Discuss why the government must capitivate the audience's attention quickly on television in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
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In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the programming on the television must captivate the audience's attention quickly so that they are forever occupied, unable to think for themselves or ask questions. It is for this reason that books are banned and burned.
It is Clarisse McClellan who points out how little the world pays attention to what goes on around them. Speeding cars are unable to see the scenery because they go too fast. Anything society wants drivers to see, they put in very large signs along the road. The beauty of flowers or cows is nothing but a blur as cars go by.
Society manipulates and desensitizes people in Montag's world. Mildred, his wife, is perfectly happy existing in this life that society's laws have created for her. Montag notices, as he returns home after speaking with Clarisse, that his wife exists in a near-death state, with "the Seashells, the thimble radios" tucked snugly in her ears:
He opened the bedroom door.
It was like coming into a cold marbled room of a mausoleum after the moon has set...the chamber [was] a tomb world where not sound from the great city could penetrate.
This separation from the noise of the city is symbolic of the people's inability to connect with things outside the sphere in which the people lived—through society's manipulation and design.
When Montag stands silently in the hall before going to work, his wife comments:
Hey...[t]he man's thinking!
Mildred means this as a joke: we can infer that she is totally unaware that her thoughts and actions are being controlled so that she will not think.
The televisions take up entire walls. They aren't cheap, and Mildred pushes Montag to buy yet another one so all four walls (rather than just the three now) will project television images. The stories are meant to engage: the people follow a script of the program they watch, able to participate in the program. This is considered a special event. Mildred notes:
They mailed me my part this morning. I sent in some boxtops. They write the script with one part missing. It's a new idea.
In essence, a part is missing: Mildred's part. When it comes time for the "homemaker" ("Helen," the part Mildred is playing) to speak, everyone pauses and Mildred delivers her lines. However, the lines she speaks require no effort and no thought—even the character she is playing also does not think for herself, but agrees with everything that is said to her:
And I say, I say...'I think that's fine!' And then they go on with the play until he says, 'Do you agree to that, Helen?' and I say, 'I sure do!' Isn't that fun, Guy?
The actors emulate the social norms. Montag, having recently spent time considering Clarisse's questions about why they do what they do, or how society controls the world, looks at his wife with what amounts to puzzlement. When he asks her what the "play" is about, she cannot identify a plot—this would require thought and understanding, and the government wants none of that. All Mildred knows is that it's about three people. There is nothing else, yet she is so programmed by society, that she doesn't realize she is missing the point of the story...that the story has no point. Twice she says to Montag how much "fun" it is.
The government (society) grabs the audience's attention quickly so no one can engage in independent thought.
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