Fahrenheit 451 Literary Criticism & Critical Analysis

Instructor: Catherine Rose

Catherine taught middle and high school English and has a master's degree in Education.

Is technology taking over our love for the printed word? Will it lead to government control over our lives? This lesson analyzes ''Fahrenheit 451'', a novel that presents a dystopian society.

Technology Overload

As you sit in your favorite restaurant, you notice an interesting phenomenon. Couples on dates are not interacting; they are texting or scrolling social media on their smart phones. Families are silent as children play online games on their devices and parents are engrossed in the information on their own smart phones.

For these people the dinner hour, which used to be a time of intellectual discussion, laughter, and personal connections, has become a time to escape into a technological world of social media, text-speak, and viral videos.

This type of behavior was something Ray Bradbury feared even in the 1950's. Many of his novels and short stories demonstrate the devastating effects of a world in which people have abandoned their love for books and the search for knowledge and embraced the mindless entertainment and self-propelling machinery that accompanies technology. Fahrenheit 451 is one such novel.

Let's examine this novel and its implications for our society.

book burning
book burning

Dystopian Novel

Fahrenheit 451 is part of the dystopian novel genre. A genre is a type of literature, usually possessing specific characteristics. The dystopian novel typically consists of a futuristic world governed by some kind of tyranny and oppression. In these novels, there are usually 'outsiders' who refuse to follow the accepted form of behavior and eventually revolt. These novels rarely have happy resolutions; rather, they present a dark, bleak world with little hope for those who live in the society and are forced to fight for their individuality.

Identity Crisis

The main character, Montag, is a fireman in this novel, which means that he burns books instead of putting out fires. He does not seem distressed by his society or his role in it until he meets a young girl, Clarisse, who inspires him to question not only his job, but his society as a whole.

Clarisse ignites another kind of fire in Montag, as he begins to see the apathy in his wife, boss, and society and even goes as far as stealing a book while burning down a house and reciting poetry he has read. Montag is experiencing an internal conflict, one in which the character battles with his own inner feelings, as he begins to question the society he has accepted for many years. His identity crisis is meant to inspire readers to question their own society in search of the greater good.

Societal Issues

The issue in Fahrenheit 451 is not censorship as much as it is society's choices that lead to authoritative rule. With the exception of pornography, comic books, and scripts for television, books are prohibited, but it was not an immediate change thrust upon the people. In the novel, we find out that the people slowly gave in to the lure of technology and mindless distractions, so when the government slowly took away their books and opportunities for them to think for themselves, no one really noticed.

The commonality of drug use is barely discussed, indicating that the people found addiction to be a regular occurrence in most homes. Bradbury seems to be suggesting that when we give in to drugs, technology, and other entertainment that requires little intellectual thought, we are making it easier for government to eventually take away our right to search for knowledge and preserve our independence and individuality.

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