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The Conventions And Themes Of Post War Society In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 And George Orwell’s 1984

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Written in times of great political change, amongst the emerging threat of technology and totalitarianism, both George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, demonstrate speculative responses to a vastly changing post war society. Both authors paint gritty dystopian futures and explore the challenges faced by characters within the microcosms they have crafted - reflective of their own concerns and criticisms of post-war society. This essay will explore the narrative themes and conventions of these texts and conclude how both dystopias capture the notion of international paranoia and societal concerns, present at the time of writing, within the post-war world.

Central to the narrative of both novels, the motif of technology acts an avenue for both Bradbury and Orwell to demonstrate their fears concerning the danger of technology and media, and in particular, its ability to control and replace free-thought. In Orwell’s dystopia, the protagonist, Winston Smith, must conduct himself in line with the will of the state as enforced through the constant threat of surveillance technology and government propaganda that emits itself through the “telescreen”. While Montag the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451, who wears a “mask of happiness” in a chilling dystopian America, is used to provide an insight into what Bradbury depicts as the potentially mind-numbing presence of media and technology in post-war society. The opening lines of Orwell’s text are perhaps cliché in nature: “It was a cold bright day in April”, and whilst they do not subvert typical post war literature conventions, Orwell’s choice to open his novel in a typical sense before juxtaposing the normalcy of the introduction, with subtle references to later dystopian motifs such as the “economic drive in preparation for hate week” , a reference to Stalinist centralisation, that blares from the “telescreen”, and “Big Brother”, who’s face “gaze(s)” from the wall”, ensures 1984’s setting unravels in slow and unnerving waves. Orwell’s choice to craft the opening in such a way is essential as it draws upon our natural curiosity by constructing a semantic field of dystopian conventions, for example surveillance, totalitarianism and technology, within the foundations of a fairly typical narrative – emphasising his fearful outlook on the potential misuse of technology in post-war society. This effect is highlighted through Orwell’s choice to describe subtle pieces of imagery in great detail, redirecting the readers focus to the chilling presence of propaganda and technology.

Something as simple as telescreen, is described in great detail as an “oblong metal plaque” as well as a “dulled mirror which formed part of the right-hand wall”. Orwell opens his novel in such a way to demonstrate the increased significance of technology and media presence, and in particular its new-found post-war presence that concerned himself and Bradbury – and this theme is drawn immediately into the limelight. Orwell’s description of the telly-screen is ambiguous, and his choice to describe the technology and propaganda around him in depth disrupt the flow of the typical narrative of Winston walking to his apartment, unravelling slowly and creating a dystopian atmosphere, conveying a feeling of government presence and emphasising the uncomfortable aura of surveillance. The choice to refer to the layout of Winston’s room using the noun “geography”, highlights how his room is perhaps a microcosm of Orwell’s dystopia, in which technology is an instrument of control. This concept is developed further as Winston enters his apartment were Orwell builds an ominous impression of technology disrupting the fundamental basics of human nature and behaviour. The narrator reminisces how, “You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct”. The abstract nouns “instinct” and “habit” are synonymous of our natural human behaviour, and this lexical choice highlights how these innate functions once reserved to the individual are now influenced by the states use of technology, emphasised further through the repletion of “live”, itself building upon the tone of suspicion and uncertainty.

This was highlighted by the critic Douglas Kellner in his response to 1984, 1984 to One-Dimensional Man: Critical Reflections on Orwell and Marcuse, in which he highlighted “Orwell presciently anticipated the centrality of television in the home and the use of the then most advanced media of communication as an instrument of indoctrination and social control” (Kellner). Kellner’s recognises Orwell’s deep concerns surrounding technology as an “instrument”, and his interpretation could similarly be applied with within the context of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Much like the typical “Cold day in April” introduction of 1984, the initial introduction of Fahrenheit 451 is set with very chilling undertones, however Bradbury shapes the introduction of his novel in a more abstract sense, which delivers with equally impactful effect - an atmosphere of morbid destruction. The opening lines “It was a pleasure to burn…to see things eaten…to see things blackened and changed”, ignite visual imagery of fascism and book burnings – well known to the post war reader who would have been acquainted with the book burnings undertaken in Nazi Germany and the McCarthy burnings, themselves on the rise Bradbury’s time of writing. Bradbury’s opening evokes the same level of curiosity as Orwell’s does in 1984, yet through a delivery of blunt horror rather than slow revelation of chilling setting. This sets out the tone and constructs a foundation, from which Bradbury’s depiction of a technological, desensitised dystopian setting can develop.

