Social Commentary Essay on Fahrenheit 451
Society is a dynamic compilation of ideas and people that is always changing, growing, and developing. Usually as the future becomes the present, people grow more intelligent and as a whole the human race progresses. In the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, this is not the case. The story follows a man by the name of Guy Montag as he searches for answers in a world where asking questions can be deadly. Guy lives in a society where books are burned and thinking is socially unacceptable. Because Montag is a firefighter he assists the government in ridding the country of books. He knows something is missing but he isn’t sure what the missing puzzle piece is until he meets a young girl named Clarisse Mclellan. Clarisse is not in his life for long but she has a great impact on Montag by provoking him to think. By asking him questions she allows him to look deep within himself and realize he is in a loveless relationship, a terrible, guilt-racking job, and he doesn’t know what is right or wrong. Through a series of important events Montag is able to learn how to read and understand, and in the end is ready to help work towards a brighter tomorrow, learning from the past. In the novel Bradbury uses his characters to say that society is becoming a body of ignorant people who are lacking the ability to love, the ability to express opinions because political correctness squanders all controversy, and lacking intellect as well.
Through the relationships of Mrs. Phelps and Clarisse, Bradbury criticizes the lack of real relationships in modern society. For instance on page 95 Mrs. Phelps speaks of her husband’s death with a frightening nonchalance. She says, “Anyway, Pete and I always said no tears, nothing like that. It’s our third marriage each and we are independent. ‘Be independent,’ he always said ‘If I get killed off you just go right ahead and don’t cry, but get married again.” These words are from the passage that discusses Mrs. Phelps’s visit to Montag’s house. The statement is significant because it pertains to the perspective that the citizens of Bradbury’s society have about marriage. Instead of an emotional connection of love and trust, marriage is viewed as a funding source or a business contract. In the novel, society doesn’t see marriage as a sacred union between two people in love, similar to those in modern society who simply marry for personal gain. Another example of the lack of relationships can be seen on page 23 where Clarisse says “No one has time anymore for anyone else.” She makes this discovery when inquiring of Montag about his line of work, soon after they first become acquainted. Clarisse’s statement is pertinent to Bradbury’s criticisms because it rings true for most of the friendships and relationships in Fahrenheit 451. All the people are so absorbed in themselves that they do not make any effort to emotionally invest in their friends, neighbors and relatives. This lack of bonding is a bad thing because it causes people to be selfish, greedy and heedless of the affects their own actions may have on others. As one can see, real relationships are rare in Bradbury’s society because the majority of people don’t care about emotionally bonding with anyone else.
By using the characters Faber and Beatty, Bradbury criticizes the severity of political correctness in society today and how it squashes the new ideas and controversy, because controversy provokes individual thought and opinions. An example of this criticism is clearly visible on page 83 where Faber says “The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.” These words are an excerpt from Faber’s lecture to Montag describing the prominence books have on the quest for knowledge and intellectual development. The message Faber is conveying is all about political correctness and censorship. Bradbury’s society is built on evading anything that would instigate or provoke thought, such as discussing the flaws or ‘pores’ of life. This ties in with political correctness because by avoiding the flaws, the whole society has avoided controversy, which is a great thought provoker. Another instance where the topic of political correctness is referenced is on page 57. On page 57, during Beatty’ tirade he says to Montag furiously, “Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico.” By telling Montag how the government and society keep the people “happy”, he hopes to discourage Montag from seeking knowledge. Through Beatty, Bradbury mocks the idea of not offending anyone, because it is nearly impossible to share your opinions without offending anyone. Furthermore, by keeping from ‘stepping on people’s toes’, the society had been successful in avoiding any topics that would stimulate discussion and thought. This type of censorship is negative because without new ideas and openmindedness, society is bound to make no progress towards a better future.
Along with criticizing political correctness and relationships, Beatty uses his characters to criticize the lack of thinking and stupidity rampant in society. On page 61 Beatty says “Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with.” He says these words to Montag when he visits Montag after the firefighters burn the old woman's house down. Beatty’s statement is significant because it is exactly how the people are kept from thinking. By getting rid of philosophy and sociology, society doesn’t have the need to contemplate and ponder the ways of the world, so all the people have to focus on is meaningless facts and notions that don’t require discussion and thought. Another example of this notion is on page 56. The passage says “The zipper displaces the button and man lacks just that much time to think at dawn, a philosophical hour and therefore a melancholy hour.” These words are also said by Beatty and directed towards Montag. This example is important because it directly relates to the idea that society is ignorant and doesn’t think. The modern strides in technology allow people to be lazy and not to have to think. Widespread stupidity is bad because if there is less time to reflect on philosophy, people will become ignorant and shallow, which will stifle any efforts to improve on society.
As one can see, Bradbury uses his characters to make a statement that society is taking a turn towards ignorance and stupidity, a lack of real relationships and excessive political correctness. By reading the book one will be able to grasp these ideas of society and get a complete understanding of how the characters development plays role in the criticism of society. It is important that Bradbury criticizes these things because all three problems are threatening society today. People are involved in meaningless relationships for the sake of money, others are so caught up in political correctness their voices are being silenced, and stupidity is a rapid disease that is looming over everyone. It is to be hoped that after reading Fahrenheit 451 one will be able to see what flaws lie in the past, and use these to work towards a brighter tomorrow.