“Are you happy?” – Clarisse McClellan When was the last time you asked yourself this question – Are you happy?
Although we are told that its ok to have individualism, conformity is still enforced one way or another. We are told that we must go to school. We are told that we must go to university. We are told we must get a boring nine to five job, have a family and kids, buy a house and only then will we achieve happiness. But is this true happiness?
Well, what will happen if we go against the grain? If we do not adhere to the social standards of society, we will be marginalised. We will be pushed out of our own culture, just for having a voice; just for having an opinion. I’m sorry if this comes as bad news for you, but it’s the truth. We live in a society where if you have an opinion and do not obey social standards, you will get punished. When was the last time you were forced to conform?
Conformity comes in many different shapes and sizes, from as simple as peer pressure, to the extremes, such as Nazi Germany. Both the novel, Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury and the play, The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller are two pieces of literature that explore various characters that show the repercussions of conformity and non-conformity.
Although the two texts are set in two completely different time periods, they both heavily exemplify the drawbacks of conformity, and the indefinite damaging repercussions that come along with it. Thus, I ask you the following question – is a modernised Nazi Germany worth a couple cents of fake happiness?
The Crucible explores the Salem witch trials that took place in the early six-teen nineties, where society was theocratic. Conformity was indoctrinated through the form of religious beliefs, and anyone who questioned it was crucified.Fahrenheit 451 on the other hand, is an extremely different novel where firemen start fires instead of putting them out. Fahrenheit 451 has the same concepts around conformity as the crucible: it should not be implemented in our society.
Ray Bradbury (the writer of Fahrenheit 451) and Arthur Miller (The writer of The Crucible) lead us to believe that conformity leads to all types of problems. Montag, the protagonist from Fahrenheit 451, is a prime example of the drawbacks of both conforming and not conforming to society. He is a fireman but is in conflict with who he is. His occupation is described as “strange” (Clarisse, 21), as he doesn’t follow the zombie-like aura that other firemen give off.
As Montag realises how bad a society is without individuality, he transitions to an employee to his society into a free agent. But as a non-conformist, life gets even harder for him. Even his wife, Mildred, betrays him for disobeying the government. Mildred doesn’t even acknowledge his presence when their house is about to turn into flames. It is only until he finally escapes the totalitarian city when he finally finds himself and finds his goal in life.
Although Montag survives after converting into a non-conformist, John Proctor from The Crucible doesn’t get as lucky (spoilers). John Proctor has never really been a conformist to begin with, as he does not blindly follow the church by donating his hard-earned cash to privileged Paris. However, when he tries to persuade Judge Danforth and the court that Abigail is a liar, their passionate devotion and stubbornness to their ideology results in john Proctor’s actions backfiring as he is sent to jail and eventually, dead.
While Montag and John Proctor generally epitomize the side effects of not conforming, there are characters that conform so harshly to their dogma that Hitler would be jealous. Judge Danforth is just one of the characters in The Crucible that willingly conforms to their belief.
During the Salem Witch trials, Judge Danforth is handed with the task of deciding if Abigail or John Proctor is telling the truth. Although there is clear evidence that Abigail is lying, his harsh belief in witchcraft is shown through his biased and bogus choice that Abigail is telling the truth. As a result, non-conformist such as John Proctor are punished, while conformists such as Abigail are left guilty knowing they did the wrong thing. Either way, conformists or not, you will be left stuck in a sticky situation.
Ray Bradbury uses symbolism effectively in Fahrenheit 451 to convey the idea that a conforming society is morally unjust. The Hound is a mechanical machine that is used by the government to put disobedient peasant in their place. Dogs are used to help firemen in real life, however Ray Bradbury takes a twist on the idea and uses it as a type of hunter used on non-conformist. The hound is symbolic of a watchdog of this conforming society. But this isn’t the only symbolism that Ray Bradbury uses. Bradbury uses a phoenix as a symbol for society and the constant cycle that keeps on occurring, where society “burned itself up” (extreme conformity) and then “[sprung] out of the ashes” (conformity is lost and a new has begun) (156). Ray Bradbury has excelled in using symbolism within Fahrenheit 451 to describe conformity.
However, Arthur Miller deserves just as much credit. Although not much symbolism is present within The Crucible, the whole play as a whole can be seen as symbolic of the Red Scare that occurred during the 1950s. Conveniently, in 1952 Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, a play about priests ruling over people forced into conformity, extremely similar to the communism present in Russia at the time. Coincidence? I think not. It’s clear that Arthur Miller’s ideas about conformity was heavily influenced by the paranoia about communism that pervaded the United States at the time, as his play The Crucible basically has it written all over its forehead.
Ray Bradbury and Arthur Miller have used their literature to show others that a conforming society isn’t exactly ideal, even if you are a conformist. Their use of characters and symbolism to embody the negative side effects of conforming and not has left the reader wondering if they are truly happy. Well, are you happy? This question was asked in the beginning of this column and now that you’ve had a read, think about the last time you’ve conformed just so you can be the same as everyone else. Think about the last time you were an employee to society.