What are the dystopian elements in the book Fahrenheit 541 by Ray Bradbury?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Some dystopian elements include surveillance, control of ideas, and overconsumption of entertainment.

A dystopia is a society where the community and citizens are tightly controlled in an effort to create a perfect world.  It is a version of the word “utopia,” which means “perfect world,” but it means “not perfect.”

Not all dystopias are alike, but they have many elements in common.  One element that almost all dystopias have is some kind of surveillance.  In other words, the people are being watched.  In this case, they are spying on each other and they are being spied on by the mechanical hound.

The mechanical hound is used to catch people who have broken the society’s laws, especially those against having books.  Montag is especially disturbed by it when he thinks it is suspicious of him. Beatty tells him it doesn’t think anything they don’t tell it to think.

"That's sad," said Montag, quietly, "because all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that's all it can ever know."'

Beatty snorted, gently. "Hell! It's a fine bit of craftsmanship, a good rifle that can fetch its own target and guarantees the bull's-eye every time." (Part I)

The hound is very, very good and hunting down, immobilizing, and killing its prey.  It is a perfect example of a dystopian society’s killing machine.  It’s neither alive nor not alive, and designed to bring out fear as well as do its job.

As we also know, the surveillance state works because people spy on each other.  Reports come in from people who spy on their neighbors and let the fireman know who has books.  This is another feature common in dystopias—societies where the citizenry is so afraid and dysfunctional that people spy on each other.  In fact, the person who reports on Montag is his own wife.

"Mildred! "

She ran past with her body stiff, her face floured with powder, her mouth gone, without lipstick.

"Mildred, you didn't put in the alarm!" (Part III)

What is she concerned about, as she runs past her husband, shocked at her betrayal?  She is only worried about the TV family, which isn’t even real.  This is a clear case of a society that has broken down, when wives report on husbands without thinking about the consequences.

Another common feature in a dystopia is control of communication, especially dissemination of literature and ideas.  Books are illegal, of course.  Apparently this was something that slowly happened, but there is nothing minor about it now.  If you are caught with a book they will burn your house down and arrest you.  I mentioned the artificial hound.

Montag never questions his job or the burning of books until Clarisse asks him.

"Do you ever read any of the books you bum?"

He laughed. "That's against the law!"

"Oh. Of course."

"It's fine work. Monday bum Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes, then bum the ashes. That's our official slogan." (Part I)

Beatty tells him that society has always been against books, and the first fireman was Benjamin Franklin.  This is another thing that dystopian societies always do: rewrite history to suit their purposes and control their citizens.

Finally, overconsumption of entertainment is a major aspect of most dystopian societies.  If you keep people entertained, they will not realize what is really going on.  This is why they have huge TV screens in all of their houses.  This is what the "families" are about.  Notice that Mildred was more concerned about the TV family than her husband?  

Well, wasn't there a wall between him and Mildred, when you came down to it?  Literally not just one, wall but, so far, three! And expensive, too! And the uncles, the aunts, the cousins, the nieces, the nephews, that lived in those walls ... that said nothing, nothing, nothing and said it loud, loud, loud. (Part I)

Keep people entertained with mindless entertainment, and they don’t question reality.  They will not have time to think.  Clarisse mentions this too.  People actually get arrested for slowing down.  

Dystopia is a popular genre all its own now.  Many people look at our world and think that they do not like what they see.  The dystopian genre allows authors to point out aspects of our own world that are not right, and do it vividly.  In these broken worlds, we see images of ourselves.

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