Essays and Criticism
Historical Climate and Development of Fahrenheit 451
Bradbury developed Fahrenheit 451 during the late 1940s and published it in 1950 just after World War II and during America's growing fear of communism. During World War II, Hitler and the Nazis had banned and burned hundreds of thousands of books. However, the Nazis went further; using new technologies, they attempted one of the largest mind control experiments in history by setting up state controlled schools and a propaganda machine which censored all ideas and information in the public media. To make matters worse, after the war the Soviet Union developed its own propaganda machine, created an atomic bomb, and invaded Eastern Europe. All this time, new technological innovations allowed these fascist states to more effectively destroy the books they didn't find agreeable and produce new forms of communication implanted with state-sanctioned ideas.
Finally, and most significantly for Bradbury, the U.S. government responded to its fear of growing communist influence with attempts to censor the media and its productions, including literature. In other words, it responded with the same tactics of tyranny implemented by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The McCarthy hearings in the early fifties attempted to rein in what it saw as communist sympathies among authors and Hollywood producers. The FBI investigated the potential disloyalty of U.S. citizens. The federal government began...
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Bradbury and Atwood: Exile as Rational Decision
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale depict the rational decision to go into exile, to leave one's native land, that is, the pre-exile condition. These novels present horrifying views of the near future where societal pressures enforce rigid limitations on individual freedom. Their alienated characters find their circumstances repugnant. Justice and freedom are denied them, along with the possibility for enriching their lives through intellectual pursuits. These speculative novels like Orwell's 1984 are dystopian in nature, showing how precarious are today's constitutional rights and how necessary it is to preserve these liberties for future generations. They depict ordinary people, caught in circumstances that they cannot control, people who resist oppression at the risk of their lives and who choose exile because it has to be better than their present, unbearable circumstances. Voluntary exile necessitates a journey into the unknown as an alternative to the certain repression of the present.
Both novels offer a bleak possible future for the United States. Bradbury, writing in the McCarthy era of the 1950s, envisions a time when people choose to sit by the hour watching television programs and where owning books is a crime. Atwood, in the 1980s, foresees a time when, in the wake of changes begun during the Reagan...
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Machineries of Joy and Sorrow
Fahrenheit 451 is one of only two novels Bradbury has written. The other is Something Wicked This Way Comes. (Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles are often referred to as novels, but they are really collections of separate stories unified by theme and specially written bridge passages.) Fahrenheit 451 is a short novel, an expansion of a story, "The Fireman," originally published in Galaxy. The book is about as far as Bradbury has come in the direction of using science fiction for social criticism. Actually, the premise of the book is rather farfetched—that firemen in some future state no longer fight fires but set them, having become arms of a political program aimed at stamping out all literature. This purging of the written word, particularly of the imaginative sort, is found in other stories, most strikingly in "Pillar of Fire" and "The Exiles." But in these other stories the tone is clearly that of a fantasy. Fahrenheit 451 is realistic in tone, but keeps such a tight focus on the developing awareness of fireman Guy Montag that we can successfully overlook the improbability of his occupation. In fact, the very improbability of Montag's work allows Bradbury to maintain a certain detachment in the book, so that basic themes such as freedom of speech, the value of...
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