What are two ways in which the freedom of speech is subdued in Fahrenheit 451?

Expert Answers
tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Guy Montag is a fireman whose job it is to burn people's homes, along with their books, if they are reported. This is the first way that freedom of speech is subdued in his world—through the deadly threat of fire. Books teach people to think critically in diverse ways. They also prompt people to want to talk about what they learn in books. The government doesn't want people talking about what they learn because it sparks debate and fuels irritation, annoyance and fighting. Reading leads to thinking and thinking leads to speaking, so reading books is outlawed because the society does not want free thinkers or speakers. Since it is common knowledge that owning books is a criminal offense, anyone can report anyone else if they even suspect someone has books in his or her home. There is no trial or system of justice involved in this process, either. Anyone who calls out another person is taken for their word. The firemen are then summoned, and they burn the offender's home. The threat of everyone watching everyone else helps to control the population's behavior with regards to this matter.

Another way that freedom of speech is subdued is by distraction and hedonism. For example, TVs, radios, and fast cars are the most popular ways for people to waste their time thinking they are happy and ignoring the oppressive world around them. There are some books allowed in society, such as comic books and insignificant entertainment, but none of these things have a higher purpose other than to distract by way of entertainment. Even the TV shows have no deep discussions about social, legal, or behavioral issues about which one might feel inclined to speak out. The society and government feed people shallow stories and songs that do not incite anyone to think or speak differently than they do already. The social culture revolves around seeking pleasure at all times, which they believe brings happiness. Captain Beatty elaborates:

"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. . . Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking" (61).

If the government can distract people with insignificant information, they will be happy and believe that they are thinking along the lines of everyone else. As a result, no one will speak out against the government. If anyone seems to say anything different from the status quo, though (such as by reciting poetry) they could be reported and their homes burned down. This is why Faber fears Montag during their first meeting in the park. Faber spouts poetry for an hour while Montag listens. That kind of thing could get Faber arrested because he obviously found those poems in books. For him to share poetry through speech is just as bad as reading it.

Read the study guide:
Fahrenheit 451

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question