Everett T. Moore (review date May 1961)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1028
SOURCE: "A Rationale for Bookburners: A Further Word From Ray Bradbury," in ALA Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 5, May, 1961, pp. 403-4.
[In the following review, Moore presents commentary on the themes of conformity and censorship in Fahrenheit 451.]
"'The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!'"
It is Captain Beatty speaking, explaining meticulously how it got started—this job of the firemen of the future, in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It is the story of the firemen who answer alarms not to put out fires, but to start them.
"Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.'"
In Fahrenheit 451, first published in 1953, Bradbury's imagined future was one that seemed to have come about almost painlessly. If there had been those who resisted the soothing tide of conformity most of them were now comfortably out of the way. "'We're the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others,' says Beatty. 'We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dike. Hold steady. Don't let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world.'"
"'You always dread the unfamiliar,' Beatty explained. 'Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally "bright," did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won't stomach them for a minute.'"
We recently asked Mr. Bradbury if the future of civilization would look any less bleak to him if he were writing his book today. His answer was as follows:
"When I wrote my novel Fahrenheit 451 during the years from 1949 to 1953, we were living at the heart of what is known now as the McCarthy era. We were very close to panic and wholesale bookburning. I never believed we would go all out and destroy ourselves in this fashion. I have always believed in the power of our American society to rectify error without having to resort to destruction. Sometimes it takes a long time to swing the pendulum back in the direction of sanity. But the pendulum did swing. McCarthy is dead, and the era that carried his name buried with him.
"Still," Mr. Bradbury added, "I feel that what I had to say in Fahrenheit 451 is valid today and will continue to be valid here and in other countries in other years."
Mr. Bradbury referred to a scene in Fahrenheit 451 which epitomizes the attitude of the bookburners. It is the one from which we have already quoted, in which his fireman hero, Guy Montag, suddenly realizing that for years he had been destroying the mind of his community, pleads illness and does not report for work. The fire chief, Beatty, comes to visit Montag, and, says Mr. Bradbury, "to talk him back to 'health'" with the following rationale:
"'When did it all start, you ask, this job of ours, how did it come about, where, when? Well, I'd say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War. Even though our rule book claims it was founded earlier. The fact is we didn't get along well until photography came into its own. Then—motion pictures in the early Twentieth Century. Radio. Television. Things began to havemass.
"'And because they had mass, they became simpler,' said Beatty. 'Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste-pudding norm, do you follow me?'
'I think so.'
'Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the Twentieth Century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.
"Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten-or twelve-line dictionary résumé. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumor of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors. Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.'"
Mr. Bradbury adds, in passing, that the Russians, thinking he had written an exclusive criticism of McCarthyism in the U.S.A., pirated Fahrenheit 451 a few years ago. Published and sold in an edition of some 500,000 copies, the authorities suddenly discovered he meant tyranny over the mind at any time or place.
"In sum," he says: "Russia, too. The novel has now gone underground, I hear. Which makes me, I gather, the clean Henry Miller of the Soviets."
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1690
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
American short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, poet, dramatist, nonfiction writer, editor, and children's writer.
The following entry presents criticism on Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953). See also Ray Bradbury Short Story Criticism, Ray Bradbury Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 10, 15.
Among Bradbury's most influential and widely read works, Fahrenheit 451 (1953) describes the impact of censorship and forced conformity on a group of people living in a future society where books are forbidden and burned. (The title refers to the temperature at which book paper catches fire.) The novel was written during the era of McCarthyism, a time when many Americans were maliciously—and often falsely—accused of attempting to subvert the United States government. This was also the period of the Cold War and the moment when television emerged as the dominant medium of mass communication. Within this context, Fahrenheit 451 addresses the leveling effect of consumerism and reductionism, focusing on how creativity and human individuality are crushed by the advertising industry and by political ideals. Traditionally classified as a work of science fiction, Fahrenheit 451 showcases Bradbury's distinctive poetic style and preoccupation with human subjects over visionary technology and alien worlds, thereby challenging the boundaries of the science fiction genre itself. The social commentary of Fahrenheit 451, alternately anti-utopian, satirical, and optimistic, transcends simple universal statements about government or world destiny to underscore the value of human imagination and cultural heritage.
