Imagine a world with no free thought and where reading books is viewed as a threat to society and the happiness of its citizens. Ray Bradbury did just this in his novel Fahrenheit 451. Concerned by the rise of technology and the relationship between burning books and burning people, Bradbury sought to highlight the dangerous path that society is on, one that could lead to mindlessness and thoughtlessness. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury challenges thoughtlessness and promotes freethinking through the construction of his characters.
He uses the character of Mildred and her friends to show the consequences of a superficial, dumbed-down society that focuses on pleasure, while Montag and Clarisse show the power and importance of free thought. Mildred is presented in Fahrenheit 451 as the epitome of the thoughtless society where knowledge has given way to entertainment. Mildred is the victim of a pleasure-driven society, she has been drawn into the trappings of technology which have then made her dull and destroyed her free thought.
Mildred is constantly watching the ‘parlour’ and calls it the ‘family’, showing that in this society technology has replaced genuine relationships. She listens to the seashell every night which insinuates a dependence on the technology. In fact, the first time that we meet Mildred she is described as dead, “like a body displayed on the lid of a tomb. ” Bradbury is showing us that technologies like television can essentially suck the life out of us, making us dull drones.
He emphasises this by pointing out that “the room was indeed empty,” which makes it seem as though Mildred no longer has any value as a human being, she is merely a pleasure-driven creature who no longer engages in what makes us human – free thought. Bradbury cleverly uses Mildred as a warning to us – if you allow brainless technology to dominate your life then you will become brainless yourself. Clarisse is used by Bradbury as a direct contrast to Mildred.
The young girl is the perfect example of a freethinking individual not hampered by the society of Fahrenheit 451. She talks to Montag of nature and her observations about the world, alongside things that Montag hasn’t even noticed like the length of billboards. Initially, her candid speech shocks Montag, who is not used to this kind of thinking. However, shock soon gives way to thinking of his own and he starts to question his job burning books.
Clarisse acts a catalyst for Montag – inspiring him to think for himself and ask ‘why’ rather than ‘how’. Montag’s admiration for Clarisse is reflected by the reader and allows Bradbury to promote the value of freethinking. As Clarisse disappears and (we assume) is killed, the reader is forced to challenge a society where discussing nature could be considered a radical action. Bradbury’s central character is Montag who has an important role as a fireman in the Fahrenheit society.
At the start of the novel he loves his job – “It was a pleasure to burn,” but by the end he has killed his boss and fled from the very society he used to protect. This is a clever technique used by Bradbury, because when the enforcer starts to question the society then there must be something very wrong. Montag wants to read books, he wants to think for himself. This is difficult at first, he makes mistakes ad gets himself into trouble. However, by the end he has survived the destruction of the city and has eluded the Mechanical Hound.
Bradbury shows us that Montag is not really happy in this society – “He wore his happiness like a mask” – which implies that free thought is an important part of achieving happiness. Or, to put it differently, that a lack of freethinking does not necessarily result in happiness. Ultimately, Montag’s desire for free thought ensures his survival as he has fled the city that is destroyed by a bomb. By the end of this novel, the reader is left wondering whether Bradbury’s predictions may come true, at least to some extent.
He predicted the rise of television and walkmans which, many would argue, are slowly degrading our propensity for free thought. He shows us very clearly through his characters what the consequences of such a society would be – mindless, thoughtless people who are driven by pleasure and are not actually happy as a result. Novels like Bradbury’s are important to us now because even though he was writing over 50 years ago, the ideas he puts forward are still relevant. We should be fighting against ignorance and fighting to keep knowledge at the centre of our world. .