Ray Bradbury creates a hedonistic society in his novel Fahrenheit 451. His characters are careless, easily entertained, and concerned with nothing more than leisure; anything that might lead to thought or discussion is not only banned, but completely illegal. Because of this, organized religion is molded into something that the ‘family’ can use for entertainment without fear of offensive feelings. Bradbury’s frequent allusion to the Christian Bible and use of religious imagery shows the importance that the author places on the ideas consistent with the teachings of organized religion.
The story centers around Guy Montag, a fireman who doesn’t put out fires but rather starts them with the purpose of destroying books. In one instance of this book burning, Montag finds and keeps a couple books, one being the Christian Bible. Bradbury makes it clear that society is insistent against free thought of religion by placing Montag on a subway, Bible in hand, and has him attempt to memorize a passage. He reads only a few words, but the whole passage reads “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Bradbury, 79). It’s funny that Bradbury picks this particular passage, he is telling Montag to not be worried, that it will all be right in the end, for do the flowers of the field worry about who shall clothe them? No, they simply live. As he is attempting memorization, he is repeatedly interrupted by a commercial for a dental product. An inner struggle ensues between the verse and the commercial in Montag’s mind, turning from one to the other. Bradbury gives us a glimpse through Montag’s struggle at the battle being fought in society. The beating down of individual thought left open a void that is filled with mindless entertainment and frivolous pass times. The captain of the Firemen himself said “With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be” (Bradbury, 58). There are few left who remember what religion was truly about, but they are exiles who live on the fringe of the city. In a society where Bibles are burned and morals are not set steadfast in a belief-system to keep them accountable, Bradbury demonstrates the danger of not having a system to guide ones actions. This of course, results in moral decay and the pit of violence that many will fall into. Clarisse has this to say about her generation “They…go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place…I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other” (Bradbury, 30).
We find an unlikely Christ-figure in young Clarisse McClellan. A bright spot in this gray world, Clarisse shows Montag all that the world has to offer outside of burning things. She shows him the joy of the little things like smelling the flowers along the path, and all that books can do for one who dares to read them. When she shows him the joy of the rain, Montag is so overcome with the simplicity of it that he has an almost out of body experience. Water is used to signify purity and salvation in the Christian religion, and when Montag takes in the rain he opens his mind to new ideas and new thoughts. Just as in the Christian faith, the water has washed him clean and he now begins a new life. When she disappeared it left a hole in his life, although it wasn’t immediately noticed; this parallels how Jesus’ disciples were left after his ascension. Her death propelled him to seek the truth, ‘woke him up’ in a sense. He never forgot her, she was everywhere “As many times as he went out of the house…Clarisse was there somewhere it the world…three or four times he found a bouquet of flowers on his porch, or a handful of chestnuts in a little sack…Every day Clarisse walked him to the corner” (Bradbury, 28). Because of her, Montag pursues a literary adventure which brings him to Faber who in turn points him to the exiled professors outside of the city. Because of this Montag is out of danger when the enemy completely decimates the city. Clarisse, no matter how inadvertently, saved Montag’s life.
Who then is the Satan figure? Is it Captain Beatty, the man who directly opposes Montag? “A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute” (Bradbury, 58) he says. Is the idea of Satan shown in the machine used to pump Mildred’s stomach? Bradbury says “…slid down your stomach like a black cobra…it fed in silence with an occasional sound of inner suffocation and blind searching…It had an Eye…He saw but did not see what the Eye saw” (Bradbury, 14). It is after this that she becomes hollow and vacant, as if all life and vitality was taken from her. Perhaps the Satan figure is not a figure at all, but more of a feeling. Many of the characters in Fahrenheit 45I are without substance, easily swayed from one ideal to another. Without a grounded set of ideals, like one will find in organized religion, it would be easy to be sucked of life and filled with idol thoughts and actions.
Bradbury frequently alludes to the Christian Bible, and his use of religious imagery shows the importance that he places on the ideas consistent with the teachings of organized religion. “Christ is one of the ‘family’ now. I often wonder if God recognizes his own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s regular peppermint stick now, all sugar crystal and saccharine – when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that ever worshiper absolutely needs” (Bradbury, 81). Within this book, Bradbury almost weeps at the way Christ has been perverted; twisted and made into a celebrity icon who is only useful for product ads. Bradbury himself was a religious man, although he was not a professing Christian. He recognizes the good that religion brings to the world, the steadfast morals it provides and the support it gives when one is searching for answers. With the world increasingly becoming offended by things like religious concepts, is Bradbury warning us of our future? It would seem as if this is true, and so one has to wonder: are we prepared for this?