Plot and Major Characters
Fahrenheit 451, a revision and expansion of Bradbury's 56-page novella "The Fireman," consists of a series of events and dialogue divided into three parts. Together the story traces the emotional and spiritual development of Guy Montag, a twenty-fourth century "fireman" who, unlike his distant predecessors, is employed to start fires rather than extinguish them. Under government mandate to seek out and eradicate all books—in Montag's world, book ownership is a crime punishable by death—Montag and his colleagues answer emergency calls to burn the homes of people found to be in possession of books. The first and longest part of the novel, "The Hearth and the Salamander," opens with Montag happily fueling a blaze of burning books. This event is followed by a period of gradual disillusionment for Montag and then by Montag's abrupt renunciation of his profession. Montag's surprising reversal is induced by several events, including his chance meeting and interludes with Clarisse McClellan, a teenage girl whose childlike wonderment initiates his own self-awareness; the bizarre attempted suicide of his wife Mildred and Montag's reflections upon their sterile relationship; and Montag's participation in the shocking immolation of a woman who refuses to part with her books. During this last episode, Montag instinctively rescues a book from the flames and takes it home, adding it to his secret accumulation of other pilfered volumes. The strain of his awakening conscience, exacerbated by Mildred's ambivalence and by news of Clarisse's violent death, drives Montag into a state of despair. When he fails to report to work, Captain Beatty, the fire chief, becomes suspicious and unexpectedly visits Montag at home to offer circumspect empathy and an impassioned defense of the book burners' mission. Beatty's monologue establishes that the firemen were founded in 1790 by Benjamin Franklin to destroy Anglophilic texts. Beatty also claims that book censorship reflects public demand and the naturally occurring obsolescence of the printed word, which has been supplanted by the superior entertainment of multimedia technology. The scene closes with Beatty's exit and Montag among his books, professing his intent to become a reader. The second and shortest part of the novel, "The Sieve and the Sand," continues Montag's progressive rebelliousness and ends in his inevitable discovery. After an afternoon of reading with Mildred, who quickly becomes agitated and returns to the diversion of her television "family," Montag contacts Faber, a retired English professor he once encountered in a public park. At Faber's apartment Montag produces a stolen Bible. Faber then equips Montag with an electronic ear transmitter to maintain secret communication between them. Invigorated by Faber's complicity, Montag returns home and rashly attempts to reform Mildred and her two friends, Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles, as they sit mesmerized by images in the television parlor. His patronizing effort at conversation, along with his recitation of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," drive the women out of the house and leave Montag in open defiance of the state. Montag retreats to the firehouse, where he is greeted coolly and goaded by Beatty with literary quotations alluding to Montag's futile interest in books and learning. The scene ends with a minor climax when Beatty, Montag, and the firemen respond to an alarm that leads directly to Montag's own house. The third and final part of the work, "Burning Bright," completes Montag's break from society and begins his existence as a fugitive, enlightened book lover. When the fire squad arrives at his home, Montag obediently incinerates the house and then turns his flamethrower on Beatty to protect Faber, whose identity is jeopardized when Beatty knocks the transmitter from Montag's ear and confiscates it. As he prepares to flee, Montag also destroys the Mechanical Hound, a robotic book detector and assassin whose persistence and infallibility represent the terrifying fusion of bloodhound and computer. Following a dramatic chase witnessed by a live television audience, Montag evades a second Mechanical Hound and floats down a nearby river, safely away from the city. He emerges from the water in an arcadian forest, where he encounters a small band of renegade literati who, having watched Montag's escape on a portable television, welcome him among their ranks. Through conversation with Granger, the apparent spokesperson for the book people, Montag learns of their heroic endeavor to memorize select works of literature for an uncertain posterity. Safe in their wilderness refuge, Montag and the book people then observe the outbreak of war and the subsequent obliteration of the city. The novel concludes with Granger's sanguine meditation on the mythological Phoenix and a quotation from Book of Ecclesiastes.
Fahrenheit 451 reflects Bradbury's lifelong love of books and his defense of the imagination against the menace of technology and government manipulation. Fire is the omnipresent image through which Bradbury frames the dominant themes of degradation, metamorphosis, and rebirth. As a destructive agent, fire is employed by the state to annihilate the written word. Fire is also used as a tool of murder when turned on the book woman and on Beatty, and fire imagery is inherent in the flash of exploding bombs that level civilization in the final holocaust. The healing and regenerative qualities of fire are expressed in the warming fire of the book people, a startling realization for Montag when he approaches their camp, and in Granger's reference to the Phoenix, whose resurrection signifies the cyclical nature of human life and civilization. Through Beatty, Bradbury also posits the unique cleansing property of the flames—"fire is bright and fire is clean"—a paradoxical statement that suggests the simultaneous beauty and horror of fire as an instrument of purification. Montag's irresistible urge to read and his reaction to the desecration of the physical text establish the book as the central symbol of human achievement and perseverance. Thus literature, rather than Montag, can be said to represent the true hero of the novel. However, Bradbury contrasts the sanctity of the printed word with the equal vitality of oral tradition, particularly as cultivated by the book people but also as anticipated by Faber's earlier intent to read to Montag via the ear transmitter. Throughout Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury expresses a pronounced distrust for technology. The various machines in the novel are depicted as chilling, impersonal gadgets of mechanized anti-culture or state control—namely the ubiquitous thimble radios and television walls, the invasive stomach pumper that revives Mildred, roaring warplanes, and the Mechanical Hound. Considered in its historical context, the novel is both a reflection of mainstream American fears in the 1950s—mainly of the Cold War and the threat of communist world domination—and Bradbury's satire of this same society. Taking aim at the negative power of McCarthy-era anti-intellectualism, a superficial consumer culture, and the perceived erosion of democratic ideals, Bradbury assumes cloaked objectivity in the novel to project the fragile future of the American Dream. Written less than a decade after the end of the Second World War, the specter of book burning and thought control also recall the recent reality of Adolf Hitler's fascist regime. At its most dystopian, Fahrenheit 451 evokes an intense atmosphere of entrapment, evidenced in Montag's alienation, Mildred's dependency on drugs and television, Faber's reclusion and impotency, and Clarisse's inability to survive. Bradbury's prophetic vision, however, ultimately evinces confidence in the redemptive capacity of mankind, displayed by the survival of the book people and the miraculous inner transformation of Montag.
