What human institutions are being criticized in Fahrenheit 451?
The human institutions that are criticized in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 are academic learning (education), marriage, and families (having children). The society in the novel is highly hedonistic because everyone is selfishly out to seek and to experience the next pleasurable thing. People get caught up in distracting activities such as watching TV all day, listening to music, going to Fun Parks, and driving their cars at high speeds without any consideration for people or animals that might get in the way. Because of these popular activities, the populace, over a period of many years, eventually disregarded the value of books because having fun was more important than learning. As a result, quality education declined and was viewed as a waste of time. In fact, Clarisse tells Montag in the first part of the book that her high school teaches only sports, TV, and film all day long.
Next, marriage and having children are criticized when Montag asks Mrs. Phelps about her husband, and when Mrs. Bowles discusses having children. For example, Mrs. Phelps says that she's not worried about her husband going off to war. Apparently, he's not worried about his wife, either, because they both agree not to be sad, hug, or cry when he leaves. Mrs. Phelps elaborates by saying:
"It's our third marriage each and we're independent. Be independent, we always said. He said, if I get killed off, you just go right ahead and don't cry, but get married again, and don't think of me" (95).
As shown above, marriages are tossed away and updated as needed or as desired. People enter into marriage, but each participant really is a separate entity. Even Montag and Mildred sleep on separate twin beds. Marriages don't necessarily mean families, either, because both Mildred and Mrs. Phelps never wanted nor had children. Mrs. Phelps says that "children are ruinous." In contrast, Mrs. Bowles says children are needed to repopulate and they might look like their parents. But she also says the following about having children:
"I plunk the children in school nine days out of ten. I put up with them when they come home three days a month; it's not bad at all. You heave them into the 'parlor' and turn the switch. It's like washing clothes: stuff laundry in and slam the lid" (96).
These women represent their society's way of thinking as a whole, so what they say helps to clarify their lifestyle. All they seem to care about is what is on TV rather than the state and progress of their families.