The dystopian society that Guy Montag is forced into forces us as the reader to ask ourselves the question, how much is my right to expression worth to me. Author Ray Bury is the man who poses this question to our society as a whole in his writing of the novel Fahrenheit 451. The story focus on a man who rejects the idea of listening to a government whose goal is to control the population under the guise of stopping offensive content. The novel explores the themes of censorship and societal identity in the novel in order to reveal the true issues about how restricting people’s ideas will lead society into a more regressive state.
Author Ray Bradbury had a knack for writing all throughout his life, however, during this time there were many threats to the freedom of expression given in America. Booker refers to this as a “brainwash [of the] audience into conformist behavior” (ibid). This attitude of the figures in Fahrenheit might be traced back to Bradbury’s biographical background because, during the Cold-War era, the dominance of mass media and entertainment increased immensely. On that score, American officials were convinced that “if people could be persuaded that what they were getting was what they wanted – increasingly simple and sensational entertainment, information reduced to headlines [â€¦] – then they could be controlled” (). During the time of the righting of Fahrenheit 451 that world had witnessed the rise if the soviet union and their strong desire to silence those who disagreed with their methods. As a result, Americans began to panic thinking Russian spies would try to start a revolution in our county and began jailing anyone who they believed to be a Communist spy. Ray Bradbury lived in a time where any controversial content might have you ousted as a communist. Bradbury wanted to somewhat echo both the sentiments of overly hysterical Americans and the iron fist of the Soviet Regime in his novel through dystopian America. Perhaps as Hartman suggests in our society of mass consumption and easy assimilation of literature, that which was meant to convert passive knowledge to active, to bring neglected states of minds to light, becomes subliminal once more (). Bradbury also wanted to address the rise of consumerism and the advancement of technological media. Bradbury was an advent opponent to computers and referred to them as “glorified typewriters”. His disdain for these machines can be seen throughout the novel and come from a place of not wanting the latest gossip to overtake “real writing” Even though times have changed, one thing that hasn’t changed to this is how people are easily influenced by what they see.
Even today censorship persists in mass media, from people being removed from places because others don’t agree with what you're saying to books being banned because they speak on controversial topics. The Internet has unarguably changed our paradigm of social interaction, perceptions, and norms, and will continue to affect future generations as it evolves. Through content regulation, nations are able to manipulate the way that paradigm shifts and thus, both directly and incidentally, control our future (). Today the Internet allows information to be spread faster than ever before. Even still the way we view media hasn't changed much. The whole idea is whoever can influence most people had the most power. Strict censorship also has a negative impact on people’s social relationships. In F451 society, everyone strived to be the same to achieve happiness, and minorities, therefore, become their target to destroy. “The word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar (). Censorship is not necessarily a bad thing, like preventing kids from seeing grotesque imagery is a good thing. However, strong censorship shown throughout not only the book but also in real regimes is a gross violation of human rights and causes there to be a lack of creative design and thought within society. In Fahrenheit, the government seeks to make a perfectly happy world by forcing people to think the same, because if no one disagrees there can’t be any fights, right? Censorship today is harder to execute today because of the rapid spread of information but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done similarly to the methods performed in Fahrenheit.
The story of Fahrenheit is about a dystopian society where printed material is banned and burned. This society aims to mirror the totalitarian regime but also show how easily people can be manipulated and controlled. But she said, “You shouldn’t burn books” and began to cry. It’s because of this kind of reaction and because we don’t think of book-burning in a vacuum but of the historical horrors of taking away people's’ treasured possessions, of burning part of them, and of burning them, too… (). Book burning is a common way that people would try and take freedom away from people. Just like the government in Fahrenheit the Nazi’s burned any books that they saw. They do this to limit the freedom of expression of the people so they lack an identity to define themselves by. This allows them to be easily manipulated as they search for who they are. For instance, the people acting in the novel are not informed about the true situation concerning the atomic war because government deludes them through its censorship. This delusion has far-reaching consequences, namely the destruction of the city by an atomic bomb at the end of the story since propaganda has hindered individuals to foresee their imminent destruction (). The manipulation of information is another tactic used to suppress the freedom of the people. To compare to Nazi Germany again is the fact that many Jews and even German were aware of the horrors that were going on. The citizens of America in Fahrenheit are unaware they are being controlled because there only source of information is fed to them by the television. Throughout the novel, most of the citizens are unaware of what is going on due to the people being censored, which is a major theme throughout the story.
Throughout the novel, the theme of censorship and its effects are the most displayed not only through the society as whole but also through characters like Mildred Montag, Guy Montag's wife, and her attachment to the television. Strict censorship also has a negative impact on people’s social relationships. In F451 society, everyone strived to be the same to achieve happiness, and minorities, therefore, become their target to destroy. “The word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class, who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours” (58). The need to censor something comes from a desire to keep everything under control and maintain order. But, when emotions get involved, which they will, censoring becomes a way of getting even with someone you personally dislike. Humans are ruled by our emotions and everyone makes bad decisions. This leads us to our conundrum with censorship. Through the perpetual influence of the media, emotions and own thoughts are debarred from the public and also intellectualism and curiosity are repressed. Hence, the propaganda spread in the media maliciously deceives the citizens so that they are under the “illusion [â€¦of] hav[ing] a part in determining that ideology”, although it is obvious that the “opportunity for creativity is dulled” (ibid) severely by the government. Even though the citizens are not compelled to adapt themselves to the state dogma, they do not revolt because they are manipulated by the anti-intellectualism spread in the media (). The media is constantly influencing how people think and feel by controlling what they do or don’t show. And in the novel, this idea is taken to the extreme through the government use of filtering what content the public is shown. This allows them to keep the people ignorant and prevents an uprising to occur because no one will question their situation. Preventing people from expressing their thoughts and feeling causes social problems, like how easily repressed when they are being fed from one source of information.
The other major theme discussed in Fahrenheit is how one’s identity in society should not rely on what’s popular in the media. All in all, Fahrenheit 451 society becomes indifferent and shallow due to the popularity of mass media, government’s pressure and oppressive “happiness”. Mindless entertainments deprive people of their leisure time to think deeply. Ignorance then exacerbates the problem that people in F451 are kept dark by government and have little real contact or deep communication with each other (). The citizens in Fahrenheit become slaves to the media that they consume on a daily basis. They lack the knowledge to critically think because they mindless follow and believe everything that is told to them by the media. This causes there to back a lack of innovation due to everyone following the same guideline and no one thinks outside the box. Booker refers to this as a “brainwash [of the] audience into conformist behavior” (ibid). This attitude of the figures in Fahrenheit might be traced back to Bradbury’s biographical background because, during the Cold-War era, the dominance of mass media and entertainment increased immensely. On that score, American officials were convinced that “if people could be persuaded that what they were getting was what they wanted – increasingly simple and sensational entertainment, information reduced to headlines [â€¦] – then they could be controlled” (Charles, p. 13) (). Following trends has always been a part of human nature. Sensationalism draws the attention of most people and can even get people to take at face value. Those who are gullible will most likely fall victim to this trap. The trap is akin to brainwashing where the person’s originally personality is muddled with the personality they see in the media they consume.
The issues presented in Fahrenheit 451, both Censorship and Societal Identity, lead civilization as a whole into a more regressive and expressive state. Author Ray Bradbury seeks to tell a cautionary tale about censorship and identity in society. Without the various laws protecting these rights, government suppression is able to run rampant without check and the truth becomes what the most powerful person says it is. Ray Brady wanted to show his audience how important it really is to be able to express yourself through what you love to do. Although what happened in the book is fiction, that doesn’t mean what once was a pipedream might be closer than we expect.