Fahrenheit 451: Themes
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In LitCharts each theme gets its own color, as you can see in the colored boxes next to each theme title below. You can use these colors in the Summary and Analysis sections to track how each theme develops through the work. Mass Media
Much of Fahrenheit 451 is devoted to depicting a future United States society bombarded with messages and imagery by an omnipresent mass media. Instead of the small black-and-white TV screens common in American households in 1953 (the year of the book's publication), the characters in the novel live their lives in rooms with entire walls that act as televisions. These TVs show serial dramas in which the viewer's name is woven into the program and the viewer is able to interact with fictional characters called "the relatives" or "the family." Scenes change rapidly, images flash quickly in bright colors, all of it designed to produce distraction and fascination. When not in their interactive TV rooms, many characters, including Guy Montag's wife Mildred, spend much of their time with "Seashell ear thimbles" in their ears—miniature radio receivers that play constant broadcasts of news, advertisements, and music, drowning out the real sounds of the world. Throughout the novel, Bradbury portrays mass media as a veil that obscures real experience and interferes with the characters' ability to think deeply about their lives and societal issues. Bradbury isn't suggesting that media other than books couldn't be enriching and fulfilling. As Faber tells Montag, "It isn't books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books.... The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not." In an interview marking the fiftieth anniversary of the novel's publication, Bradbury indicated that some of his fears about mass media had been realized. "We bombard people with sensation," he said, "That substitutes for thinking." Censorship
Books are banned in the society depicted in Fahrenheit 451.When they're found, they're burned, along with the homes of the books' owners. But it's important to remember that in the world of this novel, the suppression of books began as self-censorship. As Beatty explains to Montag, people didn't stop reading books because a tyrannical government forced them to stop. They stopped reading books gradually over time as the culture around them grew faster, shallower, intellectually blander, and centered around minor thrills and instant gratification. In such a culture, books became shorter, magazine and newspaper articles became simpler, cartoon pictures and television became more prevalent, and entertainment replaced reflection and debate. Another factor that contributes to the growth of censorship in Fahrenheit 451 are minorities and what we might call "special interest groups." In order not to offend every imaginable group and sub-group—whether organized around ethnicity, religion, profession, geography, or affinity—every trace of controversy slowly vanished from public discourse, and magazines became "a nice blend of vanilla tapioca." In time, the word "intellectual" became a swear word, and books came to be seen as a dangerous means for one person to lord his or her knowledge and learning over someone else. Books, and the critical thinking they encouraged, became seen as a direct threat to equality. By making widespread censorship a phenomenon that emerges from the culture itself—and not one that is simply imposed from above by the government—Bradbury is expressing a concern that the power of mass media can ultimately suppress free speech as thoroughly as any totalitarian regime. Conformity vs. Individuality
Pleasure-seeking and distraction are the hallmarks of the culture in which Montag lives. Although these may sound like a very self-serving set of values, the culture is not one that celebrates or even tolerates a...
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