Much like Orwell’s “oblong metal” telescreens in 1984, Bradbury’s symbolic parlour walls also demonstrate concerns surrounding the intruding presence of technology in post war society as well as drawing our attention to the mind-altering power of technology. Mildred, Montag’s dissatisfied suicidal wife, is drawn in by the “parlour walls” in which she reshapes reality and rejects the real world. In Bradbury’s satirical portrayal of 1950s America, the television walls allow citizens to regain control and “play god”, while also being “the claw that encloses you”. Bradbury describes the walls as predatorial, the verb “encloses”, and the imagery of the “claw”, present technology and the media as a threat to society. Mildred’s relationship with technology becomes more chilling as the novel progresses, responding to Montag’s request to “turn that parlour off”, with “that’s my family”. The possessive pronoun “my” demonstrates how Bradbury is concerned with technology because it provides an artificial sense of belonging and detachment from those around you. To the post war reader in 1953, when the idea of the nuclear family was at large and US TV ownership had grown from 0.4% in 1948 to 83.4% in 1958 (Entertainism, 2018), the concept of technology and media replacing human connection would have seemed particularly unnerving. Bradbury paints a dystopia in which the media indoctrinates and technology controls, mirroring his concerns of a rapidly developing America in which controversy is censored and mind-numbing consumerism prevails. Therefore, both Orwell and Bradbury illustrate their fears surrounding the new-found excessive presence of technology within post war societies. Both authors craft introductions, although through different techniques, to ensure an uncomfortable dystopian tone, from which they can explore their concerns surrounding post-war society. Furthermore, particularly in 1984, it accommodates Orwell’s depiction of technology as being a subversive tool that alters human behaviour – an idea that is also reflected in Bradbury’s presentation of the “pallor walls”, a symbol of the growing relationship between man and machine that was beginning to grasp post war society.

This concept of technology manipulating human behaviour and catalysing indoctrination, further carries over into Orwell’s concerns the media, particularly propaganda. When Winston submits his first diary entry, it becomes clear how Orwell believes media leads to the destruction of basic human empathy. Winston recalls how the “Audience (was) much amused by shots of a great huge fat man trying to swim away” as well as the destruction of a “lifeboat full of children”. In Orwell’s brief use of epistolary, itself adding an essential personal tone, we are introduced to the proles, a reference to what Karl Marx defined as the proletariats in the Communist manifesto, itself deemed a dystopian vision in Orwell’s Animal Farm, who live free from surveillance at a cost of poverty. Orwell uses a “prole woman” who “kicks up a fuss” in Winston’s account of his visit to the ”flicks” as a symbol to contrast the indoctrinated people in the cinema, who lose all individuality being collectively described as the “audience”, themselves used to demonstrate that when societies are exposed to atrocities or propaganda that is deemed as acceptable as it portrays the actions of the state, a perceived higher power, our perceptions ,as humans, of right and wrong are distorted, hence the overwhelming power of the media can be misused much like technology to rewrite human nature.

