Don't Read This!
Fear can manifest itself in many ways. In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, fear manifests itself into censorship. Censorship occurs in everything from school to everyday life in Fahrenheit 451. If a society is not allowed to read the information inside of books, that is clear censorship. The burning of the books is one of several forms of censorship. Other forms are controlling the speed of people's lives, killing people who think too freely, and manipulating religious figures. Bradbury helps to paint a vivid picture of censorship.
The futuristic society of Fahrenheit 451 keeps information and people moving fast. This form of governmental control limits people's ability to process daily events.
A woman named Clarise brings about Montag's realization of the society's inability to process for the first time. She says “Have you seen the two hundred foot billboards in the country beyond town? Did you know that billboards used to be 20 feet long? But cars started rushing by so quickly they had to stretch the advertisement out so it would last” (Bradbury 9). Apparently, there was a time when people would not drive so fast, and they would remember advertisements for a longer time. Being forced to move at a quick speed in all aspects of life leads to vital and non-important thoughts and observations alike to be forgotten by citizens. Montag is grasping the reality of censorship, when he asks his wife Mildred “When did we meet? And where?” (42). Mildred cannot remember this important detail of Montag and her relationship. While the government apparently cannot stop people from thinking, they can control when the subjects have time to think. People who break from this model of rushing can be punished for not following the rules.
Clarise is killed for being observant. Clarise is able to notice facts and news' developments that no one else is able to notice. “Bet I know something else you don't. There's dew on the grass in the morning” (Bradbury 9). To this statement, Montag replies in a surprised tone. Montag is also upset and irritated that he is not able to notice such obvious realities on his own. Simple things in daily life Clarise is uniquely attuned to notice. Clarise disappears, not a new occurrence.
Mildred is the first one to become aware of Clarise's death. Mildred says “I think she's gone” (Bradbury 47). Montag replies in an inquisitive manner, having been unaware of what should be a momentous event. When Montag inquires as to why Mildred has not informed him sooner, Mildred says “I forgot all about it” (47). Clarise is clearly not the first to have died; it seems pedestrian to the average citizen, since there are such a high number of deaths. “Ten of them died in car wreaks” (270). Not only does this occurrence show the surprising normalcy of the death event, it proves in another way how fast moving the society is that someone could forget about a death in such a rapid fashion. Those who do not want subscribe to the blindness and high speed perception in this state will get killed. Once again, the government cannot censor thought, so they keep everything moving to make people forget. People are unable to control their own destinies.
In an otherwise distressing society, religion may give people hope. Even in Fahrenheit 451, the Bible talks about life after death. Such a promise can give people hope, and often when people have hope, they begin to think of alternatives to their current, unfortunate way of life. To combat this, the malevolent government does not take away the familiar Bible from public consumerism; instead, they make Jesus the face of consumerism. Farber describes the use of religion and the bible as, “He's a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn't making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshipper absolutely needs..” (Bradbury 61). If Jesus is no longer a savior and instead marketing products, citizens are no longer going to have aspirations outside of the government.
After Montag begins to converse with Clarise, he begins to have his own thoughts outside of what he has been taught his entire life. Montag is a fireman. All he has ever learned is to burn books. Books are belittled and deemed dangerous. Beatty, Chief of the Fire House, shares the idea Montag has been accustomed to hearing all his life: “Where's your common sense? None of these books agree with each other” (Bradbury 39). The oppressive regime bans books because of their variety of thought. If a book requires thought and does not make the reader aware of the point, or it makes the reader feels bad as “Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping?” (40). The only literature pieces that are read in this community are instructional brochures. It keeps everyone happy as the brochures simply cannot offend anyone.
This seemingly post-apocalyptic society appears in its specific details to be a long way from our current society, but how different is it really? In the 1950s, when Bradbury writes Fahrenheit 451, United States' government officials spread worries of communism. The officials had to appear tough on communism or they would be berated for supporting the wicked communists. Bradbury based his book, Fahrenheit 451, on this tough approach. Today, for the most part, we do not fear communists to the extent that we did in the 1950s. Terrorism is an immense fear for many Americans. The overwhelming fear seems like the closest comparison to the communist fear in the 1950s. The current President, Donald Trump won the election, playing to the fears in the United States. He claimed that we had terrorists flying over to the United States by the handful every day and suggested a travel ban on these human beings. While books have not been censored, people and ideas have been. The immigration of people from six countries has been banned, regardless of personal characteristics or accomplishments up until this point. This is a ban fueled by fear of Muslims and religion. The government is trying to censor who can come and what ideas can make their way into the nation. While this censorship is certainly different than what Ray Bradbury experienced, it unquestionably seems similar. To stop this growing issue of bigotry, the United States' population should become more educated on topics, similar to Montag's increase in awareness. He begins to read up on things that matter and question everything, before the end of the book. We could learn to do similar.
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