Fahrenheit 451 Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

Fantasy and science fiction are closely intertwined, and Fahrenheit 451 falls into both genres. No time machine carries the reader into this dark future, but Bradbury takes a seemingly unreal world and makes every element of it real and credible. From the technicians who apathetically pump the stomachs and transfuse the blood of the unhappy many who take daily drug overdoses to the blaring multiwalled televisions, Bradbury’s attention to detail makes this nightmare seem plausible, vivid, and alive.

Fahrenheit 451 fits clearly into the utopia-dystopia motif that appeared in science fiction literature throughout the twentieth century. Whereas utopian fiction presents an idyllic world or society, dystopian fiction often portrays the individual’s struggle against the implacable state in an ugly, depressing world. To illustrate two types of dystopias, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) is a frightening view of a technology-obsessed future, and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) is an appalling picture of an absolute dictatorship’s effect on the human psyche. Bradbury’s novel is a confluence of these dystopias. The brain-dead media and faster cars of the future (technology) add to the suffocation of individuals in a sterile State in which reading and thinking are outlawed (dictatorship).

Fahrenheit 451 falls in the middle period of Bradbury’s literary career. Such short stories as “The Scythe” (1943) and “The Lake” (1944) belong to Bradbury’s early period (1943-1945). These works are in the realm of fantasy and deal with the implications in life of choosing imagination over rationality. The practice in these works of having a hero who intuits some scary reality and tries to change things leads to the character of Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451, which was written, along with The Illustrated Man (1951) and The Martian Chronicles (1950), during Bradbury’s vintage period (1946-1955). All three books were adapted into screenplays. Science-fiction elements as well as dystopian landscapes enter his work during this time. Products of his later period, beginning in 1957, include Dandelion Wine (1957) and I Sing the Body Electric (1969). Many of his later works deal with magic, joy, and human eccentricity.

Critics believe that The Martian Chronicles is Bradbury’s most successful work, exploring the tension between the needs of the individual and those of society. Although some debate whether Bradbury’s work belongs to science fiction or fantasy and some consider his work simplistic, others feel strongly that it has been unfairly neglected and underrated and that his diverse and copious literary output is of astonishing quality and variety.