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Modern Problems in an Old Classic

“Fahrenheit 451”, by Ray Bradbury, is a story about a society where the government controls the thoughts, and actions of the citizens. Bradbury’s futuristic society has no past and is completely empty. The works and knowledge created in the centuries before, banished and burned. His world contains no beauty, no love, and is completely monitored and controlled by an overbearing and cruel government.

Through the depiction of this society, Bradbury comments on the horrific effects of censorship on the souls of human beings. As well as the loss of humanity at the hands of a government that enforces mass conformity. In “Fahrenheit 451”, all pieces of writing are considered unnecessary and illegal because they supposedly cause unrest in the general public. Similarly, individualism is also discouraged and the mind is meant for mundane and boring acts of repetition and routine.

Bradbury’s future world is emotionless and blinded to the fact that the civilization is rapidly progressing toward complete destruction. Bradbury is a skilled storyteller and intricately parallels his fictional world with modern day society. “Fahrenheit 451” is a carefully constructed warning about the potential future of the world if it continues to misuse censorship, technology, and enforce conformity. The story of “Fahrenheit 451” was based on the current events in United States during the 1950s.

Jack Zipes, in Mass Degradation of Humanity and Massive Contradictions in Bradbury’s Vision of America in “Fahrenheit 451”, explains ““Fahrenheit 451” is discussed in terms of the world’s problems at large when it is essentially bound to the reality of the early 1950s in America, and it is the specificity of the crises endangering the fabric of American society which stamp the narrative concern” (182). The second world war prompted many writers to turn from fantasy fiction to works that dealt with the more serious issues of the time. This was a time when scientists had just discovered and used the atom bomb.

For the first time the citizens of the world had to take seriously that idea that with a single technology the entire planet could be destroyed (56). Bradbury’s hatred for such technology can be seen in the novel. Technologies are often described as “chilling, impersonal gadgets of mechanized anti-culture” (141). In addition, the television was now a common household item used not just for entertainment but also as a means of communicating the daily news. The obsession of mindless entertainment irritated Bradbury, and the citizens of his fictionally world are equally as mindless.

As the popularity of the television increased the reading of books decreased. Bradbury, in “Fahrenheit 451” shows what would happen in a world where literature ceased to exist. The United States was also suffering through misinformed McCarthyism which persecuted supposed communists who wanted to overthrow the government (McGiveron 283). The governmental actions were illegal and unconstitutional and yet they continue to destroy lives with paranoia and power (Zipes 189). Therefore, Bradbury used the forum of a science fiction novel to voice his concerns about the world.

He believed that censorship in any form was wrong and the burning of books was really the destruction of knowledge, ideas, and individuality. Bradbury forewarns that if society is to become docile and submissive the government could easily manipulate minds and lives. George Slusser, in Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy, writes “Although librarians and teachers fought back, the pressure for censorship increased. ” (Slusser, Rabkin, and Scholes 104). Oddly enough, “Fahrenheit 451” has been banned from books shelves and schools since it’s publication.

In Bradbury’s futuristic world, the burning of books is normal and the citizens accept this reality without question. People have become mindless, empty beings, at the sole control of their government. Captain Betty reflects “[Fire’s] real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it” (115). He represents the typical citizens in this world that is forced into conformity so long that he is happy to comply. Conformity is seen as the solution to the world’s problems.

Keith Booker, in Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide, observes “throughout “Fahrenheit 451” he emphasizes the voluntary participation of the populace in the oppressive policies of the government. “(89). If there are no differences then there is no conflict, no war, and unfortunately no variety. The unfortunate consequence is that in a world with no pain there can not be happiness. Manipulation through fear is not a fictional concept that Bradbury created. It was real in the 1950s when this novel was published and it is real today (Booker 82) .

