Fahrenheit 451 is a novel set in a dystopian society, written by Ray Bradbury. An American author that throughout his life acclaimed for anti-censorship themes. The novel is set in a society where books are banned in an attempt to withhold knowledge from the public. The people in the community are not encouraged to have their own thoughts and are deprived of access to books as a resource. The novel takes place in the late 20th century. It is based around the life of Guy Montag, a man whose job is to burn books. Throughout the story, Montag slowly gains a thirst for knowledge so intense that he destroys his life to satisfy it. Therefore, this novel demonstrates the lengths the government will go through to control the public and how people’s natural curiosity can push through societal norms.
To control and influence the public’s thoughts, in Fahrenheit 451 the government has established extreme censorship over literature. Although the reader is not given a strict timeline about how long books have been banned, it can be assumed that it has been over one hundred years, since the majority of the adult population has been conditioned into believing everything that the government proclaims. This is first established when Clarisse says to Montag, 'Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?' 'No. Houses. have always been fireproof, take my word for it.'” (p. 6). At the beginning of the novel, the reader can understand that Montag too believed what the government said. Therefore, he was conditioned since childhood to not doubt what he was taught but to take it as a fact.
By banning something, the government tells the public that there is something wrong with it. If they are accustomed to being told that said thing is banned they will slowly grow to fear it. This is demonstrated in the novel when Montag 'reached up and pulled back the grille of the air conditioning system and reached far back inside to the right and moved still another sliding sheet of 63 metal and took out a book… ..Mildred backed away as if she were suddenly confronted by a pack of mice that had come up out of the floor. He could hear her breathing rapidly and her face was paled out and her eyes were fastened wide” (p. 63). In this scene, Mildred displays an intense fear due to Montag pulling out a book. Fearing books is not a normal notion, however, because books are criminalized in the novel, Mildred’s reaction can be perceived as normal in this society.
In Fahrenheit 451, the reader is presented with a society where all books and reading materials are banned. Since books have been banned for a long time, most of the population does not see the need to seek out what they contain. Guy Montag is surrounded by people who live in ignorance, unaware of current events and accepting of the things around them. Displayed by his co-workers when he brings up what Clarisse said to him, 'Didn't firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?' 'That's rich!' Stoneman and Black drew forth their rulebooks, which also contained brief histories of the Firemen of America, and laid them out where Montag, though long familiar with them, might read: 'Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin.' (p. 31). Montag’s co-workers never doubted what they were taught and just took it as a fact, therefore living in ignorance because it is simpler. Through the deprivation of books and outside sources, the government has created a dystopian society that embodies the saying 'ignorance is bliss.
People live in the comfort of ignorance and, therefore, do not feel the need to bring about change or stand up to the government and its controlling regulations. By not being aware of the problems around them, they live in peaceful bliss, which is easier to live in rather than knowing and stressing about the dreadful things going on in the world that are out of their control. This is made evident as Montag begins asking questions to Mildred’s friends; which makes them uncomfortable. 'When do you suppose the war will start?' he said. 'I notice your husbands aren't here tonight?'... … He'll be back next week. The Army said so. Quick war. Forty-eight hours they said, and everyone home. That's what the Army said” (p. 90). Montag’s questions make them feel uneasy because he is asking for their opinions on an important event that is happening, therefore obligating them to face it. Which goes against what they were previously doing, which was disregarding it. People in this society are so accustomed to disregarding detrimental events about the world around them that they become hostile and uncomfortable when presented with them.
Human beings have a natural sense of curiosity, therefore when they are simply told something without context, they will most likely try to seek out knowledge on the topic. Since childhood, Montag has been told that books are evil and criminal. As a result of never being introduced to them, he slowly develops a curiosity about what they contain. This curiosity gradually increases until he eventually snaps and risks everything in his life to know what is inside books. This curiosity is not only present in Montag, his boss Beatty mentions to him “'At least once in his career, but every fireman also gets an itch. What do the books say, he wonders. Oh, to scratch that itch, eh?” (p. 59). As Beatty first presents, every fireman at one point ponders about what books say, but not all of them go as far as Montag did. Who was chased out of his society for challenging the censorship laws?
In conclusion, Fahrenheit 451 is a novel that is famous because of its anti-censorship themes. This novel can be perceived as a critique of censorship around the time in which it was written, but can also easily be compared to modern-day censorship. Due to this, this novel presents themes relevant around the time of publication but is still relevant to read and analyze in present-day society.