What’s the problem with conformity? Debasish Mridha once said, “A closed conforming society is a sick society waiting to die from stagnation and inner illness. Only openness is the treatment.” The novel Fahrenheit 451 has a main character named Montag who profession is a fireman. As a firefighter, Montag does not put out fires. Instead, he starts them in order to burn books and, basically, knowledge to the human race. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his insipid life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television until he meets seventeen-year-old Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse shows him many wonders of the world and causes him to reconsider the reason of why he is burning books. After all the conversations with her, the society’s submission to the law that prohibits apprehension, thinking, and creativity damages Montag very much. In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury shows conformity in the novel through leisure, schooling, and fright.
Conformity is represented through leisure in this novel. By seeing how Montag and his wife spend their free time by just watching television shows a lot of how these people are so conformist. The media system in this book is designed to attack the mind with things with little importance or value and meaningless emotion every day, even during sleep, so as to distract the mind from real intellectual consideration. Montag experiences this as he tries to memorize a passage from the Bible; he is distracted by an ad for toothpaste, and he can’t concentrate. Mildred is a great example of conformity because she spends her whole time watching TV and even called family the characters in the television shows. They give her joy and distract her from what is happening in the world. A great example of conformity is this one, “Well, said Betty, the crisis is past and all is well, the sheep returns to the fold. We all sheep who have strayed at times.” Betty makes a direct comparison between firemen and sheep in a flock both are supposed to blindly follow the crowd of which they are a part without any questions asked. Betty acknowledgement of staying from the flock shows how he knows that at some times firemen question their job but they always come back because of the influence of conformity.
Next form of conformity in this novel is schooling. Clarisse tells Montag that schools are institutions that promote athletic activities and keep students engaged by making them watch television teachers. Learning and the gaining of knowledge are not the main issues for the schools. In a society where books are illegal and knowledge is censored, schools are basically institutions that supervise children while their parents are working. Clarisse tells Montag that she does not learn anything in school and students are prohibit from asking any kind of questions. History, art, and math are presented to students in short segments, and in-depth analysis is nonexistent in the school setting. Beatty tells Montag that ‘intellectual’ is practically a swear word and a book is perceived as a ‘loaded gun.’ Schools no longer educate children and are simple institutions where kids are barely supervised and tired themselves by engaging in a lot of physical activities.
Last but not least is fright, throughout all the novel fright is one of the biggest issues this people had during the whole novel. Montag’s wife Mildred is frightened by new, unfamiliar ideas of any kind that’s is why she always watching TV, doing drugs, and having suicidal thoughts. It is noticeable that the government’s purpose the whole novel was to put fear on the people in order for them to control the population. Fear can be a huge factor why a lot of people conforms with almost anything even if they don’t agree with it. In a research done by multiple students they found that misconduct, including substance abuse, was predicted best by perceived peer pressure toward misconduct, low opinions of the value of treatment by disposition to conform to antisocial peers, and sense of stigma associated with being treated by perceived peer pressure toward conformity. In agreement with this point it seems like young people would do drugs just because of the fear of not belonging with the “cool ones.” The government is this novel influenced and manipulated everyone by making them afraid of all the knowledge that was inside the books. One example is when Beatty says “Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.” In this quote Beatty gives Montag another ridiculous excuse for him to burn the books. Since any person can be offended by a subject, he argues that all books are better off destroyed than allowed to provoke anger. Beatty uses an example of a book linking tobacco and cancer. He shows the benefit of destroying information about lung cancer to keep cigarette companies in a good standard, but the public health risks as people will have less knowledge of what smoking can do to them.
Evidence points to leisure, schooling, and fright to be the main reasons why the characters in this novel were very conformist. Leisure because the wife’s main character spends her free time watching television, taking pills, and having suicidal thoughts instead of doing other activities that were prohibit by the government. Schooling because the education system was trained to prepare students just for physical activities and they did not commit to teach them a subject that would make them to get more knowledge about the real world. Fright because the government use to talk bad about the books and stick fear in their mind in order for them to keep them manipulated in thinking in whatever they wanted them to think. Conformity is a big issue we still faced in today’s society. Most of us are grown into some form of conformity at one time or another. At what point does following the rules become wrong? When is it too much? Over the years many people begin to question what the acts of following the crowd can mean; whether or not we need these orders, and structures to function; or whether it’s really worth losing yourself just to make everybody feel happy.
- Bradbury, Ray, 1920-2012. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967.
- Raniseski, J. M., & Sigelman, C. K. (1992). Conformity, peer pressure, and adolescent receptivity to treatment for substance abuse: A research note. Journal of Drug Education, 22(3), 185-194. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.imperial.edu/10.2190/RLXR-8UXC-X7WN-DVLF