Conflict in Fahrenheit 451

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  • 0:03 Conflict…
  • 1:32 It's What's Inside…
  • 2:49 Montag vs Beatty
  • 3:45 One Guy Against the World
  • 4:43 It's Only Natural
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joel West

Joel has taught middle and high school English and has a master's degree in literature and cultural studies.

Stories can't progress without conflicts, and 'Fahrenheit 451' doesn't disappoint when it comes to providing readers with plenty of opportunities to recognize how this literary element affects the narrative. Join us for a quick look at the various conflicts in this Bradbury classic.

Conflict Counts

Have you ever read a story that doesn't seem to get anywhere? It can feel like you've been reading the story forever because there isn't a strong conflict that propels the action of the story forward. Conflict, or the struggle between two opposing forces, is essential for any piece of literature because it advances the narrative and provides motivation for the characters to take action.

Fortunately, Fahrenheit 451 is a story with multiple conflicts that engages readers from the outset and certainly doesn't fail to entertain along the way. This lesson will briefly review conflict and then discuss how Ray Bradbury uses these kinds of conflicts within the novel.

Categorizing Conflict

I'm sure that, at some point, you've had to deal with a difficult decision that seems to go against everything you've been taught. This would be an internal conflict, or a struggle within a character that creates tension by pitting the character in question against himself or herself. It is basically an argument that characters have within themselves, which is why it can also be identified as a character vs. self conflict.

An external conflict, on the other hand, is a struggle between a character and forces outside him or herself that's completely out of the character's control. External conflicts can be broken down into narrower categories, and are often referred to as character vs. character, character vs. society, or character vs. nature. Fahrenheit 451 contains each of these distinct types of conflicts, and we'll examine their roles within the framework of the story.

It's What's Inside That Matters

Being stuck in your head can be very trying indeed, so just imagine how Guy Montag feels! The importance of the role internal conflict plays in Fahrenheit 451 cannot be overstated: much of the action in the story is advanced due to Montag's increasing unease with the world he lives in. As a fireman, Montag is charged with a very specific duty: to burn books, and the structures where they are found, no questions asked. As the story unfolds, however, we come to learn that Montag has been conflicted about the purpose he and the firemen serve for quite some time - long enough for him to stash many books inside the air vent in his home.

Montag struggles with his own thoughts as he tries to decide whether he's doing the right thing by being a fireman, something he has done for the ten years leading up to the novel's beginning. In those years, he was confident in his work, but something has changed his views, and it's almost as if he has become his own worst enemy, which emphasizes the concept of a character vs. self conflict. Meeting Clarisse only causes him to ask more questions, getting further inside his head, and this ultimately causes other external conflicts as the action in the novel continues to develop. Without this main internal conflict, none of the external conflicts in the novel would have been possible.

Montag vs. Beatty

When it comes to external conflicts, the strained relationship between Montag and Captain Beatty is the main character vs. character conflict in Fahrenheit 451. Montag plays the role of the protagonist, or main character, and Beatty fills the role of antagonist, or the main opposing character, within the narrative. The way these roles play out in Bradbury's novel creates much of the novel's tension, which is a literary device authors use to evoke emotional reactions from the reader.

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