How does Bradbury create a specific theme in Fahrenheit 451 through structure and language?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a society disconnected from the past and even the present by no recordings of the human experience, the fireman Montag is introduced to the reader in Chapter 1 as a man who wears a smile, not of emotion, but as one who has backed from the heat of a fire, the grimace of all men singed by fire, an expression that never leaves his face. Later, Bradbury writes, "He wore happiness like a mask." After his workday is completed Montag leaves the firehouse and

[H]e walked toward the corner, thinking little at all about nothing in particular.

Clearly, Montag's existence is empty. When he returns to his house, he hears the natural laughter coming from Clarisse's house--Clarisse, the girl who likes to walk at night, gazing at the moon, listening to the world. Soon, Montag discovers that his wife has ingested a dangerous number of sleeping pills. So infused in an environment dominated by technology is Montag that when he first discovers that his wife is near death, he does not scream or send a groan erupting from the depths of his soul, but, instead, allows the noisy jets overhead to do even this for him:

The jet-bombs going over... one and one and one and another and another and another, did all the screaming for him. He opened his own mouth and let their shriek come down and out between his bared teeth.

The cold, unfeeling intrusion and domination of technology in Montag's world is symbolized by the machinery that is brought in by the technicians who arrive to "clean out" the stomach and the blood. Likened to a machine the digs trenches, the "snake-like" device withdraws from Mildred's body the deadly substances as one of the medics casually smokes a cigarette. 

The woman on the bed was no more than a hard stratum of marble they had reached. 

After Mable is returned to life, she displays no recall of what has occurred, nor does she express any deep, human feelings, having been desensitized by the inane programs she watches on the circuit television. She, too, thinks of "little or nothing." And, yet, like Montag she is disquieted by the lack of meaningful thought and experience in her life, but she is unable to communicate even with her husband.


By means of this characterization and atmosphere in which there is no genuine human expression, Ray Bradbury develops his theme of Loneliness and Alienation. A pivotal point in the novel is Montag's witnessing of the woman's decision to die if she cannot have her books. What, he wonders, is in those pages that nourishes a soul so much and develops such a passion in a person that she would sacrifice her life for them. So curious is he that he breaks the law and keeps some books from the fires he sets. Montag soon discovers that books provide what no technology can; for, it can record the yearnings and joys of the human heart in sympathy with other hearts. In his essay on "Self-Reliance," the profound thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us ....

Indeed, there is comfort and real human communication in literature, as well as the recording of the human experience for all to share. And, as Joseph Conrad's "Secret Sharer" remarks, "Meaning depends upon sharing." The alienated Montag, whose own wife has died inside, seeks companionship with those who preserve the great thoughts of others before them. It is with this community of readers that Montag finds meaning in a technologically empty world.

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Fahrenheit 451

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