Guy Montag, a fireman in a technologically forward society, goes against the government to find true happiness. Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, takes place in a dystopian society in a futuristic America where firemen do not put out fires, but rather use fire to get rid of books. A futuristic society with faults and morals that we can correlate to our own. Instantly, we are introduced to novum and absorbed into Bradbury’s world of technological advancements and corruptness. This society lavishes ignorance and looks down upon intelligence. The inappropriate use of leisure time in Montag ‘s world is the biggest contributor to their deficient society, because people no longer have complex personalities, good socializing, parenting, or critical thinking skills, which are all alluded by subtle things in our real life society.
In Montag’s society, everyone is the same, and no one questions anything that is happening around them. Clarisse, a girl who questions the way their society works, tells Montag, “They name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming pools mostly and say how swell! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else.” (Bradbury 31). This is a very controversial quote because it is the first time that Montag actually begins to wonder about the way their society functions. Beatty, the fire chief, also explains to Montag how the home environment can undo a lot that is trying to be done at school, and that is the reason why the kindergarten age has been lowered so much; practically beginning when the child is born (66). This idea comes to show that everyone in their world is accustomed to being told what to say, do, and think; for example, when Clarisse tells Montag, “There used to be front porches…they thought about things, turned things over…the government got rid of them because that was the wrong kind of social life.” (69). The thought of questioning things and making up answers independently is unfamiliar to people living in their society. No one has a unique personality or wishes to stand out and possibly rebel, which makes it really hard for people to want different things, and question why things work, because they are all so accustomed to what they have been thought to do and like. To them nothing else could possibly be the correct thing to do which, again, comes to show how unaware of happiness the people in their world are.
This society is also extremely impatient and wants things done very rapidly; making socializing a thing of the past. The narrator of the story mentions, “Mildred driving a hundred miles an hour across town, he shouting at her and she shouting back and both trying to hear what was said, but hearing only the scream of the car” (49). This quote comes to show that the people living in this society want everything to move extremely fast so that they do not have time to think about stuff, or even feel emotions. Montag goes on to ask Mildred to keep the speed down to fifty-five miles an hour, which is the minimum. This comes to demonstrate that he has an actual interest in talking to his wife, but she makes little to no effort in trying to communicate back with him. Montag and Mildred cannot have a proper conversation because they are unable to hear each other from how fast they are traveling; as well as Mildred having her seashells (headphones) in her ears the entire time (50). The headphones are not playing music either, but propaganda. Mildred chooses listening to that over whatever Montag would like to say. Since people no longer feel comfortable socializing, because what someone says might hurt their feelings, it makes it extremely hard for their society to go on, because these people choose to close themselves out from other people’s opinions and ideas. What is going on here is very prevalent in our real life society and Bradbury makes us reflect on that. We often tend to block each other out literally and figuratively, whether it be tuning out with technologies and social media or turning a blind eye to pressing issues, all for the sake of protecting ourselves.
People in that society not only have lost the ability to have complex personalities and socialize, but the idea of parenting has diminished as well. When Mrs. Bowles tells Mrs. Phelps, “I’ve had two children by Caesarean section. No use going through all that agony,” it simply comes to show that the idea of having a child is not only painful, but also takes a large amount of time (30). Because their speed of life is so quick, they would much rather just avoid something like labor. To top it all off, when the children come home from school, three days a month, the parents just stick them in the parlor and let the television raise them, instead of interacting with them (33). This society’s refusal to parent their own children makes it almost impossible for kids to respect and love their parents, and people no longer get a chance to learn valuable life-skills that parents in the past or our real life society would have been able to teach.
We can see that technology and modernization have taken a toll on the ability for people to think critically. People no longer know how to make up ideas independently. An example of how their society has become so unintelligent is when Mildred explains to Montag how her favorite television show works. She tells him, “When it comes time for the missing lines, they all look at me out of the three walls and I say the lines.” (20). This television show that Mildred, and many other people in their society adore, is much like the popular twenty-first century nickelodeon cartoon, Dora the Explorer, which is aimed for toddlers. In their society the television shows come with a script and they have to say a line when it is their turn; the characters will just wait until you respond to proceed (20). This is a very strong example of how people in this society and our actual society are choosing to spend their free time doing things that are not productive. For them, instead of reading a book or learning a new language, these people will rather sit in their parlors and waste time, because they are so unaccustomed to thinking and contemplating things. For us, we would rather sit on our smartphones. Since no one wants to question things, and think critically, their society cannot possibly be able to evolve.
The biggest contributor to the failing society in Montag’s words is the inappropriate use of leisure time, which causes people to no longer have complex personalities, good socializing, parenting, or critical thinking skills. Everyone in this society just watches television and has little sense of intellectualism and curiosity. Leisure can be a very great thing to have, but in Montag’s world it has become deadly. No one knows what happiness really is and are all depressed, even if they are not quite aware of it. They are living in a world where communication is such a complex matter and because of that do not know how to properly socialize. Although this world is configured and set in the not so distant future and there is a heavy presence of technologies that we do not have currently, leisure has made their society and culture go into a period of dark ages because no one is inventing anything new. We have become so reliant on technology without really realizing it. We have access to most entertainment without leaving the couch, we can check on loved ones without physically going to see them and it is all leisure to us, but that reliance can also be deemed laziness.
Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, shows us that if societies do not become educated, and continuously depend on others and technology to tell them how to act and feel, they are destined to fail. Just like Montag’s society, our society can resonate and be viewed as taking the same route as his society. Bradbury’s world is trying to allude that not yet dystopian, soon our personalities, ways we socialize, and critical thinking will be affected if we don’t try to find happiness outside our closed minds and tech driven society.