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Fahrenheit 451

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"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury is a science fiction novel that portrays a dystopian society plagued with ignorance and a disturbing dependence on technology. Bradbury harshly criticizes flaws present in society with a cynicism that is borderline misanthropical. The literary themes present in the book are often paradoxical, providing the foundation for Bradbury's social criticism of society. The development of the protagonist, Guy Montag, reveals the glimmer of hope that Bradbury sees in a world that indulges in sin.

The first part of the novel, "The Hearth and the Salamander", begins with a depiction of a dystopian world that is devoid of knowledge. Montag is a fireman whose job is, ironically, to destroy books in a kerosene-fueled fire that engulfs the night sky and provides an aesthetically pleasing portrait. "It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed...the brass nozzle...this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world" (p1 "Fahrenheit 451": Ray Bradbury). Montag enjoys burning books, feeling empowered and pertinent to this society without knowing why. Humanity has abandoned knowledge and destroys all remnants of it in an attempt to maintain the blissful ignorance. The chapter tells of a disillusioned Montag who exhibits the mythological traits associated with a salamander, an element of fire. He does not know any reality other than the one he is living and he does not question it.

Bradbury swiftly brings about a milestone in the development of Montag by introducing Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse is Montag's seventeen-year-old neighbor who exhibits a precocious curiosity that bewilders Montag. He has never met his neighbor, a typical occurrence in this society, and is both intrigued and cautioned by her inquisitive nature. Clarisse is considered an anti-social oddity because she enjoys "sitting around talking" (p9 "Fahrenheit 451": Ray Bradbury) and sometimes she just likes to "sit and think" (p23 "Fahrenheit 451": Ray Bradbury). She departs after asking Montag if he is happy, which is the first event of a series that triggers a psychological epiphany for Montag. The question lingers in Montag's mind and he realizes soon after returning home that he is not happy at all. Montag finds his wife, Mildred, unconscious in bed surrounded by the "parlor walls", wall sized television screens that compose the bedroom. After accidentally knocking over an empty bottle of sleeping pills, he realizes that Mildred has overdosed, a common occurrence according the EMTs that respond to "nine or ten" of these cases per night (p15 "Fahrenheit 451": Ray Bradbury). The almost tragic event prompted Montag to contemplate his relationship with Mildred until he recognized that he was delusional. He was married to Mildred for ten years, yet he could not remember how they met nor could he garner the ability to care for her.

Bradbury conveys Montags growing disdain for the ignorance present in this dystopian world while hinting at the characters gradual self-actualization. The rising action continues with Montag responding to an "emergency call" at an elderly woman's house. She is accused of hoarding books, and the woman quickly distinguishes herself as an intellectual by reciting an all to fitting quote from Hugh Latimer. Proclaiming "Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out", Bradbury has the woman refer to Hugh Latimer's death by fire in England in the 1500's indicating the woman's willingness to die for her books with the charge of heresy. The historical death associated with the quote foreshadows the woman's impending fate to be engulfed in flame. The quote also signifies the drastic change in Montag's character while foreshadowing his continued intellectual growth.

Montag's self-actualization becomes more evident when he steals and saves a book from the woman's house before setting it ablaze. This is the first time in the book that Montag displays inquisitiveness and free will. He distinguishes himself from a society that abandons individuality for temporary and instant gratification. Bradbury leads the reader to infer that Montag committed the theft without pre-meditation or intent, "Montag had done nothing. His hand had done it all, his hand...had turned thief" (p37 "Fahrenheit 451": Ray Bradbury).

The subtle arrival of emotion further distinguishes Montag from the rest of the drone-like society.



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