The symbol of the prole, a freethinker, juxtaposes the “amused” audience and demonstrates the indoctrinating effect of media. Winston reflects on the shouts of the women in his diary, “they didn’t oughter of showed it not in front of kids they didn’t it ain’t right not in front of kids”, the colloquial tone adding a sense of humanity and reality to the story, made more chilling through the ominous conclusion of his entry – “I don’t suppose anything happened to her nobody cares…typical prole reaction”. Given Orwell published his text in the summer 1949, concepts such as Nazi and Communist propaganda, used to enforce collectivism, would not have seemed alien to Orwell or his readers, certainly pushing him to present the media and technology as controlling and intoxicating. Figures, such as Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda, chose to replicate historic German victories in cinema, such as the Battle of Kolberg during the Napoleonic wars in the film Kolberg in 1945 (Palace, 2018) or produce anti-Semitic movies such as Jud Süß (1940) , in attempts to unite the masses against a common aim. Orwell’s political beliefs cantered around a hatred of fascism, having previously enlisted to fight alongside the Marxist Partido Obrero de Unification Marxista in the 1936 Spanish civil war, documented in his work homage to Catalonia. Orwell highlights that the power of the media when lead by a puppet master to enforce an ideology, can challenge the free-thinking power of humanity and strip our ability to emphasise and care, the “prole woman” is a reflection of humanity, used to juxtapose the audience’s indoctrination. To Orwell humanity and tyranny, as enforced through the media, cannot coexist.

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Orwell’s mistrust of government power and its use of the media as a tool is almost mirrored entirely within Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, although with greater focus on the media and its intoxicating authority. The cinema scene in 1984 is replicated in Fahrenheit 451’s 2nd section, The Sieve and the Sand. Bradbury describes “three white carton clowns (who) chopped off each other’s limbs to the accompaniment of…laughter” with “bodies fly(ing) through the air” when exploring the parlour walls presence in the house during a visit from Mrs Phelps and Mrs Bowles. Much like in Orwell’s dystopia the media indoctrinates and effects human behaviour. Clarisse recalls early on in the novel how she “is afraid of children her own age. They kill each other”, foreshadowing Montag’s near-death experience with a group of reckless teenagers in the denouement who yell collectively “Let’s get him”. In Fahrenheit 451 the media is not only a predator and antagonist in itself but also a creator of obedient predators – something that carriers over into 1984, particularly Orwell’s depiction of the “audience”, described as “shouting” and “laughing” at a “life boat of children”. The consuming nature of the media is also presented as maddening and toxic. This becomes particularly apparent when Montag, the protagonist, attempts to deliver a copy of the Bible to Professor Faber on the subway, but is almost hypnotised by a “Denham’s dentifrice” advertisement. In this chilling segment of the sieve and the sand, the statement “Denham’s dentifrice” is repeated approximately ten times, disturbing Montag’s flow of thought. Bradbury’s structural choice to make us read the advertisement and Montag’s thoughts simultaneously drags us in to the dystopia and forces us scramble through the text as Montag is attempting to battle the advertisement within his own consciousness. Bradbury therefore presents similar fears concerning the media as Orwell, suggesting the media handicaps our ability to think clearly.

The subway scene also develops into a form not dissimilar to that described in 1984, when Winston recalls the “flicks”. Like the “amused” audience in 1984, the passengers in Fahrenheit 451 conform to the hypnotic rhythm of the advertisement. Bradbury describes “the inhabitants of the loud car staring”, “tapping their feet to Denham’s dentifrice. The noun “inhabitants” is important, demonstrating how the people within the dystopia of Fahrenheit 451 have no life outside the world of consumerism to which they are exposed. Bradbury also describes how “the train hissed like a snake”, perhaps a symbol of the dangerous path of temptation posed by consumerism. The literary critic Kingsley Amis highlighted this suggesting, ““Bradbury’s [Fahrenheit 451] is the most skilfully drawn of all science fictions conformists’ hells” (Amis, 1960), himself recognising the ability of the media to force people to conform and bend to the will of the state. Therefore, the common theme of the predatorial media is pivotal in the narrative of both novels with Orwell and Bradbury both expressing concerns over the behaviour altering power of the media. Both written amongst developing cold war paranoia and totalitarianism behind the iron curtain, as well as a recently defeated fascist regime, these fears of an establishment or institution controlling a population through the media seemed all too realistic. Comment by Marcus Warrington-Brown: Maybe add evaluation here. While it’s a dystopia this would reject the appeal of the consumerist hell – perhaps we can see the pleasantness of this dystopia

