What is an example of verbal irony in Fahrenheit 451?
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One example of verbal irony is Mildred's continual reference to the actors performing on the TV walls as her "Family". In reality, Mildred neglects her true family (Montag), and even attempts to commit suicide. However, when Montag confronts her about these intentions, she denies it, unable to consider in what way she might be unhappy. But during the day, she constantly harps on Montag about buying a 4th TV wall, claiming that 3 isn't enough. She sits in her house all day (there's no reference to her ever working, but she's perfectly happy to spend Montag's money), watching the actors play out a meaningless, inane soap opera. At one point, Montag asks her to explain why everyone is so angry, but she can't even follow the storyline. Instead, she purchases an upgrade, which allows her name to be inserted into the conversation: like "her family" is actually speaking to her.
So she finds superficial, meaningless happiness in her material possessions, while drifting further and further away from Montag and the possibility of actual contentment.
To be clear, verbal irony can present itself in several ways. It often occurs when someone intentionally makes a statement that is the opposite of the truth or what they feel, which usually has a sarcastic tone. Sometimes, however, the person doesn’t realize the untruth of their statement, which adds a layer of dramatic irony, since the listeners get it. Bradbury uses both types of verbal irony in Fahrenheit 451.
In part one, “The Hearth and the Salamander,” Montag becomes physically ill in response to the woman choosing to be burned alive with her books rather than live without them. Beatty gives Montag a pep talk about how important it is to keep people happy by preventing them from thinking. This, of course, is ironic. Yet Montag is unconvinced, so when the captain leaves, he turns to his wife for support, trying to explain to her how unhappy he is. He doesn’t yet understand why, but he feels that their lives are missing something, and he is angry about it. Mildred tells him to take the beetle because “you feel wonderful” when you run over rabbits and dogs with it. This is also ironic, that one must kill another creature in order to feel better. On top of this, she’s really not listening to her husband or what he needs; she’s talking about herself, which is a large part of Montag’s misery—their disconnectedness.
Montag insists that he doesn’t want to get over this feeling; he wants to figure out what’s wrong, even if it means reading books for answers. He tells Mildred that Beatty is right, happiness is important, “And yet...I’m not happy, I’m not happy.” At this point a loving wife would say something supportive to her husband. Mildred’s response is, “I’m tired of listening to this junk,” and she turns back to listen to the announcer on her T.V. walls. The irony of this is lost on her. She doesn’t have a clue what the real junk is that she chooses to listen to all day long. But of course we do, and Montag has begun to realize the meaninglessness of their way of life.
We see this several pages later when he tells Faber sarcastically, “Christ is one of the 'family' now. I wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down?” They use Christ to sell “commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.” At this point, Bradbury has moved beyond simple verbal irony to present satire on how disconnected this future society has become, a prophesy that we certainly see unfolding in our world today.
There are quite a few examples of verbal irony in this book. Fahrenheit 451 is a wonderful book about just how out of control some people really are. The symbolism and ironies in the book are scary to think about.
At the very beginning of the book, we meet Guy Montag, and he is a fireman. What is such a verbal irony here, is that in the past fireman were always there to put out fires and keep us safe, now in this future, they are the ones starting the fires and destroying everything. They are not there to keep us safe anymore. They are there to make sure the people don't have any books and think for themselves.
The next verbal irony is after Montag starts a fire and he sees Clarise on the street and she asks him if he is happy. He thinks to himself, as he walks off, that of course he is happy. Why wouldn't he be happy?
"He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself like a tallow skin, lie the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs. He wore his happiness like a mask."
This is where we see the change begin to happen. Montag is now ready to think for himself and find out what true happiness really is.
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