In Fahrenheit 451, how does Bradbury use  Montag's struggle to be free and the stages he undergoes in order to be liberated TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE MEANING OF THE WORK.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ray Bradbury's early work about a dystopian society that maintains strict control over its citizens was conceived in part as an allusion to the historical Wartburg Festival and its Action Against the un-German spirit. At this gathering in 1933, nearly 25,000 books were burned, books written by classical, liberal, and anarchist or Communist authors, and especially Jewish authors. 

It is in such a climate that Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which books burn) opens. Montag has just completed another day destroying literature because books lend to readers thoughtful pleasures, expansion and freedom for ideas, and a richer texture to life--all of which are anathema to a materialistic society of Montag. As he walks home, Montag still has the grimace from the intense heat on his face, the "fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame." In contrast, Montag encounters a young girl, whose face is "bright as the snow on the moonlight" with eyes that reflect Montag in them. As they traverse the sidewalk together, Clarisse McClellan inquires if he is happy and what he talks about to others. It is "a strange meeting on a strange night." Then, as he opens his door and enters the blank rooms, Montag stares at his wall in the "white silence," asking himself,

How rarely did other people's faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?

  • (1st stage) This meeting with Clarisse is the incipience of Montag's growing discontent with his stultifying world in which he wears his happiness like the heated smile on his face: a mask, and his wife bombards her empty mind with inane television programs and sounds from the thimble wasps  in her ears.

In contrast to Clarisse, Montag's wife Mildred seems hollow as she neither recalls her escape from suicidal death or expresses any other real feeling, a condition that alienates Montag and leads him to question what in life he is missing.

On another call, the firemen drive to an old part of town where there is a "flaking" three-story house in which an old woman lives. Beatty slaps this woman, demanding that she reveal the site of her hidden books, but defiantly she says that they cannot have her books. Beatty retorts, "None of those books agree with each other....You've been in a...Tower of Babel. Snap out of it!" But, defiantly, the woman herself strikes the match that ignites the destruction of all that she has lived for.

While the books were being tossed into a pile, one of them wafts into Montag's unwilling hands. Still, he has kept it, and in the night in his own home, he pulls it from his pocket. For, he seeks something to cure him of his growing feelings of alienation from Mildred and her family who "said nothing, nothing, nothing and said it loud, loud, loud."

  • (2nd stage) After Montag tries to communicate with the soul of Mildred, "We're heading right for the cliff, Millie," and he touches nothing, he realizes that she is lost, especially after reading to her and finding no reaction other than ire that he has brought something so dangerous into their home.

Poor Millie,'" he thought. "Poor Montag, it's mud to you. too. But where do you get help, where do you find a teacher this late?"

  • (3rd stage)When he remains home sick, Captain Beatty visits Montag, who questions his superior about the origin of book burning. Beatty explains that with such an increasing population, books had to be censored. However, this was not effective enough, so they began the burning of books. Beatty, nevertheless, has much knowledge of books of which he imparts some, trying to confuse his employee with contradictory ideas, but at the same time, piquing Montag's interest. He also knows that Montag has at least one book, but says that it is allowed for twenty-four hours.

Montag recalls that he once met a retired English professor sitting on a park bench, so he seeks this man for support after Mildred refuses to cooperate with his efforts to learn what the Bible holds.

  • (4th stage) Montag locates professor Faber, who informs him that books' value lies in the awareness of life that they hold. Further, he tells Montag that men need the "right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two. And I hardly think a very old man and a fireman turned sour could do much this late in the game...." But, Montag insists that the man teach him. So, Faber gives him a two-way radio and says that he will seek a printer to copy the book in order that Montag can turn in the original.

After Montag goes home, his wife has some vacuous friends there to whom he reads Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach," hoping to awaken in them some spirit; however, they are appalled and frightened, rushing from the house. Later, Montag turns in the book; suddenly, the fire alarm goes off and Montag finds himself at his own home because Mildred has turned him in. Beatty forces Montag to burn the house, then arrests him. Still, Montag is able to turn the flamethrower upon Beatty annihilating him. He escapes and hides books in another fireman's home.

  • (5th stage) Montag hurries to Faber's home where the professor instructs him how to remove his scent from the house in order to throw off the Mechanical Hound. Then, he gives Montag some of his clothes and instructs him how to locate the "book lovers" who are in a community led by a man named Granger.

In this community, Montag becomes with them a living repository as he memorizes the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way in which Bradbury demonstrates Montag's struggle to free himself from the government's power is through personal evolution. Bradbury demonstrates that Montag's resistance comes from within.  When Montag is able to understand change and struggle on an internal level, it becomes the conduit for governmental rejection.  This is seen with Montag's reflections in his conversation with Clarisse.  Montag gains the type of insight from his conversation with Clarisse where there is significant personal growth and change:

"You're one of the few who put up with me. That's why I think it's so strange you're a fireman, it just doesn't seem right for you, somehow." 

He felt his body divide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, a trembling and a not trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other. 

Bradbury demonstrates Montag's struggle to free himself as a result of personal change.  The division that emerges from his reflection with Clarisse is what triggers his eventual movement away from the life he once knew and the government he once followed.

Bradbury emphasizes that such change is not without its own set of resistance. In showing that Montag has significant questions about the path he is about the choose, Bradbury lays the necessary groundwork to show how the struggle to be free from external reality is grounded from within.  Change and resistance are subjective conditions that are within the individual:

The numbness will go away, he thought. It'll take time, but I'll do it, or Faber will do it for me. Someone somewhere will give me back the old face and the old hands the way they were. Even the smile, he thought, the old burnt-in smile, that's gone. I'm lost without it.

The belief that what is being experienced must be tested and fought through is a significant aspect of Montag's growth and sense of change.  Bradbury demonstrates how change within an individual undergoes periods of doubt and questioning in order to clearly become solidified within the subjective as a part of the breaking away process from external reality.  Montag shows this later on in the narrative when he questions what defines happiness: "We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren't happy. Something's missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I'd burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought books might help."  Bradbury shows that change happens and breaking free from external constructions happen when individuals, such as Montag, are able to ask the necessary questions that initiate reflection and growth, the very ingredients for change.

When Montag makes the break, Bradbury demonstrates it in a direct manner: "Montag picked a single small volume from the floor. 'Where do we begin?" He opened the book halfway and peered at it. 'We begin by beginning, I guess." All change starts with the smallest of steps and Bradbury demonstrates that Montag's change is no different.  In order to free himself from the government's power and control, the struggle takes place with small steps and incremental approaches.  It is here in which Montag is able to free himself from external conditions of the good.  The struggle for Montag to be free and the stages he undergoes in order to find this liberation are critical to the meaning of the work. They enhance the themes of freedom and individual agency that lie at the heart of the work.  In order to illuminate them, Bradbury demonstrates that in order for change to happen, it must take place on a subjective plane and then externalized.  

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Fahrenheit 451

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