society as a whole thought—why to enter into arguments and counter-arguments, why give room to conflicting opinions—the safest course is to burn the books as soon they are published. Beatty fixes a time-frame and advises Montag to go through the collection of book, to look out the worthiness of their contents, and then put them in the incinerator. Montag involves furiously in his new-found task of reading and he reads round the clock. Intensive reading saps his mental energies and he turns to his wife for support.

.She is unwilling to be of assistance to him in his newfound interests about literature and rebukes him why he is wasting his time; as for her, she has other important tasks—viewing television for example. She is not willing to give company to her husband. But Montag is not willing to stop from proceeding on his chartered path. He recollects his meeting with a retired English Professor in a park. He reaches out to the Professor and seeks his guidance to understand what he reads. Professor clarifies his approach to the books, which is philosophical as well as spiritual.

He advises Montag not to be a mere book reader, rather translate the ideals into action. One must endeavor to capture and put into practice the ideas printed in the pages of the book. What is essential is to grasp and assimilate the noble contents of the books and make them a part of one’s living. Wherever one is and whatever one may do, one’s prime concern should be to exemplify and demonstrate the validity of these words of fathomless wisdom uttered by the enlightened authors. Intellectual achievements only intoxicate one, and they disregard the reality!

Thus, amassing the whole pile of books and stuffing one’s memory with this gathered information, one feels oneself to be highly intellectual and educated. That which is not practical can not be true literature, Faber advises him. The entry of Faber in Montag’s life, symbolizes his inner awakening. The old Professor symbolizes the awakened soul-force of an individual. The fight between the enlightened Montag and his boss Beatty continues, moves and counter moves are intelligently described; ultimately the materialistic civilization awards its final blow to humanity- its total destruction through weapons of mass destruction.

Montag and his new friends move on for relentless search for survivors and to rebuild civilization. In the book Fahrenheit 451, the picture of ultra-materialistic society has been depicted. The life speeds, without the much needed stoppages. Immediate gratification and relentless entertainment are the eulogized virtues of humanity. People without these interests are viewed as a threat to the society. Going by the yardstick of the present happenings in the society, Bradbury is not far off the mark in his arguments, judgments and conclusions. Why such strict censorship in the futuristic society?

—Bradbury has some acceptable answers. The artificialities of life like speeding cars, loud mess called music, competitive advertisements have created an unreal, over-simulative society with no room for self-analysis and contemplation. Man has no time for Nature. Through out the novel Bradbury develops situations depicting true knowledge and lack of true knowledge. Not knowledge, but true knowledge is conducive to happiness. Burning of books by the firemen symbolizes destruction of knowledge. The firemen in reality put out the fire of knowledge within, and help to create a uniform society.

Clarisse kindles the fire within Montag, and he refuses to compromise with the prevailing mode of the society. He is setout to know the true meaning of life. He becomes like a missionary to spread knowledge and solicits the support of other firemen. He shows that emotions in a woman has very import role to play, it contributes to fuller and meaningful life. He recites poetry in front of his wife and her friends, viewing television. His readings upset them, nevertheless it stirs their conscience. Amongst the many death situations that Bradbury tackles, the most important is the cultural death.

Montag fights to avert this death. The planning of Faber and Montag to beat status quo is risky. When Montag goes to the fire station, Beatty, upset with Montag’s attempts to ‘brain-wash’ the society through true knowledge contained in books, reads contradictory quotations from the so-called great books. Ultimately, Beatty dies at the hands of Montag, The use/misuse of the advanced mechanical devices like flamethrower, the Mechanical Hound, Electric-Eyed Snake are highlighted by Bradbury. Many people die in the novel, and Bradbury seems to suggest that death is not mere liberation from mortal bindings.

The lack of knowledge; idleness and complacency are the barometers indicating the death of the society. Bradbury makes no discussion about religion directly but some of the incidents mentioned are highly significant. The book that was retrieved from the old woman’s house was Bible. He makes consultations on the sacred book, with many with whom he interacts. He agrees to memorize this book, so that the book can be owned by the survivors of the atomic war. The comparison of Faber to water and Montag to fire is also meaningful. The co-operation of the two will produce the life-giver and sustainer, wine! Didn’t Christ transform water into wine?

“At the conclusion of the novel, Montag, Granger and the rest of the intellectuals walk up the river to find survivors of the ultimate atomic destruction of the city. In his walk, Montag remembers passages he read in his Bible from Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season,” and Revelations 22:2, “And on either side of the river was there a tree of life… or the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. ” The apocalypse Montag has witnessed has clear connections to the apocalypse foreseen in the Bible” ============= References: Bradbury, Ray (1987): Book: FAHRENHEIT 451, Publisher: Del Rey

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