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Themes

Learn about Themes in Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 with Course Hero’s video study guide.

Fahrenheit 451 | Themes

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The themes of Fahrenheit 451 emphasize the power of literature to connect humans and the effect of censorship by a repressive government on individual thought.

Censorship and Technology

Book burning as a form of censorship took place in human history long before Bradbury wrote his dystopian novel. The fear of exposing people to information or sentiments that are considered harmful or dangerous is associated with repressive regimes. By controlling citizens' access to ideas, governments can control the people's actions.

Book burning is only one kind of censorship in this novel. In Fahrenheit 451 technology is also used by the government to censor, and thereby control, the population. Television numbs or distracts people, discouraging them from being conscious of real-world events and preventing them from having thoughts and personalities of their own. Media in the form of Seashell Radios and television walls overwhelm the senses and encourage people to connect with machines rather than other people.

In this novel, technological advances always have a dark purpose. Some of Bradbury's creations, such as the Mechanical Hound, are still ahead of 21st-century technology. Others, such as the wall-sized television screens and the Seashell Radios, are eerie premonitions of modern devices. All warn about the uses of technology in the hands of an unscrupulous government.

Alienation and Connection

Dehumanization takes several forms in this novel. The foundation of the society is a lack of human connection: people are disconnected from themselves, their families, others, and the world. In Montag's dystopian society real human connections are replaced by false or shallow ones, such as Mildred's fictional television family. Continual, mind-numbing amusements, such as wall screen televisions and ear-splitting subway advertisements, disconnect people from their minds and bodies. As a result people are also disconnected from knowledge, curiosity, and the ability to think for themselves.

Despite this situation, individuals find ways to connect. Montag makes profound human connections and is capable of empathy. He connects with Clarisse, and his conversations with her change his life, leading him to redefine himself and his world. Bradbury also shows people connecting through books, which are portrayed as the road to humanity. Montag reaches out to Faber in order to better understand what he reads, and Faber accompanies Montag through his journey toward enlightenment, speaking to him through an audio capsule. The relationship between books and humanity is underscored by the group of "hobos" Montag meets late in the novel, each of whom is a "living book" who has memorized a great work to keep it alive.

Individuality and Conformity

In Fahrenheit 451 individuality is treated as a threat to government power, while conformity is a means for the government to maintain power. Books are a threat because they encourage people to consider ideas, reflect on their lives, and question their culture. The government prefers an obedient population that it defines and controls through the use of mass media, rather than a population of people who define themselves.

To keep people in line the government in Fahrenheit 451 encourages distractions that prevent people from thinking or feeling, such as blaring advertisements and televisions that surround people on all sides. The population is so overstimulated, the people can barely think for themselves. Montag says "of course" he is happy, when in fact he is deeply troubled. Convinced to believe that he is happy, he burns books believing it is for the social good.

Montag becomes a threat to his society because he wants to read and learn. His desire to feel, change, and grow leads Montag to question society's values and places him beyond his society's control.

The Power of Books

The burning of books, a metaphor for the censorship of individual thought, is the heart of Fahrenheit 451. The novel repeatedly emphasizes the importance and transformative power of books:

  • Books symbolize individuality and an escape from mind control. It is therefore a crime to own books, and it is the firemen's job to destroy them.
  • Books transform Montag from a conformist drone to a rebel and then to a leader. Reading gives him the means for personal and social change.
  • Books open the heart, including to painful emotions or difficult realities. Montag's exposure to books causes him to question his life, and he ultimately loses his wife, his job, and almost his life.
  • Books connect humans to one another. For example, books connect Montag to Faber and then to the book lovers who memorize books. The inability of his wife, his boss, and others in his society to understand the need for books separates Montag from them.
  • Books represent humanity itself, as Montag begins to understand when he realizes there is a human being behind every book he burns, the book's creator. Books also represent the ability to reimagine and rebuild civilization.

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