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Fahrenheit 451 and the Different Values Portrayed by Ray Bradbury

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The Variety of Values

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” -Plato. In general, human behavior refers to the array of every physical action and observable emotion associated with individuals, as well as the human race as a whole. Behavior, driven in part by thoughts and feelings, is an insight into individual psyche, revealing among other things attitudes and values. Plato adopts this understanding and explains that human behavior flows from the three predominant sources of desire, emotion, and knowledge, a concept that is not foreign to Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury adopts and shares Plato’s views on the topic, writing diverse values into each of his characters. He fundamentally conveys the idea that human behavior varies depending on the aspects of behavior that one values, which he represents through the diversity of his characters.

For Guy Montag, two of Plato’s quoted sources, desire and knowledge, go hand in hand: he is fueled by his aspiration for intelligence and enlightenment. As one of the most dynamic characters in Fahrenheit 451, the audience sees the way society views him and his change from a trusted, normal citizen to a supposedly dangerous criminal. Contrary to the belief of society, his change in behavior is not fueled by a terrorizing defiance, but rather an unstoppable desire for knowledge. Montag puts his job, wife, and essentially his own life on the line in search of knowledge and enlightenment. “A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon. In all the rush and fervor, Montag had only an instant to read a line, but it blazed in his mind for the next minute as if stamped there with fiery steel.” (Bradbury 37). Despite being on the job, Montag makes it a priority to read what he can. This defiant behavior, a result of his unstoppable desire, is what leads him to knowledge. “…Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes! I don’t hear those idiot bastards in your parlour talking about it. God, Millie, don’t you see? An hour a day, two hours, with these books, and maybe…” (73). Along with the pursuit of knowledge comes the desire for understanding and righteousness, as suggested here. Montag develops the idea that books may bring enlightenment, a sense of behavior that emerges from his desire itself; a desire to learn and progress. This overall dynamic character and human behavior stems from the two intertwining sources, as suggested by Plato: desire and knowledge.

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The opposite of Montag in the sense of character change is Mildred, Montag’s wife. Millie can be most accurately defined as a static character. Millie is the epitome of the status quo, a paragon of their society. Her behavior shows she is ignorant and unmotivated, materialistic and unadventurous; the result of her lack of desire, emotion, and knowledge. “Mildred kicked at a book. “‘Books aren’t people. You read and I look around, but there isn’t anybody!’” (73). Millie doesn’t seem to understand, nor attempt to understand, books – nor people, or life itself. Although deeply unhappy, her one true interest is in her ‘family’, a form of a television show. “The front door opened; Mildred came down the steps, running, one suitcase held with a dreamlike clenching rigidity in her fist, as a beetle-taxi hissed to the curb. ‘Mildred!’ She ran past with her body stiff, her face floured with powder, her mouth gone, without lipstick…. She shoved the valise in the waiting beetle, climbed in, and sat mumbling, ‘Poor family, poor family, oh everything gone, everything, everything gone now ….’” (114). The interest she places in her ‘family’ is so great that it is close to an obsession, revealing a key aspect of her personality: she is motivated by her own entertainment only. Mildred’s unwavering will to leave her husband, the books, and her old life behind suggests that she is not at all motivated by desire, emotion, or knowledge, in turn leading to an unproductive, static behavior.

Moreover, Bradbury further implements his purpose by introducing a different aspect of human behavior. Montag, having desire and knowledge, is considered progressive and productive; Millie, holding none of Plato’s ideal values, is a static, non-progressive character. However, Captain Beatty’s behavior differs from these two. While he values desire, knowledge, and emotion, all are negative. Though Beatty is still progressive in the sense that he has a complex character, he wishes for books and thought to tarnish, and for the society itself to cease intellectual advancement. “Beatty rubbed his chin. ‘A man named Latimer said that to a man named Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy, on October 16, 1555. … I’m full of bits and pieces,’ said Beatty. ‘Most fire captains have to be. Sometimes I surprise myself.’” (68). Here, Beatty proves that he has managed to obtain knowledge, for he has read books and absorbed such information. The negative recognition in this is shown in how he tries to persuade others to believe an alternative of what he knows to be true, attempting to restrict people from thought. This aspect is fueled by his negative emotion like hatred and enmity to thought-enabled and intelligent people. “‘Where’s your common sense? None of those books agree with each other. You’ve been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap out of it! The people in those books never lived. Come on now!’” (38). As shown here, Beatty actively upholds the idea that books are filled with false information or silly things of no importance. Although often negative, Beatty’s actions and behaviors are crafted by his values of desire, knowledge, and emotion.

As previously stated, human behavior in Fahrenheit 451 refers to physical action and observable emotion associated with individuals, not to mention society as a whole. The way in which Plato understands this is further implemented by Ray Bradbury as he adopts and shares the philosopher’s views on the topic. By writing diverse values into each of his characters and highlighting character development, he is not only able to convey deeper insights of human behavior, but tie such ideas to the roots of human nature, and the boundaries of a sane mind.

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