Just six years ago, the citizens of the United States were manipulated by the government. An act was created in the dark days following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. It was created to allow the agencies of law enforcement and intelligence to have more authority in order to prevent any future attacks by terrorists on the United States. Additionally, it made available monitoring tools within the United States to aggressively address the Bush administration’s domestic war on terrorism.

The draft title of the act was “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001”. However, today it is better known as the USA Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was responsible for drastic changes in over 15 important government and constitutional statues. All which lead to the increased ability of the government and law enforcement to secretly monitor, conduct surveillance, and investigate anyone at anytime. The fictional world of Bradbury and out modern society reacted in the same way to violence – handing over our freedoms for a bit of pseudo-safety.

The use of propaganda is also used by the government to control it’s citizens. Eric Rabkin, in No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction, asserts “The mass of humanity is subjected to the labor process for the purposes of those who control it rather than for any general purposes of ‘humanity’ as such” (123). The incident in the subway is an excellent example of this control. There is a commercial on the subway speaker system for ‘Denham’s Dentrifice’ and as it plays, everyone one the subway is reciting the commercial from memory and the “words was recreated on the passengers’ lips” (78-80).

Censorship is central theme in “Fahrenheit 451”. Censorship leads to the hiding of the truth. Symbolic of this censorship is the flamethrower which is used to burn books and the houses that contain them ( Slusser, Rabkin, and Scholes 105). It is a way in which the government great rid of individuality and what is considered “dangerous thought. ” The flamethrowers are used by the firemen who are mindless government agents who destroy people’s most valuable possessions each and everyday. It is a weapon of fear used to control individuals in this society.

It is this type of technology that Bradbury is most afraid of. He describes their power by explaining “With the brass nozzle in [Montag’s] fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. ” (3). Bradbury is quick to mention that the knowledge and literature that took centuries to acquire can easily be destroyed by technology in minutes (Rabkin 127).

While Bradbury might have been commenting on the use of the television which seemed to dumb down the intellectual capacity of Americans, his warning is just as useful in the 21st century. The pervasive use and misuse of the Internet has created a new non-tangible world which allows users to communicate but not connect. The Internet has contributed to the lack of individual and unique thought in literature, art, and music. The World Wide Web is also place of anonymity where individuals can hide behind user names, partake in unethical acts, and accept no responsibility for their actions.

Rafeeq McGiveron, in “To Build a Mirror Factory: the Mirror and Self-Examination in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”,” explains “in “Fahrenheit 451” Ray Bradbury creates an unthinking society so compulsively hedonistic that it must be atom-bombed flat before it ever can be rebuilt. “(282) . In “Fahrenheit 451”, Ray Bradbury, warns the general public to the importance of uniqueness and individuality. He urges the audience to fight the government ideals of censorship and forced societal conformity. He asked readers to reflect on their own societies and make changes before it is too late.

In Bradbury society written language is forbidden and forgotten about. Citizens are no longer able to think for themselves and holds only the views of the government. Citizens are controlled by fear and degradation of their humanity producing shelled human beings who have no purpose. This story of destruction and hope was created to mirror out own society and to warns modern citizens that human rights need to be fought for, held on too, and cherished. In a time of the rampant evolution of technology we must be vigilant in holding and expressing out rights to be human.

If not, out fate is that of the Bradbury’s society, succumbs into to the advancements in technology and being wiped from existence. Works Cited Booker, M. Keith. Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. Bradbury, Ray. “Fahrenheit 451”. New York: The Ballentine Publishing Group, 1953. McGiveron, Rafeeq O. “To Build a Mirror Factory: the Mirror and Self-Examination in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. ” Critique 39. 3 (1998): 282-287. Questia. 28 Nov. 2007 <http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=94295698>. Rabkin, Eric S. , Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds.

No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Slusser, George E. , Eric S. Rabkin, and Robert Scholes, eds. Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Zipes, Jack. “11 Mass Degradation of Humanity and Massive Contradictions in Bradbury’s Vision of America in “Fahrenheit 451”. ” No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. Ed. Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. 182-198. .

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