Control and Knowledge

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The Manipulation of Knowledge: Fahrenheit 451 and The Book of Negroes

In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, accessing and oppressing a person’s mind is an efficient way of exerting power in a society. In Fahrenheit 451 and The Book of Negroes, the way the government and slave traders choose to exert power shows that reducing a person’s self- knowledge and then substituting that knowledge with a false identity is an effective way of controlling the mind. The only way to resist this form of control is to develop a strong sense of self. From a young age, Aminata values education, largely due to her respect for her father, who is the only one in her village who knows how to read and write (Hill 12). Papa, Aminata’s father, instills the significance in wisdom when he tells Aminata about the medicine men in their village: “They are the strongest of all, for they have lived longer than all of us, and they have wisdom.” (24). Even following her enslavement, Aminata retains the value of wisdom, thinking, “It was said that when a djeli passed away, the knowledge of one hundred men died with him.” (64). Aminata decides that as a slave it is her responsibility to retain information. While on board the slave ship, Aminata defines her life purpose to assume the role of being a djeli, or storyteller. Aminata’s motivation cannot be suppressed because she continues to fight for who she believes she is (74). Unlike Fanta, Aminata does not submit to confusion or panic, and is therefore difficult to be easily controlled. While working on Robinson Appleby’s indigo plantation, Aminata continues to draw motivation from her father, demonstrating her ability to stay true to who she is (151-153). Aminata’s commitment to self awareness is revealed in the first things she wishes to teach her daughter: where Aminata comes from, who Aminata and her daughter are as it relates to the world and how to read and write (365). In Fahrenheit 451, Clarisse notes that, among people, there is no independence and no uniqueness (31). The estrangement of the self is exposed when Guy Montag realizes that neither he nor his wife Mildred can remember where they originally met (42,43). As Montag continues to explore his memory, he cannot explain his depression: “I’m so damned unhappy, I’m so mad, and I don’t know why.”(64). Montag’s feelings have been suppressed by the influence of other men. Furthermore, Montag views himself as two people: a man who knows nothing and a wise man filled with knowledge. Montag symbolizes a society that occasionally seeks the truth, but is far too bombarded with information to fully understand it (102). Near the end of the novel, Montag learns that society needs to be conscious of the past in order to know how to advance. Granger recalling the legacy his grandfather left indicates that the past must be known for the development of aware people who can make their own decisions (156). In Montag’s society, people are unwilling to look closely at themselves, in part due to their reluctance to read books. Faber also addresses the lack of self- knowledge in society, explaining that books reveal how humans really are, and how humans truly act, making them an irreplaceable resource (86). Faber says, “The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are.” (86). In other words, Faber suggests that books are a key to knowing the self. Restricting a person’s freedom of thought and ideas is frequently used by the slave traders to maintain control. Conversely, Aminata finds intellectual freedom in her dreams, where others have no control over her thoughts and opinions. In her dream, Aminata sees a rabbit, and tells it to run away, giving the reader a window into her thirst for freedom (Hill 134). Later, Aminata compares the experiences of reading and dreaming: “Reading felt like a daytime dream in a secret land.” (188). Aminata wants to read because reading frees her mind, and allows...
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