Imagery in Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 responds directly to the cultural environment in America in the early 1950’s. Bradbury presents an oppressive view of society, ultimately suggesting that the societys most serious problems are false ideology and values, a boredom that seems virtually impossible to overcome. Thesis Using imagery technique, Bradbury unveils themes of technology, propaganda, religion and war.
Using imagery, Bradbury emphasizes the voluntary participation of the populace in the oppressive policies of the government. For example, when marginal characters (like an old woman burned with her books) suffer violent persecution, they do so with the full agreement of the vast majority of the populace, the antiintellectualism of which is such that they think it entirely fitting and proper that books should burn, even if their owners must burn with them (Bustard 43). Bradbury’s book as a whole seems to endorse the claim of Faber (an ex-English professor whom Montag consults after he himself begins to rebel) that the problem is not really with the system, but with the people:
Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but its a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line.” (Bradbury 94).
Bradbury, however, seems to view the theatrical demonstrations of power in his book as a commentary not on official power, but on popular taste, suggesting that people simply like spectacles and that the government is merely giving them what they want (Bustard 34).
‘The burning of books” symbolizes death and darkness. In a move that anticipates recent debates on “political correctness,” Captain Beatty, Montags superior in the fire department, explains to Montag that the burning of books had its roots in the original movement of various minorities to demand that certain works they found offensive be banned. “The nouns are mostly related to Bradbury’s image clusters: sun is used six times; fire and light are each used once (Bustard 64). The verbal burning is used five times. Moon is used three times, and closely associated with the sun (its light comes from the sun)” (Reid 62). Because of this pressure, authors began to turn out more and more insipid works, seeking to avoid controversy and thereby reach a larger audience.
Eventually, real books ceased to be written altogether, replaced by comic books, sex magazines, and television, because (says Beatty) that was what the public really wanted. Beatty, of course, is not presented by Bradbury as an exemplary figure. Appealing to icons of the Western literary tradition like Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton, Bradbury demands that we not “allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conservationist, procomputerologist or neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics” (Bradbury 183). If minorities do not like his books, Bradbury proclaims, let them write their own. For example, the official history books of this society claim that fire departments have always been organized for the burning of books, attributing the formation of the first book-burning fire department in America to Benjamin Franklin in 1790.
Using mirror imagery, Bradbury depicts reality and illusion of human dreams and aspirations. As a result, most of the survivors of the nuclear holocaust might be expected to attempt to rebuild a society much like the one that was just destroyed (McGiveron 285). After all, the death and rebirth myth that provides a structural model for Bradburys plot itself implies a cyclic history, and the rebel Granger suggests at the books close that the rise of civilization phoenix-like from its own ashes is unlikely to result in any improvement over the disasters of the past unless people can somehow learn from their past mistakes.
And it looks like were doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday well stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. (Bradbury 177).
Learning from the past, especially the distant past, requires more than individual memory, and Bradbury’s individualist approach fails to account for the ability of those in power to distort official history, even though his own book describes this ability quite well. “To serving as a mirror reflecting Montag himself, Clarisse also serves as a mirror held up to the rest of society. Her perspective helps Montag see that his contemporaries, as Clarisse says, really neither talk nor think about anything” (McGiveron 283). Indeed, this nuclear holocaust clearly figures as an image of the Christian apocalypse, with a new society (to be led by Montag and the book-people) arising from the ashes of the old as a sort of literate New Jerusalem (Bustard 34). The book ends as Montag and his new friends trudge back from their exile in the wilderness toward the devastated city, with Montag recalling to himself a passage from the Book of Revelations. Bradbury’s vision of a “salvation” that will require the destruction of most of humanity parallels Christian projections of the future quite closely, but it is certainly a questionable solution to the problems he saw in his contemporary America (Bustard 92).
In sum, imagery helps Bradbury create a unique atmosphere and appeal to emotions readers though unique meanings and settings. The popular culture of Fahrenheit 451 also serves to brainwash its audience into conformist behavior. Many of the images depict that programs and social values are designed merely to extract the audiences agreement with the official ideology of the programs while creating the illusion that the audience themselves have a part in determining that ideology. Drawing upon many of the motifs, Bradbury depicts a society in which power and abuse of power are the central facts of human existence. For example, he notes that technology provides an important tool for the enforcement of official ideology and rules.
1. Bradbury Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979.
2. Bustard, Ned. Fahrenheit 451 Comprehension Guide, Veritas Press, 2005.
3. McGiveron, R. O., To Build a Mirror Factory: the Mirror and Self-Examination in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Critique, 39, 1998, pp. 282-287.
4. Reid, R. A. Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Press, 2000.