Furthermore, both Orwell and Bradbury explore how twentieth century political policy and social change effect people’s ability to connect as well as engage within family relationships. In Orwell’s 1984 it is argued that relationships to one’s companions and relationship to the state are mutually exclusive. In 1984 the concept of love and family becomes distorted and state sanctioned. The head of state is referred to as “Big Brother”, conveying a sense of guidance and affection, so long as his authority remains unchallenged. The referral of the head of state as “brother” is important as it creates the illusion of a leader being a family figure who cares about the interests of all - perhaps a reference to the cult of personality created by many early twentieth century dictators such as Stalin and Mussolini. Furthermore, it also highlights the parties desire to reshape and redirect the natural feeling of love onto something sinister. Much like the technology in Fahrenheit 451, the party wishes to limit and redirect human emotion. This idea of the party redirecting human nature in the form of love is also demonstrated through the cruel “ministry of love”, in which the party torture individuals to the point of submission in the ambiguous “room 101”.

The juxtaposition of the positive title of “love”, and the disturbing nature of the facility itself, is symbolic of how totalitarianism and its desire to control cannot coexist with the fundamental values of human nature. The fact the Oceania language of newspeak shortens the title to “miniluv” further demonstrates this desire to control human emotion, with sex being referred to as a “duty to the party”. The states anti-sex leagues and discouragement of human connection controls desire. Winston, is described as having a “Varicose Ulcer” that subsides as the plot develops and he meets Julia, triggering a rebellious affair. The Ulcer is representative of Winston’s repressed sexual desire, and the fact it is a painful sore on his body that requires constant itching demonstrates how as the protagonist his basic human desires are placed below those of the state. His love for Julia, a basic exercise of human nature, is presented as terrorism, with Orwell describing that “their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory…it was a political act”. The semantic field of rebellion in the form of “battle”, “victory” and “political”, demonstrating that human nature is the enemy of totalitarianism. Modern society as presented within Fahrenheit 451 is as equally damaging to human connection as the dreary totalitarian Oceania presented in 1984. Economic and technological developments within Bradbury’s dystopia test the stability of Montag’s marriage and his ability to connect to others as an individual.

The relationship between Mildred and Montag subverts the conventional expectation of a functional one within the context of 1950s America, with Montag revealing in the end of the text “Even if she dies…I don’t think I’ll feel sad”. Mildred’s descent into dissociation from reality and growing investment in her virtual world develops during the rising action before ending at the climax. At the beginning of the novel Montag ironically jokes “wasn’t there an old joke about the wife who talked so much on telephone and her desperate husband ran to the nearest store to ask her what’s for dinner”, foreshadowing her decent in to a separate reality. When Montag later asks “what was on?” she replies with the short declarative un-colloquial response “programs”. When Montag continues to talk to her the conversation remains one sided, with her responding to his questions, “some of the best ever” and “oh you know the bunch”. Bradbury crafts a tug-of-war, with Montag fighting for his wife against a dreary miserable reality - marking how advances in society have reduced her feelings for the world and people around her. Bradbury carefully introduces the characters of Mrs Phelps and Mrs Bowles in the Sieve and the sand to highlight how this detachment that exists within Montag’s home exists in the macrocosm of families in Fahrenheit 451s satirical America. Marriage is recognised by both women as insignificant, Mrs Phelps replying to Montag’s colloquial question “when will the war start…I notice your husbands aren’t here” with a blunt “Oh they come and go, come and go”. The repetition of “come and go” highlights the fact love is not an emotional connection but rather secondary to the population’s mindless pursuit of pleasure. Bradbury provides a level of contrast to the “political act” between Julia and Winston in Orwell’s 1984, with Mrs Bowles explaining “the world must reproduce, you know, the race must go on”. Bradbury presents the choice to have children and marry as a chore rather than an expression of love thus demonstrating his fears surrounding the importance of emotion in a vastly changing consumeristic America. This presentation of an empty meaningless society was recognised by Joseph Blakely, describing the text as a critique at “the emptiness of modern mass culture and its horrifying effects”, which is certainly true when the reader considers the context of the nuclear family and the importance of family, which symbolised, particularly in the 1950s, order and progress. On the contrary, Orwell argues that love and sexual intercourse, while redefined by the state, provide an outlet for a rebellion and allow the protection of human nature, demonstrating his fears concerning the mutually exclusive presence of love for the government and love for family that existed amongst totalitarian post war societies. Comment by Marcus Warrington-Brown: However horrifying effects aren’t confined to mass culture, Bradbury ultimately correlates that it is rather choices to reject books or push boundries etc