While Fahrenheit 451 is considered one of Bradbury's most effective prose works, the novel has been faulted for its sentimental evocation of culture and "highbrow" literary aspirations. Bradbury's justification of intellectual pursuit as a virtuous and humane ideal, with reading portrayed as a heroic act in itself, has been labelled romantic and elitist. Since Bradbury does not refute Captain Beatty's version of the firemen's history or his convoluted rationale for censorship, critics have claimed that the novel has the effect of positioning intellectuals against the masses, rather than the individual against the state. The totalitarian state is thereby implicitly exonerated by blaming the masses for the book's decline, while intellectuals in the form of the book people are entrusted with saving and repopulating the world. Thus it has been suggested that Bradbury's defense of humanity expresses little faith in the masses. In addition, many of the novel's high-culture allusions are considered too esoteric for the general reader, as with a reference to "Master Ridley," an obscure sixteenth-century martyr, or overly simplistic, as exemplified by Granger's involved exposition of the Phoenix myth. The shifting dystopian-utopian structure of Fahrenheit 451, drawing frequent comparison to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), remains the subject of critical attention as the source of both inconsistency and subtlety in the novel. Praised for its engaging narrative, concise presentation, and pounding intensity, Fahrenheit 451 embodies Bradbury's effective blending of popular science fiction and serious literature.
Peter Sisario (essay date February 1970)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3023
SOURCE: "A Study of the Allusions in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451," in English Journal, Vol. 59, No. 2, February, 1970, pp. 201-5, 212.
[In the following essay, Sisario examines the source and significance of literary allusions in Fahrenheit 451 and considers their didactic potential for the beginning student of literature.]
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is more than just a readable and teachable short novel that generates much classroom discussion about the dangers of a mass culture, as Charles Hamblen points out in his article "Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 in the Classroom." It is an excellent source for showing students the value of studying an author's use of specific allusions in a work of fiction. While writing excellent social criticism, Bradbury uses several directquotations from works of literature, including the Bible; a careful analysis of the patterning of these allusions shows their function of adding subtle depth to the ideas of the novel.
Fahrenheit 451 is set five centuries from now in an anti-intellectual world where firemen serve the reverse role of setting fires, in this case to books that people have been illegally hoarding and reading. Literature is banned because it might potentially incite people to think or to question the status quo of happiness and freedom from worry through the elimination of controversy. "Intellectual" entertainment is provided by tapioca-bland television that broadcasts sentimental mush on all four walls. The novel, first written in a shorter version for a science-fiction magazine in 1950 and published as a novel three years later, concerns itself with one fireman, Guy Montag, who commits the heresy of questioning his role and seeks to learn why books are considered dangerous.
If we take this imaginary world of the twenty-fourth century as a commentary of our contemporary society, we can interpret the novel on one level as the often-heard argument that mass media, as evidenced by television and popular magazines, are reducing our society to very mediocre tastes. The mass media must keep watering down the intellectual level of its material as it attempts to reach an increasingly larger and intellectually diversified audience. Bradbury takes this problem to an extreme to show the potential effects of such a course on our culture. Television spans four walls, soap operas and sentimentality abound, and books, the carriers of ideas, are burned.
But if we look more closely at the novel, noting specifically the literary and Biblical allusions, we see a deeper message in the novel than simply the warning that our society is headed for intellectual stagnation. The literary allusions are used to underscore the emptiness of the twenty-fourth century, and the Biblical allusions point subtly toward a solution to help us out of our intellectual "Dark Age." Bradbury seems to be saying that the nature of life is cyclical and we are currently at the bottom of an intellectual cycle. We must have faith and blindly hope for an upward swing of the cycle. This concept of the natural cycle is most explicitly stated by Bradbury through the character of Granger:
And when the war's over, some day, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know, and we'll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole thing over again.
The major metaphor in the novel, which supports the idea of the natural cycle, is the allusion to the Phoenix, the mythical bird of ancient Egypt that periodically burned itself to death and resurrected from its own ashes to a restored youth. Through the persona of Granger, Bradbury expresses the hope that mankind might use his intellect and his knowledge of his own intellectual andphysical destruction to keep from going through endless cycles of disintegration and rebirth.
