The famous playwrighter William Shakespeare once said, “There is no darkness, but ignorance.” Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a book based on a dystopian society in the future; it is robot-like and controlled. Although Bradbury wrote it in 1953, it has some alarming similarities to the world today. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 illustrates a society where technology is dangerous, censorship covers up the truth, and ignorance is pervasive. These themes are conveyed through the thoughts and actions of characters. In The Hearth and the Salamander, the dangers and dominance of technology is proven by the characters actions, or lack of towards others. The Sieve and the Sand reveals the theme of censorship in hiding the truth and information from people. In the third and final part, Burning Bright, knowledge versus ignorance is shown through the character’s efforts to maintain or obtain power.
In The Hearth and the Salamander Bradbury focuses on the theme of technology by showing character’s reliance on technological innovations to help readers understand that technology has taken over society and dominates lives. The novel opens and the reader is introduced to Guy Montag, a fireman loyal to his job who has a miserable personal life. Walking home from work one day, Montag meets a young girl named Clarisse as his wife Mildred tries to commit suicide, leading Montag to have questions about their society and why he burns books. Clarisse challenges Montag to think about things he never has before and turns his world upside down. Through Clarisse’s influence, Montag finds himself doing the one thing that he has always known to be wrong. Technology controls Mildred’s life and isolates her from the rest of the world: “And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind...There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time (10)”. Mildred is emotionless and unable to relate with others, leading to her use of the seashells to seclude herself from the rest of the world and make herself ‘happy’. She has been brainwashed and is absorbed in her own world rather than the society as a whole, similar to everyone else in the society. In Fahrenheit 451, technology is a way the government controls people’s lives to make them less free, for example the snake machine: “They had this machine. They had two machines, really. One of them slid down into your stomach like a black cobra down an echoing well looking for all the old water and the old time gathered there. It drank up the green matter that flowed to the top in a slow boil”(12). The world Montag lives in is so controlled and miserable that people attempt suicide often, but the government also controls that. The snake machine is a machine used to replace the blood inside the person with “new blood”. The workers using the machine act as if this is normal to them, they also explain that they have nine to ten cases a night, this is eye-opening to Montag because he was unaware that people were so unhappy. The controlment with technology makes Montag question his marriage and job further.
Part two of Fahrenheit 451 is dominated by the theme of censorship, revealed in the characters actions towards one another and what information is open to the public. The Sieve and the Sand begins with Montag and Mildred reading through their stolen books, but they can not understand them. Montag seeks for help from an old friend named Faber and together they devise a plan to restore their society. As the suspicions towards Montag grow, Beatty and the firemen show up at Montag’s house after receiving a call from Mildred. Montag can not believe it, do they know about the books? As Montag’s curiosity of books turns into desperation, he reaches out to Faber for help, '‘Professor Faber, I have a rather odd question to ask. How many copies of the Bible are left in this country?’‘I don't know what you're talking about!’‘ I want to know if there are any copies left at all.’ ‘This is some sort of a trap! I can't talk to just anyone on the phone!’ ‘How many copies of Shakespeare and Plato?’ ‘None ! You know as well as I do. None!’”(71,72) The government and firemen have everyone in society believing that there are zero copies of the Bible or any other famous works, such as Shakespeare and Plato left in the world. Although, this is not true because Montag has a copy of the Bible with him at this moment. It proves that the government is censoring information and lying to the public to sustain their power. When Montag pulls out a book to read to their guests, Mildred attempts to cover up this illegal activity: “Mildred had already anticipated this in a quavery voice. ‘Ladies, once a year, every fireman's allowed to bring one book home, from the old days, to show his family how silly it all was, how nervous that sort of thing can make you, how crazy. Guy's surprise tonight is to read you one sample to show how mixed-up things were, so none of us will ever have to bother our little old heads about that junk again, isn't that right, darling?’”(95) Montag has revealed to Mildred and her two friends; Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles that he has a book in his possession and offers to read it out loud. Mildred attempts to censor or cover up the fact that Montag is doing something illegal by lying to her friends that this behavior is permitted for firemen once a year, though this is not true. Mildred does this to protect herself and Montag. The government has been censoring and regulating information for the public to keep control over them and to prevent people from learning the truth.
In Burning Bright, knowledge versus ignorance is emphasized to show that people in power use knowledge to keep others ignorant. Beatty and the rest of the firemen arrive at Montag’s home and Montag is forced to burn it down, when he is handed the flamethrower he kills Beatty and the other firemen. Montag is on the run, accused of murder and instinctively goes to Faber’s house to say goodbye. Faber sends Montag down the river to a homeless camp of scholars where he meets Granger, shorty after, a bomb hits the city and Montag has a vision of Mildred’s death. The book closes with Montag and the men returning to the city to rebuild with the survivors from ashes up. As Montag is forced to burn down his home and all his possessions, Beatty attacks him by telling him, “‘What is fire? It's a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don't really know. Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it. Now, Montag, you're a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical’” (109). Fire is power and when something proves to be a problem, fire is used to make it all go away and to keep peace and order. Montag is now a burden and Beatty knows he must stop him because if he gets the chance, Montag will expose his new knowledge to the rest of society. If more people become like Montag, the firemen and government will lose power. Sitting around the fire, Granger compares society to a phoenix and elaborates by saying: '‘We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we'll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them’... ‘But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn't use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead’”(156). Granger explains to Montag that society is like a phoenix, it keeps burning it self over and over and does not learn. By censoring information the people are staying ignorant but Granger is hoping this time there will be a different outcome. With the help of Montag, maybe the cycle of censorship will end and knowledge will be available once again. In the third and final section, Bradbury focuses on knowledge versus ignorance to show how the people have very limited information.
In Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, technology has proven to be overwhelming and harmful, censorship keeps people naive, and ignorance is the ultimate form of evil. Society portrayed in this book is miserable and bleak. It shows how desolate life would be without literature and relationships with other people. Today’s world is all about the new technology and this book acts as a warning to what could be the future if real life experiences and relationships are not prioritized. As seen in this dystopian society it is clear how a government can negatively impact its citizens though dangerous technology, drastic censorship and the concept of knowledge versus ignorance.