In Fahrenheit 451, how is the individual controlled and marginalized by society?

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While Bradbury doesn't go into the details, it seems clear this society is controlled by a small ruling cartel that has decided what is best for everyone. A guiding principle of this society is that too much thinking leads to unhappiness. As Beatty, who mouths the orthodox ruling class opinions...

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While Bradbury doesn't go into the details, it seems clear this society is controlled by a small ruling cartel that has decided what is best for everyone. A guiding principle of this society is that too much thinking leads to unhappiness. As Beatty, who mouths the orthodox ruling class opinions in the novel states:

Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won't be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I've tried it; to hell with it. So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your dare-devils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex . . .

Control comes from discouraging any critical thought or genuine mental exercise. People are all supposed to act like everyone else and enjoy the activities that society dictates are enjoyable. People like Clarisse, who prefer conversations, observing nature, and taking walks rather than watching the TV walls, are considered social deviants. Social non-conformity, rather than being seen as healthy, is stomped out as far as possible. Reading, of course, is illegal.

While mindless amusements are supposed to keep people happy, we see that, in fact, such a life leads to misery. Mildred tries to kill herself, and Montag wakes up from a stupor of dull unhappiness when he meets Clarisse and realizes how vacant his life has become.

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Individuals are controlled and marginalized in Montag's dystopian society by violent, hostile institutions like the fireman agency, and individual expression is censored by oppressive regulations like the law that makes literature illegal to own or produce. Intellectual thoughts are censored in Montag's dystopian society, and the pursuit of knowledge is considered an illegal activity. Captain Beatty explains to Montag that literature and other intellectual and academic pursuits are banned in order to create a stable, uniform society.

In addition to the oppressive laws restricting free speech and the pursuit of knowledge, the public's perspective, emotions, and thoughts are controlled by the media, which relies on the massive parlor walls to provide constant, mindless entertainment. Citizens are essentially forced to remain indoors and watch their interactive television screens or participate in violent sports instead of enjoying nature or engaging in insightful, constructive activities. Spending leisure time in the park or simply having a meaningful conversation with a person are also considered illicit activities. Clarisse even mentions to Montag that her uncle was arrested for being a pedestrian. Individuality is discouraged, and the people who do not conform to society are unjustly labeled or arrested. Overall, individuals are prohibited to own books, engage in intellectual pursuits, or behave in a way that does not conform to society's low standards.

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Individualism is all-but erased by society in Fahrenheit 451. Everyone has the same television programming, and they all watch it at the same times each day. Everyone has the same opinions on life, because they received their opinions from the government-authorized television sources. When Beatty explains the history of book-banning to Montag, he uses this metaphor:

"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war."
(Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Google Books)

By removing the concept of personal choice from society, the individual becomes simply a part of a larger whole. Books are symbols for individualism, because each book acts as a unique creation of the person who wrote it; by eliminating books, the government can control both the spread of information and the use of ideas by the populace. The last thing they want is people thinking for themselves and realizing how trivial their lives truly are.

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