Fahrenheit 451 – A World Close to Home?
Can a fictional society from a story that was written in the past substantially reflect the modern United States that people know today? Perhaps it can. Although the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 is fictional, its contents can be seen to parallel, perhaps to a lesser extent, some societies today. Looking at the current state of the United States and the world presented in the book, it is evident that there are a variety of similarities: think about specific areas, such as war, technology, social interaction, censorship, communication, family lifestyles, work lifestyles, authority, power, government propaganda, freedom, education, the concept of happiness, and others. There are a variety of different ways in which the modern United States and the fictional representation in the book can be seen as similar. For instance, with regards to relationships, social identities, propaganda, and censorship, the book reflects a profound consideration of the modern issues associated with the technological changes of the twentieth century. These changes can be best understood in relation to the events that transpire within Fahrenheit 451 as the character, Guy Montag, attempts to contend with the various problems that he is beginning to see in his world. In addressing the book and its relationship with the modern United States, it is possible to compare the similarities between the fictional, future world of Fahrenheit 451 and the current reality of the country.
In the first part of the book, “The Hearth and the Salamander,” the characters and their underlying values that relate to social connection and perception of work are presented, and these same values and perception are also present within the modern United States. n assessing the events that occur, it is evident that there are various concepts associated with the family, the lifestyle, and the happiness that are present within the text. Issues such as happiness, freedom, and family are all presented and given a strong valuation in relation to the social aspects that are present within the books. For instance, Montag's relationship with his wife, Mildred, reflects a social issue that many people also face today. It is evident that Montag carries the need for personal connection, which he is unable to achieve from his wife, the person who he is supposed to love and the person who is supposed to love him in return. When he tells her that he is thinking of quitting the force, her reaction is primarily concerned with income and the potential for her to become destitute. She does not seem to be concerned about the feelings and thoughts of his husband, Montag. This is an indication of modern consumerist-based attitudes that can be observed both in Fahrenheit 451 and the modern United States. Montag’s growing relationship with Clarrise, on the other hand, reflects another social issue. His intention to establish friendship with Clarisse seems to indicate a longing for connection. This is the same need that people nowadays often feel as they begin to be isolated with regards to contemporary values of independence and self-worth. Through the books that he takes, Montag also seemed to fulfill the need to connect to something. He said, “And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books” (Bradbury 49). These aspects of society are largely a result of the consumerist tendencies that make it difficult to come to know one another on a more personal level. The same tendency that many people of the modern United States also have. Another similarity from the novel and today’s society is the high importance that is being given to a fast-paced life. For instance, after witnessing a woman who is burned alive during one of their operations, Montag begins to have second thoughts regarding his work. He stays at home for some time until his superior, Captain Beatty, visits and talks to him. Beatty recounts that as the population grew more concerned with being entertained with things, such as sports and movies, attention spans became shorter. As a result, books became abridged and were banned altogether. This social unrest regarding the need for progress and the obsession with a fast-paced lifestyle are also indicative of the modern United States, the same values and the technological fetishes that are being more ingrained in popular culture.
In the second part of the book, “The Sieve and the Sand,” the ideas related to the use of technology, ideas, philosophy, and government are further demonstrated. These ideas are similar to those in the real world, in which rapid industrialization and social change have made it difficult to establish proper methods to ensure that the government and other interests do not exploit or take advantage of society. In analyzing the book, it is evident that there are several confrontations that establish the underlying reliance on technology as well as its grasp on humanity, both symbolically and literally. Furthermore, this grasp has profound political and social repercussions in relation to the avowed freedoms that people within the book enjoy. Moreover, as Montag and his wife are discussing the books that he has been hoarding, the fear he feels have profound associations with modern society; he is afraid of the scratching of what he fears to be “The Hound” and he is also afraid of the planes that are flying overhead, which symbolize the unknown war brewing somewhere in the world. “The jet bombers going over, going over, going over, one two, one two, one two, six of them, nine of them, twelve of them, one and one and one and another and another and another, did all the screaming for him” (Bradbury 11). The idea of “The Hound” can be attributed to modern day agencies, such as the NSA or the CIA, which have been accused of spying on civilians both in the United States and abroad. The idea of a constant and unknown war that rages in another part of the world seems to be further indicative of similarities to the modern United States. Furthermore, Montag and Mildred's date with their friends, the time when they decide to sit and watch the walls of their home, seems to be a direct indication of the growth of television during the twentieth century and its capacity to overtake the social and interpersonal lives of the people within society. When Montag attempts to turn off the walls in order to engage his wife and her friends in a conversation, they seem completely uninterested with the important topics. Instead, they are more engaged with gossips. This seems to reflect modern society on a deeper level, in which people are enamored with celebrity and popular culture. In many cases, people of the modern United States are more interested in these things than in their own lives.
The final section of the book, “Burning Bright,” seems to reflect the proposition of complete and total destruction that arises from these types of ideologies that breed hatred and war. The metaphor of the entire book seems to be death and rebirth in fire, much like the Phoenix. What makes this part similar to the modern society is the concept of nuclear annihilation, which is similar to the dangers in the present world. The inception of wars that have abstract definitions and the use of large-scale weapons that can affect even non-combatants calls into question the use of warfare techniques in the modern world. These ideas can often have lasting implications for society and the political agendas of those that hold power throughout the world.
These comparisons are important to draw due to the insights that these can provide into the possibilities for the future to end up the same fate that is described in the book. For this reason, it is necessary to assess and analyze the underlying values and technologies in which the society bases its principles on. Regarding the future of the United States, this analysis warns of the possible effects of the popular culture and its ability to narrow down the scope of the human mind to the point at which ways of thinking become ingrained and detrimental to the human condition. Therefore, such comparison is helpful as it provides a lens through which the past, the present, and the future of political and social ideologies can be judged in a more comprehensive way.
Bradbury, Ray, and Joseph A. Mugnaini. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1953.