In today’s society, human beings can be expected to change their personal beliefs in order to fit in. By conforming to social norms and beliefs, people tend to forget that they have the right to freedom of speech. Although many individuals do fall victim to these ideal expectations, very few do not become threats and are considered different. This is demonstrated in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 when Guy Montag and Professor Faber are considered outcasts for being against their community’s norm that books are outlawed. This is contrary to Captain Beatty, who is idolized for his susceptibility to conform.
Importantly, the novel takes place in a dystopian society, in which the protagonist Guy Montag’s job as a fireman is not to put out fires, but instead to start them and burn books. His role is to destroy the outlawed ideas and knowledge found in books. Montag does what he has been told without thought, until one day an unusual seventeen-year-old girl by the name of Clarisse McClellan, questions the values of his profession. This is the beginning of Montag’s departure on a journey towards individualism, that outrages the society around him. One day, Montag returns home after work to talk to his wife, Mildred, about a woman who refused to exit a burning home, all while trying to save the books she owns. The woman was not able to stand by and watch what was happening. She not only sets her house on fire but herself as well. A confused Montag starts to question his profession and his duties as a fireman. When Mildred justifies his actions, he reacts by saying, “You weren’t there, you didn’t see. There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing” (Bradbury 48). This incident is seen to be a turning point in Montag’s life, as he understands that there must have been some value the books contained for the woman to do such a thing. Montag starts to wonder why he needs to adhere to society’s beliefs in burning books and what his future would look like if his own set of morals did not exist.
Montag visits Faber, an English professor, to seek advice and understand certain texts he has been reading. When Faber questions why he is here, Montag says, “Nobody listens any more. I can’t talk to the walls because they are yelling at me. I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say” (Bradbury 78). This signifies that Montag is frustrated because he understands this as something that no one will ever see his perspective on. There seems to be a form of psychological isolation when he says that no one shares the same opinion. Montag feels that when he talks, the rest of society is against him. When he tries to talk to the one person he is hopeful for, his wife, she also shuts him out like the rest and he feels as though sharing his opinions is a lost cause.
While reading books that he had stolen when on duty, Montag hears bombers in the sky and recalls that there have been two atomic wars that have taken place. Montag becomes angry when he realizes the horrible things that have happened: “Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes” (Bradbury 70). He describes the destructive state of the society he lives in and goes on to share that reading about incidences, will prevent society from making certain decisions that will further ruin them. He firmly believes that books will give people the knowledge to be happy and free. This quote is an allusion to “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato, a Greek philosopher. In the book, an enlightened man removes his shackles and walks out of the cave and into the real world. This idea is similar to Montag’s desire for people to come out of each other’s shadows and experience society for what it is. Therefore, due to all of his realizations, Guy Montag proves to readers he has developed throughout the novel. He becomes his own person in a society that lives for others and not themselves. His desire to learn more about books; a restricted delicacy, frustrated many people around him such as his wife, Mildred, and his boss, Captain Beatty, but that did not stop him as he is determined to revive humanity with the help of a friend, Professor Faber.
Similarly, Professor Faber is a character known to strongly idolize books. He is independent and has views that differ from the rest of the society. Throughout the book, Professor Faber tries to enlighten the dystopian society and encourages them to have their individual ideals. He believes that books are not just pieces of paper bound together and should not be taken for granted. One day, Montag reaches out to Professor Faber to have a better understanding of what is going on around them. Faber stresses the importance of information, the ability to absorb the details, and the result of what is learned from the relationship between the two, which is absent in the city. Faber reiterates the importance of books through the content it holds: “Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features” (Bradbury 79). Here, Faber explains to Montag that it is not the books themselves that Montag is interested in, but the meaning and underlying lessons they contain. The professor believes that the more people embrace a book’s content, the better the society has a chance to develop.
In an attempt to get the people close to him to realize the nature of the corrupt society they live in, Montag begins to read aloud a poem named “Dover Beach”, to Mildred and her friends. Montag feels that it was a mistake to have read the poem after seeing their grim reactions. He feels foolish and guilty, and in response, Faber reassures him by stating, “You’re afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be. Mistakes can be profited by. Man, when I was younger I shoved my ignorance in people’s faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn” (Bradbury 100). In Faber’s experience, he feels that it is far better to be open and honest rather than to suppress emotions and always do as people expect. He says that it is okay to react because when the rest of society attacks, one will better understand their own opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
In the firehouse, Captain Beatty attempts to sway Montag’s mind and opinion on books. Listening to Beatty through the seashell radio earpiece in Montag’s ear, Faber says, “But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh God, the terrible tyranny of the majority. We all have our harps to play. And it’s up to you now to know with which ear you’ll listen” (Bradbury 104). This quote goes to prove that Captain Beatty is another character who follows what he is told to believe in society. It stands as proof that one of the main conflicts in the novel is considered to be Man vs. Society; in this case, Faber vs. Captain Beatty and everyone else like him. Faber sets this to be a reminder, that Montag should not give in to Beatty’s manipulation, to return to the obedient way of life that he had previously been leading. As expressed, Professor Faber has a very different view on life compared to everyone else. Although many people, such as Captain Beatty disregarded his thoughts and unique perspective, Faber is passionate about literature and is ready to help Montag, on his journey of discovering the beauty behind the very thing that everyone claimed to despise. This ultimately infuriates Captain Beatty.
Unfortunately, Captain Beatty is seen to be the ideal citizen in this dystopian society. He does as he is told to and does not speak or think for himself. His opinions are solely based on information that was shared with him, but not something that he gains himself. Captain Beatty does not take accountability for how their society works and does not choose to change anything around him, contrarily, to Guy Montag and Professor Faber. Captain Beatty pays a visit to Montag when he claims to be ‘sick’, in hopes that he could change Montag’s opinions while sitting down with him. During his lecture, he tells Montag about the importance of censoring literature: “We must all be alike. Not everyone is born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone is made equal. Each man the image of every other, then all are happy for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against” (Bradbury 55). Captain Beatty proclaims that books are a reason for inequality in society and that the knowledge gained can make one person more educated than the other, creating an imbalance. His theory is that keeping literature out of society will prevent rebellion.
Also during this conversation, Captain Beatty goes on to state that disfavor for a certain topic should be avoided. He says, “Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book” (Bradbury 57). Here, Captain Beatty shares that books tell people the horrors of reality. He finds that the solution to all society’s problems is to burn books. This quote goes to show that Beatty has fallen victim to the laws of the government, that have taken away his freedom of thought.
Towards the end of the conversation, as Beatty gets up to leave, he clarifies to Montag by saying, “The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is we’re the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought” (Bradbury 59). This quote signifies that Montag needs to remember this is his duty. Captain Beatty emphasizes that he and the other firemen are the protectors of happiness and that books and their conflicting theories/ideas cause unhappiness. Overall, Captain Beatty is a physical representation of the society he lives in. Unlike Guy Montag and Professor Faber, Beatty does not portray individualism. He is admired for his ability to conform to the corrupted laws the government has put in place to control its citizens.
Ultimately, Guy Montag and Professor Faber are brave individuals, who stand against the people in their society who believe that books instigate unhappy concepts, although they are mistreated for having their proper opinion. In contrast, Captain Beatty conforms to the negative belief that books are outlawed and is admired for going along with the rest of society. In a society where one is expected to conform, maintaining individuality can be a difficult task, although it is a very important aspect of one’s identity. In the world today, there are those who follow the crowd and those who strive to be their own people. Albert Einstein once said “It is important to foster individuality: for only the individual can produce the new ideas which the community needs for its continuous improvement…”