This image of the Phoenix is used in the novel in association with the minor character Captain Beatty, Montag's superior. As an officer, Beatty has knowledge of what civilization was like before the contemporary society of the novel. In an attempt to satisfy Guy's curiosity and hopefully to quell any further questioning, Beatty relates to Guy how the twentieth century began to decline intellectually, slowly reaching the point in future centuries of banning books, schools stopped teaching students to think or to question and crammed them with factual data in lieu of an education. Psychological hedonism became the most positive virtue; all questioners and thinkers were eliminated. It is crucial that Beatty wears the sign of the Phoenix on his hat and rides in a "Phoenix car." He has great knowledge of the past yet ironically and tragically does not know how to use his knowledge, treating it only as historical curiosity. He is interested only in keeping that status quo of uninterrupted happiness and freedom from worry. He imparts his knowledge only to firemen who are going through the inevitable questioning he feels all firemen experience. He tells Guy that fiction only depicts an imaginary world, and all great ideas are controversial and debatable; books then are too indefinite. Appropriately, Beatty is burned to death, and his death by fire symbolically illustrates the rebirth that is associated with his Phoenix sign. When Guy kills Beatty, he is forced to run off and joins Granger; this action is for Guy a rebirth to a new intellectual life.
Bradbury employs several specific literary quotations to illustrate the shallowness of Guy's world. By using references to literature, Bradbury carries through a basic irony in the book: he is using books to underscore his ideas about a world in which great books themselves have been banned.
After Beatty has given Guy a capsule history of how the world reached the anti-intellectual depths of the twenty-fourth century, Guy goes to a book he has concealed but has not yet had the courage to read. He reads several pages; then Bradbury has him quote the following passage:
It is computed, that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end.
The quotation is from the first book of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, "A Voyage to Lilliput." At the point of the quotation Gulliver has learned of a long-standing feud in Lilliput, between those who have traditionally broken their eggs at the larger end, and the edict of the King, ordering all subjects to break their eggs at the smaller end because a member of the royal family had once cut his finger breaking the larger end. The struggle between being reasonable and being saddled to tradition even to the point of ridiculous suicide is perhaps what Bradbury is after here. The twenty-fourth century is just as saddled to the status quo, and Bradbury has been careful to point out the dangers of intellectual deadness. The example from Lilliput is an excellent one for him to choose, since it represents an absurd situation taken to a gross exaggeration, a basic device of satire.
As Guy and his wife read on, a quotation is taken directly from Boswell's Life of Johnson:
We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.
Guy makes the point that this quote brings to his mind the girl next door, Clarisse McClellan, who was labelled a "time bomb" by Beatty because she was a sensitive, observant person who questioned society, and was consequently eliminated by the government. Montag made an emotional attachment to Clarisse, an attachment that was sincere and true in a world hostile to honesty. It was his relationship with Clarisse that was for Guy the first "drop"; she started his questioning of the status quo, and subsequent events after her death made Guy think and question more and more seriously, until he completely breaks away from his diseased society at the end of the novel.
Guy continues to read, and quotes again from Boswell, this time from a letter to Temple in 1763: "That favourite subject, Myself." Curiously enough, Guy's wife Mildred, who has not received any inspiration from this secret reading session, says that she understands this particular quote. Her statement is juxtaposed against Guy's saying that Clarisse's favorite subject wasn't herself, but others. He realizes the truth of the statements he has been reading from authors who wrote hundreds of years ago; his wife can only understand the literal level of one statement, the one reflecting the self-interest of her society.
The only other direct quote Bradbury employs from literature comes in the second part of the book, and serves to underscore the emptiness of the world that the three preceding quotes have shown. After Guy returns from having visited Faber, he talks with his wife and two of her friends. The conversation of the women reflects the shallowness of the women's thinking, since they are the products of this empty culture. Their discussion of politics, for example, has to do with voting for a candidate for president because he was better looking than his opponent. Guy has a book of poetry with him, and Mildred's visitors are shocked that he has a book. In a scene reminiscent of the banquet in Macbeth, Guy's wife attempts to cover for him by telling the women that firemen are allowed to bring books home occasionally to show their families how silly books are. Guy reads from Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"; the last two stanzas are quoted, and the last one is particularly apt, since it shows two lovers looking at what appears to be a happy world, but recognizing the essential emptiness that exists:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here, as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle And flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Guy's world, too, rests on happiness, a happiness of psychological comfort and freedom from controversy, but Guy is finding that beneath the exterior is a vast emptiness, a "darkling plain."
Thus far, we have seen how Bradbury has used several allusions to literature to describe the situation of the contemporary world of the novel. It might be wise at this point to note an historical reference made, one that serves to underscore some basic ideas in the book.
