Fahrenheit 451's Society Compared to Ours

Fahrenheit 451's Society Compared to Ours
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  • 0:01 Background
  • 1:00 Fahrenheit 451 vs. Real Life
  • 5:40 What This Means Today
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
In this lesson, we will compare and contrast the futuristic society found in Ray Bradbury's classic novel 'Fahrenheit 451' with the modern-day society found in the United States.

Background

Famed American author Ray Bradbury published his equally famed novel Fahrenheit 451 in 1953, and the book was an instant success. It was written during the first big boom of the television, when the world was trying to return to normalcy following World War II, which is why it struck such a chord with the American public from the moment it was released.

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel, or a novel about a fictional society that is deeply flawed, usually in a horrifying way, resulting in the misery of its citizens. The story follows Guy Montag, its protagonist, through his suburban, relatively comfortable life. Really, this whole society is a comfortable one - there are no zombies, there are no government-orchestrated killings of infants, and nobody has to fight in death machine cars in the sand! Bradbury's view is a much more subtle, much more ingenious one - this novel takes place in the United States, albeit a different version of the country.

Fahrenheit 451 vs. Real Life

However, the America of the novel is much more authoritarian than our own society. An authoritarian society is one in which individuality is highly discouraged, maybe even illegal, and free thought is a big no-no! Everybody has to comply to a very strict set of laws. Although the time in which the book was written, 1953, was a more conservative era in a lot of ways, nobody was having his or her possessions torched for free thinking. In the book, however, individuality is so threatening to the society that mostly everyone is heavily medicated, and, more disturbingly, people are completely unable to connect to one another on a basic, emotional level.

Take Montag and his wife, Millie. Throughout the novel, Millie swallows anti-depressants and watches the televisions plastered on every wall of their home. But, when Millie's friends come over to watch TV, they're bombarded by news of the war going on, a war in which their relatives and friends are being killed at an alarming rate. Sadly, Montag notices that the women don't connect to this information with any emotion whatsoever. They're only concerned with whatever vapid soap opera is on one of the TVs.

When Bradbury wrote this novel, he was concerned that television would drown out literature in the future as it became more popular. And, one might argue that the introduction of the internet and social media has allowed people to forego genuine human relationships in favor of cyber ones. But, of course, this hasn't happened to the extent portrayed in the book. People haven't totally lost the ability or will to connect to one another in person, and, though one might argue that the constant wars across the globe do dull people to violence and atrocities, the truth remains that individuals still feel the loss of a loved one or the loved ones of friends in those wars.

On the other hand, the continual war raging in Fahrenheit 451 has almost no effect on the mentality of the fictional American citizens. Even the deaths of relatives in these wars fail to make any impact. As evidenced by Millie and her friends, everyone is so doped up and immersed in fantasy worlds of TV, they truly don't understand the weight of the war. In addition, when Montag's interesting, quirky young neighbor Clarissa is killed - she was supposedly hit by a car - her family does nothing, and they move away in the night.

Another consequence of the authoritarianism in the novel is that most citizens are desperate to fit in and follow orders because of the threat of severe punishment if they don't. When Montag begins reading books at home, Millie turns him in to the authorities. That's right, this extreme paranoia has led to wives turning their own husbands in, and vice versa, without much discussion or concern.

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