The novel Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury, is a renowned and award winning piece of literature. The story takes place in an alternate timeline in which reading and being in the possession of books are both illegal. To protect these legal policies, firemen now do the exact opposite of what they do in today’s world. In this novel, firemen burn books. The title is an obvious allusion to this, as books burn at the temperature of 451° Fahrenheit. Fahrenheit 451 is a work of many themes, including issues such as censorship, government control, and oppression.
However, one of the most prominent themes can be shown by the idea of, “although ignorance is bliss, intelligence is better. ” The universe shown in the book is conservative, controlled, and ultimately dystopian. Citizens are controlled by fear, thus laws are almost self-enforced. “Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it’s a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. ” (Bradbury 58).
The younger, more ignorant characters rarely disobey the law, because it’s all they’ve ever known and have no desire the change. Characters such as the main character, Montag, is not an example of this whatsoever. As a fireman, he has the opportunity to “read the books he burns”. He sneaks books and novels out of every house he burns, including the bible. Montag steals books out of a rebelliously morbid fascination, because reading is exactly what a fireman is not supposed to do. Montag is simply curious, he doesn’t really know why he burns books, but he wants to find out.
This mindset is sparked by the appearance of Clarisse McClellan, a beautiful 16 year old girl who represents everything pure in their world, when she asks Montag the question, “Are you happy? ” (Bradbury 5). Montag soon becomes unsure if he is or not, stuck in a loveless marriage in a spiritually stale society, he certainly does not feel happy. He feels the need for change, and he believes that the books he has been burning might just hold the change his society needs. Mildred, a major character in the story, is a good example of the central idea that “ignorance is bliss”.
Mildred is Montag’s wife, a woman who confines herself in her home and watches interactive television dramas on her wall sized tv’s all day. Mildred is, quite simply, a very empty person. She has no goal nor purpose in life, hence her attempted suicide in the very beginning of the story. “The small crystal bottle of sleeping tablets which earlier today had been filled with thirty capsules and which now lay uncapped and empty in the light of the tiny flare. ” (Bradbury 7). Mildred holds no role in this story other than to be a drone of society.
She’s very anti-book, so when she inds out about Montag’s possession of books she ends up exposing him to the police. Mildred even sleeps unaware of the world around her, with the earbuds in her ears blocking out anything other than her fictional dramas. Faber, another major character, is an even better example of the central idea. Faber is an old, retired English professor, so he’s anything but ignorant when it comes to books. However, Faber acts ignorant to avoid prosecution from the law. Faber describes himself as weak and cowardly because of this. “Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward.
I saw the way things were going, along time back. I said nothing. I’m one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the guilty; but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself. ” (Bradbury 54). Throughout the book Faber becomes Montag’s voice of reason, both figuratively and literally. Faber gives Montag “the green bullet”, which is essentially what would be considered a bluetooth earbud in today’s world. They use this earbud to communicate back and forth while they’re apart. Faber tries to lead Montag in the right direction to successfully revive iterature.
Faber’s encounter with Montag inspires a heroic spirit in the old bibliophile. He truly believes that if he and Montag work together, they can reintroduce books and bring light back into their society. “I feel alive for the first time in years,’ said Faber. ‘I feel like l’m doing what I should have done a lifetime ago. For a little while I’m not afraid. Maybe it’s because I’m doing the right thing at last. ” (Bradbury 86). Faber now realizes the central theme that “ignorance is bliss, but intelligence is better”. However, they don’t succeed, as Captain Beatty rips the earbud rom Montag’s ear and destroys his communication with Faber.
Captain Beatty, as confusing and complex of a character he is, also applies to this theme. Beatty is a fellow fireman, as well as Montag’s boss. But Beatty also holds a morbid fascination with literature. Beatty constantly alludes to books, quoting and reciting many of them-even the bible. “It was pretty silly, quoting poetry around free and easy like that. It was the act of a silly damn snob. Give a man a few lines of verse and he thinks he’s the Lord of all Creation. You think you can walk on water with your books. Well, the world can get by just fine without them.
Look where they got you, the slime with my little finger, you’ll drown! ” (Bradbury 77) Although Beatty frequently likes to express his hatred for books throughout the story, he doesn’t do a very good job of hiding the fact that he really doesn’t feel that way. Beatty wants to be ignorant, he wants to have an easy and civil life, but he can’t deny his forbidden liking towards literature due to his extensive knowledge of it. “Montag, take my word for it, I’ve had to read a few in my time, to know what I was about, and the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe.
They’re about non- existent people, figments of imagination, if they’re fiction. And if they’re non-fiction, it’s worse, one professor calling another an idiot, one philosopher screaming down another’s gullet. All of them running about, putting out the stars and extinguishing the sun. You come away lost. ” (Bradbury 42) Beatty is a troubled slime up to your lip. If I stir and conflicted man, a character who cannot decide what is right and what is wrong. After Montag torches and kills Beatty out of perturbation, it’s suggested that perhaps Beatty wanted to die.
Captain Beatty is a puzzling example of “ignorance is bliss, but intelligence is better”. In essence, the novel Fahrenheit 451 is a complex work with a complex theme. The many characters represent some part of the dystopian society in which they live in. Some characters are ignorant drones, some are intelligent cowards, some are troubled, and some want to save to world. And common to any dystopian novel, the world is destroyed in the end in hopes of starting anew. Yet altogether, the controlling message of this famed novel is that although ignorance is bliss, intelligence is, and always will be, better.