Fahrenheit 451 – A Charred Existence

Imagine living in a world where you are not in control of your own thoughts. Imagine living in a world in which all the great thinkers of the past have been blurred from existence. Imagine living in a world where life no longer involves beauty, but instead a controlled system that the government is capable of manipulating. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, such a world is brought to the awareness of the reader through a description of the impacts of censorship and forced conformity on people living in a futuristic society. In this society, all works of literature have become a symbol of unnecessary controversy and are outlawed. Individuality and thought is outlawed. The human mind is outlawed. All that is left is a senseless society, unaware of their path to self-destruction, knowing only what the government wants them to know. By telling a tale of a world parallel to our own, Bradbury warns us of a future we are on a path to – a future of mind manipulation, misused technology, ignorance, and hatred. He challenges the reader to remain open-minded by promoting individualism, the appreciation of literature, the defiance of censorship and conformity, and most importantly, change.

Bradbury’s inspiration to convey the themes involved in the novel resulted mainly from the social situation of the time. First of all, the novel was written shortly after World War II and increasing numbers of authors began writing about serious topics. Also, the invention of the atom bomb had aroused the Cold War and the use of technology as a form of destruction. Seeing technology as a potential threat to the well-being of mankind, Bradbury uses Fahrenheit 451 to state his distrust for it in the novel, which explains why the devices are depicted as “chilling, impersonal gadgets of mechanized anti-culture,” (Mogen 141). Also, as the television was becoming the main form of communication in the 50’s, Bradbury believed that it was “reducing society to very mediocre tastes”. As a defense against the degradation of literature (as well as peoples’ minds), Bradbury intended to teach us of the importance of books by showing us the misery involved in a world that lacks them. Another social consequence leading to the writing of Fahrenheit 451 was that, at the time, the country was going through what was called the era of McCarthyism. During this time, many Americans were accused of attempting to undermine the United States government (Touponce 124). It was a time of book-burning and close panic, which left Bradbury in disbelief that “[we] would go all out and destroy ourselves in this fashion” (Moore 103). The writing of this novel was also an opportunity for Bradbury to speak out against the censorship of written literature that was taking place by showing the consequences of it. Bradbury believed that the censorship of books destroyed important ideas, knowledge, and opinions and restricted the world from learning about the problems of their culture. His writing came to show that without such knowledge, society could become very passive, which would make it vulnerable to the control and mind manipulating techniques of the government. Ironically enough, this book itself was subject to censorship on its initial release. The political, social, and military tensions of the 50’s lent to Bradbury’s own tensions, calling him forth to alert the people of their own self-destructive behaviors.

The setting in which the story takes place has a significant effect on the theme expressed in the novel. The most notable aspect of the setting is the time at which it is set. The time that Bradbury is trying to illustrate is never simply stated, but rather implied and described through the lives of the characters and the technology available to them. The existence of a “four-walled television” (Bradbury 20) and high-speed jet-propelled “beetle” cars (Bradbury 9) inform us that this story takes place sometime in the distant future, keeping in mind this novel was written in the 1950’s. The time that the story takes place in is very closely associated with the place of its occurrence. Yet it is not so much a matter of a specific location, but rather the “world” that it takes place in – a world brought about by the ignorance of