In Fahrenheit 451, what does Faber say about freedom of speech and the consequences of losing it?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, Montag meets Faber the first time by chance. The second time, after Montag has stolen books and watched the old woman die in her burning home at 11 N. Elm, he goes to Faber's house. In the second section of the book, "The Sieve and the Sand," Montag has changed. He knows there is some part of books that is central to understanding himself and the world.

Faber talks about the days when books were first endangered, and how he watched and never said a word:

"I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I'm one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out . . . but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself."

With regard to that early point in the banning and subsequent burning of books, Faber calls himself a coward because he ignored the early murmurs of change—the government's desire to control people by controlling (actually, outlawing) their reading, and so controlling how they thought—more specifically, what they thought. 

Later, Faber reports:

". . . when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then."

Unwilling to be the lone voice of dissension, Faber says nothing.

When Faber and Montag met the first time, Faber considered himself one who didn't talk about things, but instead spoke of "the meaning of things"—indicating that there is more involved that just hovering over an idea, but searching for deeper implications. At their second meeting, Faber tells Montag that there are three things necessary to change the world: "quality of information," "leisure to digest it," and "the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two."

We can, then, infer that freedom of speech disappeared when people (such as Faber) allowed books to be burned and knowledge to be controlled by the government. The concern was not for just an idea, but more for the meaning of the idea. Freedom of speech is constructed by facts, time to ponder and absorb those facts and the freedom to act based upon facts and understanding. Without these things, which are found in books (or shared by those who remember), no one will be able to think freely or speak openly.

Freedom of speech, Faber says, is only present when people protect their rights and resist—vocally, perhaps forcibly—any movement to suppress information or control people's thinking. If one watches and says nothing, he (and all like him/her) are guilty of losing the right of free thinking and free speech.

belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Montag meets Faber in the park, and is drawn to him because he believes Faber might be reading. Instead of turning him in, Montag remembers Faber and goes to him for help. Faber is a self-described coward, a man who saw the deterioration of society and the removal of literature and said nothing:

"I'm one of the innocents who could have spoken up... And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the, firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then.
[...]
So few want to be rebels any more. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily."
(Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Google Books)

When freedom of speech is lost, the innocent man is subjected to mob rule. Without the process or the authority to speak on behalf of books and reading, Faber became one of a dying breed: the intellectual without materials. Now, people have lived for so long without the freedom to speak their minds that they are indoctrinated to remain silent; even those who might protest say nothing for fear of being thought deviant. When no single person is willing to stand up, the mob will stay down, and each individual will think that they are only protecting their own lives, but in fact they are protecting exactly the thing they secretly hate: the collectivization of society, and the destruction of the individual.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Montag goes to visit Faber in Part One, Faber makes an important point about the freedom of speech:

I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I'm one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the 'guilty.'

In other words, when Faber realized that the government was introducing censorship and book-burning, he did not exercise his freedom of speech. Instead of standing up for his belief in reading books and education, he said nothing. He simply sat back and allowed the government to continue.

For Faber, this created a big problem, as he explains to Montag:

And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then. Now, it's too late.

So, the consequence of not exercising his freedom of speech was that the government introduced the fireman system and, once this had happened, it was too late. He had forever lost his right to freedom of speech because if he said anything at that point, his home and possessions would be burned.

Faber, therefore, argues that we must exercise our freedom of speech as soon as it is threatened. If we do not, the government could introduce measures that make it impossible to ever speak out again.