How do snakes in Ray Bradbury's futuristic novel Fahrenheit 451 pertain to technology? Do they symbolically show technology is bad?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When speaking to Clarisse in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Montag is reminded of many aspects of nature that are wonderful.

These include dew on the grass in the morning, and how dandelions under one's chin show if that person is in love or not. Clarisse points to how wonderful the world is when one stops and looks, something that the members of Montag's society have generally ceased to do. In this case, nature is presented in a positive light—something to be valued and recognized within society for the edification of the individual. However, this is not a sentiment supported by society, but it is deemed a crazy and rebellious way of thinking. Anything that alludes to freethinking is discouraged and/or removed. Technology, however, is not subject to freethinking, and is a perfect element within society to project a sense of process without feeling.

Technology in general has a great many negative connotations, and society is not interested in promoting anything dealing with individualism. The TV walls in homes are designed to entertain while feeding the government's propaganda and diverting the attention of the people away from any thirst for knowledge. In this way, the people have become socially sedated and do not ask questions. They do not participate in original thought as do Clarisse, her family and Faber. The seashell earbuds do nothing more that further distract those that use them, feeding the users with lies and nonsense while they lay awake in a zombie-like state each night. The Mechanical Hound is used to attack those who question the norms of this self-destructive society. When the Hound attacks, it injects the victim with a drug that brings on paralysis. Even before Montag takes any overt steps against society, he is fearful of the Mechanical Hound—a machine that seems unnaturally aggressive toward him.

The snake in the story is another form of technology, something Montag becomes familiar with when Mildred overdoses on sleeping pills. The imagery of the snake presented is not of a harmless garter or corn snake, but something lethal:

They had this machine. They had two machines, really. One of them slid down into your stomach like a black cobra down an echoing well looking for all the old water and the old time gathered there... It fed in silence with an occasional sound of inner suffocation and blind searching. It had an Eye. 

The "snake" machine removes the toxicity of the pills from Mildred's stomach. But it is also symbolic of the depersonalization that society has inflicted upon its members. It is not designed with compassion in mind, but with blind purpose—compared to digging a trench:

The entire operation was not unlike the digging of a trench in one's yard. The woman on the bed was no more than a hard stratum of marble they had reached. Go on anyway, shove the bore down, slush up the emptiness, if such a thing could be brought out in the throb of the suction snake.

The emptiness is what is left after society removes one's will to learn, ask questions and understand one's life and purpose in the world.

The operator of the machine stands smoking as the snake does its work. He is without kindness, concern or sympathy. For him, it is like operating a forklift or bulldozer. He notes that without removing the poisons, the brain would die...

Leave that stuff in the blood and the blood hits the brain like a mallet, and bang, a couple thousand times and the brain just gives up, quits!

This callous and pragmatic summation of Mildred's condition disgusts Montag. He can barely stand the presence of the men and the mechanical snake. He is anxious for them to leave—which happens almost immediately because they have had another report of an overdose to which they must attend. It is not a medical procedure for them requiring the oversight of a doctor, they explain. It happens too often to be handled in any other way. The operator reports that there are nine or ten similar situations occurring every night. This clearly indicates that society has a serious problem on its hands, but simply sends out the snake to fix things.

The image of a black cobra is effective in the description of the snake-like machine with an "Eye." Methodically, like society, it sees on a superficial and dismissive level; the entire procedure ignores the humanity before it and deals only with resuscitating body—not the soul. Nothing and no one is concerned for the mental or emotional health of the members of this society. 

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Fahrenheit 451

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