The Power of Language in Fahrenheit 451
In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 there are those who defend the cause of language; those who attempt to destroy the value of words and those who are victims of the abuse of power over language and thought, wielded by the government. The fireman, Montag, attempts to use language as weapon against the entrenched ignorance of his dystopian world. Conversely, the Fire Chief Beatty, uses the power of language as a weapon against those who would free humanity from the tyranny of ignorance. In the scene where Montag reads poetry to ‘the ladies’, their subconscious response to the poem ‘Dover Beach’ reveals the capacity of imagery to transform a listener. Mildred Montag and her “bunch” of ladies are victims of the systematic debasement of language and values instituted by the government. Finally, the scene in which Beatty confounds Montag, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of contradictory quotations, demonstrates the destructive potential of language. In his attack upon ignorance, Montag uses the power of figurative language to incite an unexpected response in his listeners. When he reads the Matthew Arnold poem ‘Dover Beach’ to his wife’s intellectually stunted friends, one of the women, Mrs Phelps, begins to ”sob uncontrollably”. The poem speaks of the need for love and loyalty. The poem also attempts to capture the complexity and uncertainty of life when it says “ah, love, let us be true to one another! For the world, which seems to lie before us is a land of dreams… [and] has neither joy, nor love, nor light…”. Uncannily, the poem is describing the hollow world in which the characters live. Perhaps it is this realisation, at some subliminal level, that elicits the emotional outburst from Mrs Phelps, who like Montag’s own wife, has long since been divorced from both reality and human emotion. In this scene the power of figurative language is shown to move an audience in a manner that transcends understanding. In the world...
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