In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, what is the significance of the mechanical hound?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ray Bradbury's 1953 science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, the character of the mechanical hound, more than any other character, symbolizes the dehumanizing and totalitarian nature of the society being depicted.  A robotic creature programmed to function without thought or any kind of emotion ["It doesn't think anything we don't want it to think"], the mechanical hound is described early in the novel as follows:

"The mechanical hound slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live in its gently humming, gently vibrating, softly illuminated kennel back in a dark corner of the firehouse.  The dim light of one in the mrning, the moolight from the open sky framed through the great window, touched here and there on the brass and copper and the steel of the faintly trembling beast.  Light flickered on bits of ruby glass and on sensitive capillary hairs in the nylon-brushed nostrils of the creature that quivered gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubber padded paws."

The inhuman, coldly efficient and thoroughly murderous nature of the mechanical hound is emphasized by a cruel game played by the firemen involving the hound's ability to track its prey utilizing its "olfactory system."  As rats are released into the firehouse, the men watch with amusement as the hound performs its function:

"Three seconds later, the game was done, the rat caught half across the areaway, gripped in gentle paws while a four-inch hollow steel needle plunged down from the proboscis of the hound to inject massive jolts of morphine or procaine."

The hound's function, of course, is not to catch rats; it is to detect, track, and, if necessary, kill noncomformists.  It is the ultimate manifestation of mankind's exploitation of technology for the subjugation of the masses.  It symbolizes totalitarianism in its ability to sense noncomformity and to attack it with vicious "cold-blooded" efficiency.