Early in the book, when Guy is first beginning to undergo doubts, he and his squad are called to the home of a woman discovered owning books. The woman refuses to leave her home, choosing to die in the flames with her books. On the way back to the firehouse, Guy, shaken by the experience, mentions to Beatty the last words of the woman, "Master Ridley." Beatty—and note again that he has the knowledge—tells Guy that the woman was referring to Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London in the sixteenth century, who was arrested as a heretic because he allowed dissenters to speak freely. He was burned at the stake with fellow heretic Hugh Latimer, who spoke the words to Ridley that the woman in the novel alludes to as her last words: "We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." These words recall the Phoenix idea of rebirth by fire, since the woman's death proves to be an important factor in Guy's decision to investigate books. The words are ironic in the sense that the intellectual candle in Montag's world is burning rather dimly at the time, but the words are at the same time a fine statement of the indestructibility of questioners and thinkers in any society.
There are four specific Biblical allusions in the novel, and an examination of them shows that they both support the idea of the natural cycle and contribute to Bradbury's solution to helping us out of, or rather avoiding, the type of world pictured by the literary allusions. This solution would be the natural philosophical outlook that would be held by those who believe in a natural cycle to life and are in the midst of the bottom of a cycle: one must wait and have faith, since things will eventually improve.
Two of the Biblical allusions that support the idea of a philosophical faith in the renewal of cycles are the references to the Lilies of the Field (Matthew 6:28) and to the Book of Job. Saint Matthew's parable of the Lilies illustrates that God takes care of all things and we need not worry; the Lilies don't work or worry, yet God provides for them. This submission to faith, this feeling that God will provide all in due course is also affirmed by the reference to the Book of Job, one of the strongest statements of faith in the face of adversity in Western culture. Both of these references come at significant points in the novel. The allusion to the Lilies of the Field comes as Guy is on his way to see Professor Faber. The Lilies are juxtaposed in zeugma-like style with Denham's Dentifrice, an advertisement Guy sees on the subway train. Both flash through his head and form an excellent contrast: the faith and submission of the Lilies and the artificiality and concern with facades of the contemporary advertisement jingle. After his clandestine meeting with Faber, at which the professor agrees to help Guy learn about books and plan for the future, Guy gets a message from Faber through the small earplug he wears to keep in contact with the teacher. The message simply says, "The Book of Job," in a sense reminding Guy that he must have faith, for the going will be rough on his new venture.
The two other Biblical allusions come at the end of the novel, when Guy has joined Granger and his colleagues. This group of men memorizes great works of our culture as a means of preserving ideas until literature is once again permitted. Guy is assigned to read and memorize the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Old Testament book that asserts the need to submit to the natural order of things. The only direct quotation from Ecclesiastes comes from Chapter Three, the well-known chapter that echoes the natural cycle idea in its opening line, "To everything there is a season …" The line comes to Guy as the men trudge along in Canterbury-like procession away from the destroyed city, each man being required to recite aloud from his assigned work in order to bolster their spirit and comradeship. Guy thinks first of some phrases from Ecclesiastes, appropriately enough, "A time to break down, and a time to build up," and "A time to keep silence and a time to speak." Another quote then comes to Guy, this one from the Book of Revelations, which Guy had told Granger he partially remembered:
And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bore twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of nations (22:2).
This last book of the New Testament, also known as the Book of the Apocalypse, tells us that a victory of God is certain, but that much struggle must come first; we must have faith and endure before we can enjoy the fruits of victory. The lines Bradbury has Guy recall not only reinforce the idea of a cyclical world, but also give us a key to Bradbury's hope that "the healing of nations" canbest come about through a rebirth of man's intellect. We must use our minds to halt the endless cycles of destruction by warfare and rebirth to a world of uneasy peace and intellectual death. The twelve tribes of Israel wandering in the desert seeking a new nation can be recalled here as Montag, Granger, and the others wander away from the city with hope that their new world will soon be established.
The literary and Biblical references cited form a pattern at first describing the intellectual "darkling plain" of the twenty-fourth century and then of future hope and guarded optimism through passively waiting. There are countless references to the names of great books and writers, all of whom were noted for major ideas. The many specific lines quoted on pages 94-97 constitute a special case worth noting, since Bradbury does not employ these passages in the same way in which the other literary quotes are used. On these pages, Beatty tells Guy of a dream he had in which he and Guy were engaged in a verbal duel about the value of books, and for each point Guy makes by citing a quote, Beatty refutes him with another quote. Again, Beatty's phenomenal knowledge is shown, as well as his tragic attitude toward the use of ideas and the value of dissent and controversy. Practically all of the lines cited on these four pages are from authors who were writing several centuries ago, men like Shakespeare, John Donne, and Robert Burton, perhaps showing Bradbury's affirmation of the timelessness of great ideas.
Fahrenheit 451 can serve the teacher in several ways in the classroom other than a study of the allusions. The use of reference works such as Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and the Concordance to the Bible could be taught by having students find the sources of specific quotations. Some of the major quotes could form excellent writing assignments wherein students might be asked to show the relation of a particular quote to some of the major ideas in the book.
