Themes are a pervasive idea presented in a literary piece. Themes in Fahrenheit 451, a masterpiece of Ray Bradbury and presents the ideas of banning books and censorship along with the gratification of people. Some of the major themes in Fahrenheit 451 have been discussed below
Themes in Fahrenheit 451
Censorship in the shape of banning books is one of the major themes of this futuristic novel. The government thinks that the members of the society must focus on entertainment and enjoyment of their sensual desires. As books prompt questions and finetune intellectual development, they are considered evil for social development and social growth. So, if an owner keeps books in his house, they are destroyed with disregard for the damage to life and property of the owner. He alludes to speeding cars, loud music and aggressive marketing that help create a society without literature and self-reflective individuals like Guy Montag. However, the presence of Professor Faber and his efforts to save the books points to the fact that some intelligent minds still exist in the society who value bookish knowledge and its role in the growth of societies.
Ignorance and Knowledge
Ignorance and knowledge, and their contrast is another major theme of the novel. Guy Montag and Clarisse McClellan show this contrast in different ways. Clarisse along with her conversation with other people shows that books create a quizzical outlook toward life that raises creativity and innovation. However, Montag’s behavior is quite the opposite though he transforms later. His opposition to Clarisse’s position shows how ignorance proves too rigid to be uprooted. The fight Clarisse has started with her knowledge gives shape to Montag’s resistance against Captain Beatty. When Montag comes to know the value of books and growth of knowledge, he joins hands with those people who want to preserve knowledge for social growth such as Professor Faber. The final effort of Montag to save his life and keep some parts of Ecclesiastes in his mind.
Life Versus Death
Life versus death is another major theme of the novel, Fahrenheit 451. Mildred Montag tries to commit suicide at the beginning of the novel after taking a lot of pills. However, when the medical team saves her life, the plumber, who has emptied her stomach, comments that such cases happen on every other day and that committing suicide has become a common way to end life in the society. Hearing that, Montag starts to think about the life and death issues as Clarisse has already impacted him.
Another important point about life in the novel is that even mechanical machines have taken the lives of their own. The Hound chasing Montag shows that though it is an inanimate object, it has taken the life of its own to spread death and destruction. In other words, the same human being blessed with life is now running from it to save his life. Besides this, there are several deaths in the novel. A speeding car kills Clarisse. The Old Woman kills herself burning in the fire. Although Montag and some others survive the nuclear holocaust, it seems life has won.
Role of Technology
As Fahrenheit 451 is a futuristic novel, the role of technology is another thematic strand that echoes throughout the novel. Television screens spread over walls present entertainment programs to keep the women busy. Small radios broadcast everything to the public ears to keep them busy. Other machines like the mechanical Hounds were also employed to control or even kill the rebels. Machines have made people insensitive as they drive the car fast, disregarding the life of other people. Hence, technology has brought very few advantages to humanity.
Alienation and Dehumanization
Alienation of human beings and their dehumanization on account of the pervasive use of technology is another major theme of this novel. This technological interference has been stated as ‘technification’ of human society. This has disconnected the people from the ordinary realities around them, such as Clarisse is not aware of Mildred and vice versa, but she has caused ripples in the mind of Montag. He realizes this dehumanization that they demonstrate when burning books of the Old Lady and herself with the books. That is why he finds Professor Faber connecting him to humanity through books.
Power of Books
In the novel, burning books are a metaphorical presentation of the end of the knowledge and the use of censorship. Books enable people to think about themselves. That is why keeping books was declared a crime, and firemen were assigned to burn the books. Montag must burn the books and keep the people devoid of the power of books. The power that books symbolize is that they connect human beings with each other, as happens in the case of Clarisse and Montag, and later Montag and Professor Faber. Secondly, they also represent the humanity of the people as the Old Woman shows and Montag reacts to her burning. Finally, books also show the power to enable human beings to become cultural, civilized and empowered.
Role of Mass Media
The novel, Fahrenheit 451, also shows the role of mass media in controlling the people. Millie and her friends have been shaped by this mass media broadcast. Radio broadcast reaches in the ears of the people to inform them about different events and products. The television serials with viewers’ names included in them have played the role of this governmental technique of keeping the people preoccupied with gratifying their narcissistic tendencies. Viewers, thinking themselves as characters, enjoy this world of fantasy feeling distracted from the oppressive system. This is how the mass media has made people preoccupied all the time.
Loss of Individuality
The culture presented in the novel, Fahrenheit 451, has snatched the sense of identity. Most of the characters have a sense of no identity or loss of individuality. Montag feels that he is only a serving machine though his senses awaken after meeting Clarisse. Mindless entertainment and satisfaction of the body have made people slaves of their desires instead of conscious and well-aware citizens. Mildred and her friends represent the citizens having no desire or awareness of identity or individuality. While people, stressing upon self-expression and realization of individuality, they are hunted to be killed, such as Professor Faber and Granger.
The novel was published after WWII. It talks about the inaction and passivity of the public. Although Guy Montag is working as a firefighter, he and most of his colleagues are passive workers who merely act upon the orders of their captain. Millie and her friends are enjoying the life of passivity by watching and taking part in television serials. Therefore, it seems that the people are mostly leading a passive and inactive life the government wants them to live.
Although not very pervasive, the theme of religion is also present in Fahrenheit 451. Surprisingly, Montag saves the Bible from the house of the Old Woman. Secondly, he is given the task by Professor Faber and Granger to memorize verses of Ecclesiastes. Both of these references point to the importance of religion and its soothing spiritual impacts on life.