Fahrenheit 451: Curiosity Killed The Cat

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“You always dread the unfamiliar.” I have found this quote from Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 to ring true throughout my life, but I’ve also found that fearing the truth holds one back from unleashing their true potential (Bradburry 55). Choosing to be ignorant because one fears the unknown allows safety and comfort. Humans have a primal desire for these two things, so it is only natural that one instinctively recoils in fear of the unknown. Looking at curiosity essay examples and thinking about their ideas, I've come to believe that although staying comfortable is good, we can learn and grow a lot by trying new things and exploring what's unfamiliar. In the story of Adam and Eve, once they have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge they feel immense pain and suffering. A curse is brought upon the entire world once they have grasped the knowledge of God. Thus, can shed light on how knowledge can shape our lives. Some would say that knowledge brings hardship and unnecessary suffering to the world, but I say that knowledge is power. Knowledge breeds invention and innovation. Knowledge provides society with a sense of individuality. And most of all knowledge soothes the suffering of mankind by allowing our problems to be resolved.

Tao Te Ching says “Give up learning and put an end to your troubles” (qtd from Strayer 173). That is the way of the Daoist philosopher. They preach that we should free our minds of all things and allow God and nature to guide us. In turn one would live a life free of stress and pain. In theory, this way of life would be ideal for a world free of conflict because everyone would tend to themself, meditating peacefully and causing no disruption to the daily flow of others. Sadly, we live in an industrialized world with bureaucratic systems in place that require citizens to understand and apply the principles of bureaucracy in order to keep society from falling apart. Turning a blind eye on world affairs would grant one peace yes, but that would also mean turning a blind eye on those who struggle, and on those who are not privileged enough to be able to turn their backs on the world.

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Ray Bradbury’s Dystopian novel Farenheit 451 depicts a number of symbolic characters, one of them being Captain Beatty. His role is to strip society of all books by overseeing the process of their burning. As Beatty explains the reason for such a system coming to be he says, “Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time” (Bradburry 55). It is clear that Bradburry himself did not support such ideals because the end of his story alludes to the revival of a society that reads, but he used Captain Beatty to enforce the rules of a world he feared. Bradburry feared a population of willfully ignorant beings that would seek comfort before they sought the truth.

Historically education has facilitated positive changes in society culturally and politically. In Robert Strayer’s Ways of the World he suggest that the ideals of the enlightenment era directly correlate with the French, American, and Haitian revolutions (Strayer 782-798). Ideas such as popular sovereignty, separation of church and state, individual thinking, and equality all were radical new concepts that showed themselves in the way new governments were being formed. These ideas circulated across the globe through education. If political leaders of the time chose to be ignorant, these revolutions would have never been fought, and the quality of life in each region would have never improved. It follows then, that willful ignorance obstructs moral progress. Jan Wieland, author of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, emphasizes that people are not improving because they do not want to believe there is room for improvement (Wieland 106). Many people would feel embarrassed to admit that something they’ve done is wrong, so instead they ignore it, and remain complacent. The Atlantic Revolutions of the 18th Century occurred because people were able to recognize that the current systems were no longer effective, and instead of choosing to ignore their government’s inefficiency, they chose to change them.

If one is educated, it is inevitable that they will begin to form their own thoughts and opinions, therefore awareness provides humanity with individuality. Alina Gerall, an english professor at the University of North Carolina and Blake Hobby, an author for Bloom’s Literary Themes, both claim that reading allows one to understand who they are (Gerall and Hobby 142). Reading stories from the perspective of people from different walks of life allows one to understand the diverse opinions people have, and helps them to form their own. To reference the Enlightenment again, that time in history was a revival of individual thought that encouraged nonconformity. (Strayer 782-798). People living during the time recognized that the need to understand gives one purpose and a sense of individuality. And while every now and then it hurts to empathize with others, Gerall and Hobby suggest that the sometimes painful task of thinking is the very thing that gives life its meaning (Gerall and Hobby 145-146).

Clarisse McClellan, another symbolic character in Fahrenheit 451, is the embodiment of individuality. Bradburry paints her as an ‘oddball’ that does not mimic the behaviors of other characters in the novel. Captain Beatty describes her saying “The girl? She was a time bomb… She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. The poor girl’s better off dead” ( Bradburry 57-58). Clarisse was an individual that was endlessly curious, and some would even say she was an angelic figure because whenever she came around, nature itself became more vivid. But I’d say she was no angel. She was merely a regular girl finding her purpose by asking why.The world is full of chaos and destruction, but it is knowledge that equips humanity with the ability to overcome. Understanding a problem instead of ignoring it will allow one to resolve it, and prevent future problems from arising. Don Shultz, author and editor for Wood Digest Magazine, argues that the stock market crash of 2008 was caused in part by society’s ignorance of the way the economy works (Shultz 20). If people were able to recognize the signs of a failing economy, maybe the aftermath of the crash would have been less devastating for some families. Similarly, in a 2003 United Nations conference Dr. Shigero Omi emphasizes that denial of the AIDS epidemics heightens the risk of further spreading the disease (UN official warns). Shultz provides an example of what education could have prevented, and Dr. Omi provides a scenario that will likely occur if the collective ignorance of nations continues. Both of their messages urge the masses to educate themselves. It is clear that awareness is what prevents suffering, and it is awareness that will end suffering. Choosing to be ignorant of peril, will ultimately end in a crash. It is often said that curiosity killed the cat. And yes, sometimes the truth hurts. But one must remember that satisfaction brought it back. It is curiosity that allows humanity to advance and prosper. As Immanuel Kant once put it:

“It is man’s emergence from his self-imposed… inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance… Dare to Know! Have courage to use your own understanding is therefore the motto of the enlightenment” (qtd. From Strayer 745).

Works Cited

  1. Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Simon Schuster Productions: New York 1953.
  2. Gerall, Alina, and Hobby Blake. “And the Leaves of the Tree Were for the Healing of Nations.” Civil Disobedience, edited by Harold Bloom, Infobase Publishing, 2010, pp; 141-149 Shultz, Don. “When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss. (cover story).” Wood Digest, vol.39 no.10, oct. 2008, p.20. EBSCOhost.
  3. Strayer, Robert W. Ways Of the World: A Global History With Sources. Translated by Bedford
  4. James et. al. , vol. Second, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013, pp; 880-930
  5. UN Official warns ignorance could cause disease to spread. Associated Press, 2003. Associated
  6. Press Video Collection. EBSCOhost.
  7. Wieland, Jan. “Willful Ignorance” Ethical Theory and Moral and Moral Practice , vol. 20, no. 1, Feb 2017, pp 105-119. EBSCOhost.
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