By studying the patterning of specific quotations in this novel, students can be made more aware of the need to read more closely and more intelligently. The novel provides a "good story" to be sure, yet the teacher can also use Fahrenheit 451 as a way of illustrating the difference between a good plot that makes a book readable and a carefully structured work of literature.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 208
Dark Carnival (short stories) 1947
The Martian Chronicles (short stories) 1950
The Illustrated Man (short stories) 1951
Fahrenheit 451 (novel) 1953
The Golden Apples of the Sun (short stories) 1953
The October Country (short stories) 1955
Moby-Dick (screenplay) 1956
Dandelion Wine (novel) 1957
A Medicine for Melancholy (short stories) 1959
The Day It Rained Forever (short stories) 1959
R is for Rocket (juvenilia) 1962
Something Wicked This Way Comes (novel) 1962
The Machineries of Joy (short stories) 1964
The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit (drama) 1965
S is for Space (juvenilia) 1966
I Sing the Body Electricl (short stories) 1969
Old Ahab's Friend, and Friend to Noah, Speaks His Piece: A Celebration (poetry) 1971
When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed: Celebrations for Almost Any Day in the Year (poetry) 1973
Zen and the Art of Writing, and the Joy of Writing (essays) 1973
Long After Midnight (short stories) 1976
Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns: New Poems, Both Light and Dark (poetry) 1977
The Last Circus, and The Electrocution (short stories) 1980
A Memory for Murder (short stories) 1984
Death Is a Lonely Business (novel) 1985
The Coffin (television play) 1988
The Toynbee Convector (short stories) 1988
A Graveyard for Lunatics: Another Tale of Two Cities (novel) 1990
The Smile (novel) 1991
Yestermorrow: Obvious Answers to Impossible Futures (essays) 1991
Green Shadows, White Whale (novel) 1992
Long After Midnight (prose) 1996
Quicker Than the Eye (novel) 1996
George Edgar Slusser (essay date 1977)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1235
SOURCE: "Fahrenheit 451," in The Bradbury Chronicles, The Borgo Press, 1977, pp. 52-4.
[In the following excerpt, Slusser explores the development of Fahrenheit 451, focusing on how it differs from its source, Bradbury's novella "The Fireman."]
Fahrenheit 451 is an expansion of the 56-page novella "The Fireman." The latter is not a good story: it is the kind of Bradbury most readers never see. How did the author rework this material into a classic? Fahrenheit is two and a half times longer. Yet it has essentially the same number of episodes. "The Fireman" consists almost entirely of events and discussion; these are strung out in tedious fashion. Bradbury rearranges the original elements. As he does so, he tightens the story in order to expand it in new directions. Fahrenheit deepens the social and natural contexts. In this matrix, new intricacies of character, and more profound personal relationships, are shaped.
Both versions begin in media res, but in quite different ways. The novella opens in the firehouse. Montag is already asking questions: how would it feel to have firemen burning our houses and our books? The alarm follows—the old woman immolates herself. Here is Montag's visible moment of fall: "his hand closed like a trap" on a book. He goes home to his wife, begins to examine his life. We learn he has been taking books home all along. Bradbury must explain Montag's strange actions: the firehouse, the books. To offset a clumsy beginning, he resorts to clumsier flashbacks. Here Clarisse comes in. Perhaps the people moving in next door had been the start of his new awareness: "One night (it was so long ago) he had gone out for a walk."
The first scene of Fahrenheit is his meeting with Clarisse. A man comes home from a routine day, and confronts the unusual. Confused, he passes on to his house, and finds his wife dying of an overdose of sedatives. In "Fireman," this was a remembered detail. It becomes a striking scene: two macabre medics come with their "electric-eyed snake" and pump her out. Montag is stunned: "Strangers … take your blood. Who were those men?" Questions are yanked from him by these extraordinary happenings. Now the flow of time loosens. There is the first scene at the firehouse, and interludes with Clarisse. Suddenly she is there no more. Time contracts. We have the alarm—the old woman burns. Once again, Montag is driven; he seizes the book, going home to collapse. If he rebels, it is passively, stalling the world as he gropes for answers. This rhythm of constriction and release continues all across the narrative. The changes in the order of sequences are highly significant. Montag is no longer a man instantly aware, immediately in revolt. Clear issues are transformed into atmosphere and vague oppressions. During the first scene of "Fireman," the radio blares: war may be declared any minute. Now there is no mention, although planes are constantly in the sky. To create mood, the role of the Mechanical Hound is expanded. In the novella, it appears only during the chase. Now it is present from the start. It is in a niche at the firehouse; as Montag passes it stirs—later it will haunt and harry him. The Hound becomes his guilt and nemesis. Montag's fall plunges deep into some unconscious past. Those otherbooks behind the grate were taken before: to what end? Only now does he begin to explore their meaning. He will not grasp it at all until the very last. Captain Beatty has long suspected something, and tuned the Hound to him. Like the war that frames it, the drama that now surfaces is something long stirring in the depths of things. In "Fireman," Montag is made too immediately aware (Clarisse shows him the rain: "Why, it's wine!"), too critical for a man in his situation—a fireman emerging from cultural night.
