In Ray Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, how does the novel connect to power: what are the types of power that are present?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, we see power in many ways throughout the story.

First of all, there is the power exercised by the government over the people. They have been controlled in a myriad of ways:

  • they may not read books;
  • they are encouraged to have a "herd's" mentality, doing what others do without having one original thought;
  • they are "plugged in" so as not to deal with reality (the seashell ear-plugs, for example)

The fear that controls everyone is difficult to read about or comprehend. When Montag is escaping, people are told to leave their houses so that they may "spy" for the government and help bring down the dissenter (and murderer) who is on the run. Books are perceived as a source of evil, and with this sense of fear, they are burned.

The firemen also wield an enormous amount of power by burning people's home because there are books inside (overkill, to say the least). The very whisper of possessing books costs a person everything but his life, unless, as with the old woman, that person refuses to leave his/her own books.

Beatty has power. He is sadistic in nature. When he suspects Montag, he torments him mentally, playing "head games" with him; and later when Beatty shows up at his home, he pushes Montag relentlessly to burn down his house; Beatty refuses to back off, even when Montag aims his flamethrower at his boss. Montag wonders later if Beatty wanted to die because he never stopped when Montag's attitude became threatening. Perhaps for Beatty, the control exerted over the people and his part in that was too much.

The people in the community also have power, much the way it was during the Salem witch trials. They are able to turn in their neighbors, and are encouraged to do so. This situation is paradoxical as they seem to wield power, and yet are powerless in so many other ways: watching TV and filling their empty minds with the images projected on the TV screens.

Another form of power is that of ideas. Clarisse is able, in the short time Montag knows her, to inspire him to think of things he has forgotten (like the dew on the grass in the morning), and begin to ask questions of himself and his society. The fact that he already has books hidden in his house indicates that he is not the follower society expects of its members. However, Clarisse's observations of the world make it come alive for him again.

The last kind of power is the self-empowerment that Montag begins to feel when he takes another book, starts thinking of the crazy existence his wife leads, and acts out on his disgust with the women staring at TV screens with no thought to a "real" and meaningful existence. Montag exercises his power for free thought when he kills Beatty and takes off for the woods and the stream. He has chosen to be an outcast of the society of which he has been a part and become a part of a fringe society that is made up of others who have escaped. He still feels responsibility and loss for those killed with the bombs, but he looks forward, also, to being a man with the power to think for himself, and hopefully, rebuild his society.

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Fahrenheit 451

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