How Fahrenheit 451 represents censorship in today’s world
Fahrenheit 451 takes us to a future day dystopia, in which no one thinks for themselves, and
instead watch “walls” all day and listen to “seashells”. Everything is designed to minimise
free thinking. Walls are like giant TVs, and are filled with colourful, rapidly changing
entertainment. People often have 3 of them in a room, taking up their entire fields of vision.
The main character is called Montag, and he is a fireman. Not a fireman as in the people
who put fires out in today’s world, but a fireman who makes fires. He starts book fires to be
precise. The fire department is employed to burn books. When a book or a collection of
books is reported, the fire department quickly responds, deploying a team of firemen to
douse the book(s) in kerosene, before igniting them into a fury of brilliant flames. The book
owners are arrested or, in some cases burned with their books, perishing from this world, as
if they never even belonged at all. In this modern-day world, all houses are fireproofed, and
the common joe doesn’t know anything about the roles of the firemen of our day. They
think that it’s always been the current way.
The story starts with far too many pages of metaphors. For about the first 5% of the book
essentially nothing happens. Bradbury enjoys just fucking around with metaphor after
metaphor, taking pages to describe things which aren’t even happening. I was strongly
considering bailing at about the 5% mark, but thankfully I read on, as Fahrenheit 451 turned
out to actually be a good book.
The first essence of something actually happening is when Montag meets a teenage girl,
name of Clarence McClellan, on his way home from work. She asks him peculiar questions,
and says peculiar things, which drive Montag to think, to start thinking for himself, like he
always thought he should, but never did. It is clear that Clarence is responsible for starting
the dominos of thought that lead to Montag’s eventual liberation from the metal
imprisonment that had for so long held him.
When Montag returns home from work one night he discovers his wife, Mildred, motionless
in the swirling darkness of their bedroom. He soon learns that she has taken a large dosage
of sleeping pills and he is forced to call in medical aid. Two medical workers come to the
scene and pump Mildred’s stomach dry. In the morning, she can’t remember any of the
previous night’s events, and claims that Montag must be mistaken in his account. It is
revealed that Mildred’s use of excessive sleeping pills is a common occurrence, which is an
indication of her need to try and escape her thoughts as she lies in bed, and is
foreshadowing of her death, which lies her thoughts to rest.
While on duty one night Montag and his team get a report of a woman caught with books.
They rush to the scene in their fire truck and axe down the woman’s door. Once inside, the
firemen ransack her house in search of her books. They discover a library and pump in
kerosene, like a greedy chemical engineer pumping crude oil from the depths of the ocean.
In all the confusion, Montag steals a book, and hides it in his armpit. Once the books are
sufficiently coated in kerosene, the firemen exit the woman’s house. She refuses to move
from her living room. Montag pleads with her but she will not move. Once all the firemen
are clear she ignites a single match, and is engulfed in brilliant flames, which tear down all
that was once so dear to her. Her sacrifice for what she believed in is a representation of the
17 martyrs burnt at the stake in Lewes.
Montag is scarred by the incident of the woman burning with her books. It is this event
which causes him to finally decide to rebel against the system. He realises he needs help.
Montag recalls a memory from years ago, in which he meets an old man named Faber in a
park, who clearly had something to do with books. He calls the man up and ends up going to
Faber’s house, instead of to the fire station one night. Faber tells Montag about how much
of a coward he has been, and how he didn’t stand up to authority when books first started
to disappear. Faber tells Montag of how the government banned books as they claimed they
made people unhappy, due to their contradictory nature. It was simpler without books,
people had to think less. It is evident that people are not really happy, suicide rates are high,
and relationships with partners and children are weak, like the attractive forces of magnets
moving ever further apart. Montag decides something must be done to free people. He
must bring down the establishment.
Montag and Faber team up. Montag must not arouse suspicion in the fire captain, Beatty, so
he goes to work like normal. The firemen are sitting in the station, when all of a sudden an
alarm is raised. They rush to the fire truck and are swiftly on their way to the scene. But this
is no normal call. When the truck arrives at its destination, Montag realises that he is at his
own house. He sees Mildred flee to a waiting taxi, and vanish into the night. That is the last
he ever sees of her. (oh yh forgot to say Montag had been collecting the odd book for some
time previously, and had built a little collection in his house). Beatty makes Montag burn the
books with a flame thrower. Once Montag has finished this task, Beatty tells Montag that he
is under arrest. Montag has none of this and flame throwers Beatty to death. He then bails
The search for Montag is broadcast on the walls around the city. Montag sees that they are
releasing a mechanical hound to track him down. The hound has his scent and is closing in
on him. Montag sends himself into the river on the outskirts of the city, and is washed
downstream to safety. The hound loses his track.
Once downstream and out of the river Montag wanders through some forest before
stumbling across a camp fire surrounded by a group of old men. He approaches them and
learns that they are on his side. They enjoy a few gallys while they sit and talk, in the
beautiful night. They tell Montag about their existence. They are not trying to fight. They are
simply trying to keep the content of books alive. They do this by memorising them word for
word and then they become the book. They hope that one day when the establishment
eventually falls they will be able to share the books they know with the people, and things
will once again be good. The book ends with the cities being bombed in a war and everyone
in them perishing. RIP Faber and Mildred. Montag and the old men are safe from the blast
out in the forest.
I found that I often had to re-read small passages of the book because I wasn’t sure what
had happened. When I did this I discovered that in fact nothing had happened and Bradbury
was enjoying another self-indulgent metaphor binge. That being said, I think this was the
best written book I’ve ever read, and I did like the metaphors at times.
Oh and Montag in German means Monday, and Monday is the first day of the new week. So
I can therefore conclude that Bradbury used Montag to represent the coming of a new
week, a week in which the establishment falls.
How Fahrenheit 451 represents censorship in today’s world