And the issues are also too clear in this tale. In Fahrenheit, they purposely become opaque: either the figures are not aware of them, or their complexities of character make words and actions ambiguous. The earlier Millie had a stand—books are for "professors and radicals." In the novel, she has become a zombie, befuddled and forlorn, less a mouthpiece for reactionary ideas than a slave to her "parlor" of illusion. In "Fireman," the Captain is simply the enemy, a servant of law and order. Beatty, however, is a complex, twisted being—a scourge of books who speaks exclusively in quotes. His cat and mouse game, Montag realizes, is suicidal—"Beatty had wanted to die!" Faber's role too is altered. His meeting with Montag, in "Fireman," was merely the excuse for discussion. The hero wants to start a "revolution," to plant books in firemen's houses all across the nation. Faber tells him this is folly—the whole civilization has to fall before anything can be done. This is a key idea in Fahrenheit. But it is not said outright; rather it is implied in the futile gropings of the characters, men who hardly understand their own motivations, let alone have any clear social purpose. When Montag, later, does plant one book, it is a hopeless gesture. Faber is both afraid and ineffectual. Out of their meeting comes no revolutionary plan, only human contact. Bradbury adds another device here—the "seashell" radio. Montag has not asked Faber to help him, as much as "to teach him." Now a guiding voice goes with him. This too is ineffectual; over Faber's admonitions, Montag explodes, and recites poetry to his wife's friends, betraying himself. But two beings are linked: in this fragmented world, it is a start.
Changes in the final scene help reshape Fahrenheit. The crucial moment is the rebirth, in Montag's mind, of Ecclesiastes. He had tried to memorize it before, and had despaired. Now, as the city falls, as he holds to the earth "as children do," it floods back. Earlier, he had plunged into the dark river, emerging into real nature: the fire of the sun, rather than man's perverted fire. The Mechanical Hound is replaced by a deer. But nature's darkness is also overwhelming. His dream of the hayloft—"a glass of milk, an apple, a pear"—is drowned in immensity: "Too much land!" He is saved by the campfire—flame that warms not burns. Once more, as with Faber, the paltry spark of human companionship is the merest beginning. In "Fireman" there is no evocation of nature, and little of this complex fire imagery. Montag's final triumph is sapped when characters discuss the faculty of "eidetic" memory. He tries to recall the Bible and can't; he is told to relax—"it will come when you need it." Bradbury shapes this rough skeleton into an extended statement of lyrical force. Indeed, if the early story seeks toexpose, Fahrenheit mourns—the didactic tale has become elegy. Again there is the confused seeker after knowledge, again we see a world where excessive tolerance ironically leads to suppression of inquiry. The individual is powerless before the holocaust. Like the boy in "The Smile," he can only snatch away a fragment to preserve. Thought destroys, but memory abides. These last men do not interpret their books. Out of some strange fear of the old sin of pride, they are reduced to being the books, memorizing them one by one, and reciting them when needed. The tradition of oral history has come full circle.
John Colmer (essay date 1978)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1437
SOURCE: "Science Fiction," in Coleridge to Catch-22, St. Martin's Press, 1978, pp. 197-209.
[In the following excerpt, Colmer assesses Fahrenheit 451 as a work of social criticism, citing shortcomings in the novel's sentimentality and high-culture allusions.]
Fahrenheit 451 takes its place in a long line of works concerned with the survival of language and the written word, since it not only presents a future in which there is constant war or threat of war but one where there is no legitimate place for books. The infamous burning of the books in Nazi Germany provides the historical model for Bradbury's fictional projection. On this model, he imagines a future society in which reading and the possession of books are anti-social activities and therefore must be eradicated.
The curious title is based on the scientific notion that Fahrenheit 451 is 'the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns', and the first paragraph of the book describes the special pleasure of seeing things burn. 'It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.' Since the meaning of the whole book centres on the character called Montag, it is necessary to establish his function as a fireman and to introduce explanations for his abnormality, his deviation from accepted behaviour. Bradbury introduces his first bit of verbal play in explaining Montag's function in this future society. He is a fireman. Whereas, in our society, a fireman extinguishes fires, in Bradbury's a fireman extinguishes books. He destroys them with fire. A far less successful fictional invention is the character, Clarisse McClellan, the seventeen-year-old social misfit, who likes 'to smell things and look at things, and sometimes stay up all night, walking, and watching the sun rise'. In many ways a sentimental device to represent the natural values and interpersonal relationships that have been lost, she also serves as an effective contrast to Montag's wife, Mildred, who is completely adapted to a life of drug-taking and passive consumption of 'sound thro' little seashells, thimble radios in the ears, and T.V., or rather wall entertainment'. Bradbury himself wrote:
In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I wasdescribing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged in her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap opera cries, sleepwalking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there.
