Fahrenheit 451 Dystopian Characteristics & Elements

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  • 0:02 What Is a Dystopia?
  • 0:32 Characteristics & Elements
  • 2:05 Censorship & Propaganda
  • 3:09 Surveillance,…
  • 5:03 Form of Government,…
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Are you happy? Montag thought he was until he discovered that his utopia was actually a dark and oppressive dystopia. In this lesson, we'll learn about the elements of dystopian literature and connect what we learn to 'Fahrenheit 451.'

What Is a Dystopia?

A utopia is an ideal society. A dystopia is the exact opposite: a badly flawed society. A dystopian world is a miserable reality filled with oppression and despair, sometimes written in a post-apocalyptic setting. Dystopian authors warn their readers of a world in which the government is in control, and the people are not allowed to think, learn, or express emotions.

Dystopian Characteristics and Elements

To give you a better idea of this, let's take a look at some dystopian characteristics commonly used in literature:

  • Censorship: The government or governing body limits or restricts information to control people, including limiting television, music, literature, entertainment, news, and more
  • Propaganda: The media is used to persuade society into believing calculated information
  • Surveillance: The government or governing body uses technology to watch the population
  • Totalitarian style of government: The government or governing body is a dictatorship with control over people's public and private lives
  • Idol: There is a figurehead or concept that the people pledge their allegiance to and/or worship as a deity
  • Conformity: Individualism is abolished at all costs to maintain order and control, and those who do not conform are punished
  • Dehumanization: The society attempts to break down people by removing the need for emotional connections and replacing them with something else
  • Illusion: The government or governing body creates the illusion that society is a utopia by painting a picture of beauty and happiness for the people while pushing away the outside world

All of these characteristics and elements are found in Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. Let's take a look at some of them as they appear in the book.

Censorship and Propaganda

The main premise of the novel is that books are illegal. People found with books in their homes will find their houses burned to the ground, and they will be arrested. This is an example of censorship. The governing body started banning books to protect the people, but as time passed, the firemen used this system for control. Captain Beatty, the fire chief, explains that the more people you have, the more likely someone will be offended. By limiting media content and putting restrictions in place, the government does not have to worry about conflict or violence.

The burning of the houses is a form of control, and since the firemen only burn the houses at night, this is a form of propaganda. By burning the houses at night, the fire becomes a show. People come out of their homes to watch the spectacle, brainwashed into thinking the flames are beautiful. What the people don't realize is that the flames are destroying a home and a life. The population has been persuaded to believe that this is okay. This spectacle is also a fear tactic, showing others they should stay in line and follow the rules.

Surveillance, Conformity, and Dehumanization

In Bradbury's world, there are no cameras or fancy electronic recording devices. Bradbury creates a world in which the people are the surveillance devices. Citizens call in complaints about their neighbors if they suspect something, ensuring that order remains. The firemen and police keep files on those that don't conform to society's routines.

The Hound is another source of surveillance. It is used to sniff out those who are different, sedate them, and bring justice to society. It's one thing to be watched, but it's another thing to be identified for thinking and feeling differently from the masses. In this world, there is nowhere to hide - not even in your mind.

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