What is an example of social commentary in Fahrenheit 451?
Having written Fahrenheit 451 during the early days of television, Ray Bradbury shared some of his attitudes about this new medium with a contemporary CBS newscaster, Edward R. Murrow. One comment that Murrow made as he became concerned with the influence of some television programs echoes Bradbury's anxiety about this new medium:
During the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live.
This desensitizing of people's thoughts and feelings brought about by their increasing attentiveness to technology is of great concern to Bradbury in the narrative of his novel. In the first part of Fahrenheit 451, Mildred's friends speak of their husbands with less affection than they do of their imaginary families on the wall screens. Also, many women feel, as Mrs. Phelps does, that "children are ruinous." Another of Mildred's friends, Mrs. Bowles solves "the problem" of her children:
"I plunk the children in school nine days out of ten. I put up with them when they come home three days a month; it's not bad at all. You heave them into the 'parlor' and turn the switch. It's like washing clothes; stuff laundry in and slam the lid" (pp. 92–93).
With war as a constant in the society of the novel, the women become unconcerned about their husbands. Mrs. Phelps says that she is on her third husband, and they are both "independent." For instance, her husband Pete tells her if he is killed in wartime, she should just remarry: "Just go right ahead and don't cry, but get married again, and don't think of me" (p. 91).
Bradbury therefore offers social commentary on an oppressive society that is technologically driven. Furthermore, it is a society that causes people to become desensitized. The citizens of Bradbury's world also exhibit a reluctance to question the status quo.
The censorship aspect of Fahrenheit 451 is only one facet of Ray Bradbury's intent for the book. His initial idea was to satirize the expansion of television as a news and entertainment source in the 1940s and 1950s. Bradbury, like George Orwell, saw books as a very important source of intellectual and individual thinking, and was dismayed at the relegation of books to schools and libraries in favor of television. In the novel, people have giant TV screens that cover their walls, broadcasting government-approved news and entertainment 24/7; Montag's wife wants to have screens on all four walls of her parlor, so she can be entirely inundated in television. Bradbury's commentary on society has come true to an extent, with the advent of the Internet and cable TV; many people today read books only on rare occasions, getting all their information from digital sources.