But Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 staunchly contrasts these other writings; rather than presenting some omniscient tale admonishing its audience of the dangers of government hierarchy, Bradbury uses satire to criticize primarily emerging trends in society, providing an account that deems them equally as harrowing and dangerous as some authoritarian government, although he does include a limited number of strands involving an anti-government theme. This unique aspect of Fahrenheit 451 has earned the attention of critics and supporters alike.
Unlike other novels produced during this time period, Bradbury protested a society growing increasingly centered around materialistic comforts and desires and less around the pursuit of intellect. Bradbury did not simply express his concerns about the degradation of intellect however; he encrypted his message in the layers of a complex tale. Written upon every page of the novel is a fragment of information that plays a larger role than superficially understood.
Themes involving the value of imagination, the authority of peers, freedom of speech, and the struggle between individualism and conformity emerge once the novel is more than ostensibly examined. In a time period during which everyone felt that “Big Brother” existed only to suppress the freedoms of humanity, it became easy to forget that people possess that same power; it became easy to forget that when a society loses the ability to think independently, exploitation is inevitable. Rather than making thoughts and conclusions, you are simply told what to think.
The “firemen” of Fahrenheit 451 metaphorically represent the closest thing to government control in the entire book. Bradbury uses firemen for this particular metaphor because as firemen, they are expected to protect and accommodate the needs of people in danger; they are literally the lifesavers of society. Yet in Fahrenheit 451, they set fire to what is good, knowledge and people alike. “On the front porch where she had come to weigh them quietly with her eyes, her quietness a condemnation, the woman stood motionless. Beatty flicked the switch to spark the kerosene. (Fahrenheit 451) The firemen burned her.
This intense contrast between what is expected of firemen in the real world and how the firemen act in Bradbury’s fabricated world emphasizes the importance of their role in the book. The television installers still install televisions, and people still drive too fast, but the firemen no longer extinguish fires, they ignite them, and that is something notable. Equally as notable, the firemen do not set the fires because they are forced to do so; they set fires because they believe it is right. They are the enforcement of censorship.
They are the hands of the government. They are the embodiment of evil. Yet the firemen are willing. As spectators to the atrocious society that Bradbury depicts, we cannot help but cringe as the old woman is burned to death, or as the city is finally destroyed. We cannot understand why the firemen are so eager to commit such heinous crimes until we understand what Bradbury’s futuristic society really depicts. It depicts a society composed of puppets that cannot think but only comprehend. The firemen believe it is right to destroy books because that is what Beatty, the fire chief, tells them.
They do not ask why, they do not object, they monotonously carry out the task at hand. “Well, it’s a job just like any other. Good work with lots of variety. Monday, we burn Miller; Tuesday, Tolstoy; Wednesday, Walt Whitman; Friday, Faulkner; and Saturday and Sunday, Schopenhauer and Sartre. We burn them to ashes and then burn the ashes. That’s our official motto. ” Guy Montag, the main character, only confirms the notion that the firemen believe it is their duty to burn books, when he provides the reader with a cheery description of his occupation.
Also in this riveting effigy of his career, Bradbury has included irony by naming each street after revered authors, adding a sense of pathetic humor to Montag’s situation, while reinforcing a theme of intellectual degradation. Bradbury’s point in having the firemen burn books on their own accord and not on another’s behalf is to emphasize the conclusion that this is a book written about society and its people, not the government that runs it. This is especially important because this part of the book is often misinterpreted.
Until the book is examined on a deeper level, Fahrenheit 451 appears to be a story about government censorship, and how the government can force people to stop reading by slowly outlawing certain books until no books are allowed at all. Bradbury explicitly stated in a LA Weekly News interview, “Fahrenheit 451 is not a story about government censorship.