Bradbury and Orwell craft a sense of caution through careful manipulation and structure, conveying their fears surrounding post war societal change. Bradbury divides Fahrenheit 451 into a three-part structure, the Hearth and the Salamander, the exposition, the Sieve and the Sand acting as the Climax, and Burning bright, serving as the denouement. This bares resemblance to 1984s three-part structure, which also adheres to Freitag’s pyramid. The choice of the authors to construct their stories in such a way is hugely significant, with both novels conforming to the structure of a folklore cautionary tale. Initially, a taboo is stated, perhaps Winston’s desires for freedom and Montag’s curiosity, while plot develops and finally a chilling warning is issued to the reader. The endings of both texts are crafted to communicate a message, Orwell uses Winston’s surrender to “Big Brother, while Bradbury uses Montag’s liberation. While these endings are ultimately at odds with each other, they force the readers to question themselves, humanity and the texts messages. The ending of 1984 contrasts the passionate internal fight of Winston seen in the earlier in the text, presenting a chilling vision of a defeated Winston who gazes through “gin scented tears”. The final lines “He had won the victory over himself. He loved big brother. The End”, followed by the “Appendix” section, allow Orwell to devoid his readers of any pleasurable ending. This adds weighting to his lesson, as we as readers attempt to draw meaning and respect the chilling realism of his relentless dystopia. Bradbury’s warning is conveyed in a different sense, with use of allusion and through a hopeful tone. Montag, who is granted the book of Revelations, ironically a reference to the biblical apocalypse, to remember, concludes the text in his internal monologue. The final lines “When we reach the city”, reference the book of revelations, “holy city of God”, are significant. They present the ending of the text as Montag’s spiritual rebirth, thus allowing Bradbury to highlight the healing power of art and books, illuminating his warnings of technological change and censorship. Therefore, both authors craft their texts to deliver an effective portrayal of their messages.

In conclusion, both novels explore technology, media, family, and ultimately human nature to express their personal concerns and criticisms of post war society. Bradbury and Orwell both argue that technology could endanger individualism, while simultaneously highlighting the danger of the media in its ability to enforce collectivism and indoctrinate. Bradbury, however, recognises its danger in the presence of consumerism and absorption while Orwell sees it as the foundation of totalitarian order. Furthermore, a dystopia society challenges, in both texts, people’s abilities to connect and express emotion, particularly when the state or media wishes to redefine core human values or connection. Orwell, presents his paranoia surrounding the possibility of totalitarianism within the ashes of a ruined Europe and the emergence of widespread fascism in western democracy, while Bradbury considers growth in consumerism and technology a similar threat to free thought, yet together both argue that huge advances in technology, media and political thought in post war society were in danger of ultimately distracting civilisation from what they considered essential – human nature, human emotional connection and ultimately freedom.

Works Cited

  1. Amis, K. (1960). New Maps of Hell.
  2. Blakely, J. (. found within Fahrenheit 451 (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations).
  3. Entertainism. (2018, February 2th). The Golden Age of Entertainment: Television in the 1950s. Retrieved from Entertainism: https://entertainism.com/television-in-1950s
  4. Kellner, D. 1984 to One-Dimensional Man: Critical Reflections on Orwell and Marcuse.
  5. Palace, S. (2018, June 15th). Nazi Germany’s giant propaganda movie required 100 train carriages to transport fake snow. Retrieved from The Vintage news: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/06/15/kolberg/
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The Conventions And Themes Of Post War Society In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 And George Orwell’s 1984. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-conventions-and-themes-of-post-war-society-in-ray-bradburys-fahrenheit-451-and-george-orwells-1984/
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