When Mildred takes an overdose, Bradbury describes the two machines that restore her to normality. The operator of one could look into the soul of the person, as the machine pumped out all the poisons accumulated with the years. The other machine 'pumped all the blood from the body and replaced it with fresh blood and serum'. The invention is an extrapolation from present psychiatric and medical practice to reinforce the notion that human beings have ceased to be regarded as individual personalities and have been reduced to the level of things or controllable processes. This is one of the fairly peripheral bits of social documentation. Less peripheral is the detail that relates to the wall TV, especially the contrast between the mindless mush that Mildred and her neighbours enjoy, and the effect on them of two passages from Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach. The women cannot help being moved by Arnold's lines, but one of them, Mrs Bowles, condemns poetry and Montag roundly:
I've always said, poetry and tears, poetry and suicide and crying and awful feelings, poetry and sickness; all that mush! Now I've had it proved to me. You're nasty, Mr Montag, you're nasty.
The trouble with Montag, of course, is that he has discovered the value of books. He keeps some hidden away behind the ventilator grille. And the reader realises that it is only a matter of time before he is discovered. Bradbury develops a certain amount of suspense and drama through Mildred's fears, through the poker-face duels between Montag and the fire chief Beatty, and through the ominous sounds outside Montag's door. One of the most effective minor climaxes in Fahrenheit 451 occurs when the firemen are called out and Montag finds, to his horror, that the address they have been sent to destroy books is his own.
It must be admitted that Bradbury is more successful in creating the horror of mechanised anti-culture than in evoking the positive and continuing power of literature and civilisation. The burning scenes have intense power and the pursuit of Montag by the Mechanical Hound, especially in the last section of the book, is inthe best tradition of Gothic pursuit; mysterious, but relentless. By comparison, the evocation of culture is either laboured or sentimental. It is laboured, because Bradbury cannot rely on his readers picking up his allusions. He therefore has to explain laboriously; for instance, the fact that Ridley was one of the Oxford martyrs of 1555 who was burnt at the cross as a martyr to truth. In case the relevance of the words spoken by the woman burnt up by the Mechanical Hound is missed, Bradbury supplies an explanatory recapitulation a few pages later:
They said nothing on their way back to the firehouse. Nobody looked at anyone else. Montag sat in the front seat with Beatty and Black. They did not even smoke their pipes. They sat there looking out of the front of the great salamander as they turned a corner and went silently on.
'Master Ridley,' said Montag at last.
'What?' said Beatty.
'She said, "Master Ridley." She said some crazy thing when we came in the door. "Play the man," she said, "Master Ridley." Something, something, something.'
'We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out,' said Beatty. Stoneman glanced over at the Captain, as did Montag, startled.
Beatty rubbed his chin. 'A man named Latimer said that to a man named Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy, on October 16, 1555.'
The idea of culture is embarrassingly false in the interview with Faber, who then becomes Montag's better self, through the minute transistor that he carries around with him and which acts as his mechanical conscience. It is painfully folksy in the whole section relating to Montag's meeting with Granger and his greenwoods exiles, each of whom has memorised a great book or part of a book. The theme here is the independence of culture from physical objects, but the notion of a revived oral culture is not developed very far in this piece of pre-McLuhan fiction. Most painful of all are Granger's recollections of his artist grandfather's philosophy of individualism. Putting Christmas-cracker sentiments into the mouths of a now dead grandfather does not make them any less trite.
The image of fire undergoes a double transformation in the last part of the book. What had been the destroyer of culture before becomes the centre of civilised life, as Granger and his exiles gather round the camp fire. Finally, the fire that has destroyed nations in the international conflict is seen as a Phoenix. Bradbury provides a characteristically popular explanation through Granger.
There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back beforeChrist; every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up.
A writer who has to explain all his allusions and symbols for the benefit of lowbrow readers is at a considerable disadvantage. But a writer who resorts to condescending explanations like this one probably repels both highbrow and lowbrow readers alike.
When in doubt how to end, there is nothing like putting in a Biblical passage to achieve spurious prophetic power. With the evidence of widespread destruction everywhere, the reader is reminded that there is a time to break down and a time to build up, and Montag recalls a passage from the Bible:
And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bore twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for healing of the nations.
Books create diversity and harmony, that is the final message of Fahrenheit 451. It is an intensely serious work of popular Science Fiction but it is flawed by sentimentality and meretricious appeals to high culture.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 108
Jacobs, Robert. "The Writer's Digest Interview: Bradbury." Writer's Digest 56, No. 2 (February 1976): 18-25.
Interview in which Bradbury discusses the writing profession and comments on his own work.
Wayne L. Johnson (essay date 1980)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1076
SOURCE: "Machineries of Joy and Sorrow," in Ray Bradbury, Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1980, pp. 85-8.
[In the following excerpt, Johnson provides concise analysis of plot, theme and elements of fantasy and social criticism in Fahrenheit 451.]
Fahrenheit 451 is one of only two novels Bradbury has written. The other is Something Wicked This Way Comes. (Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles are often referred to as novels, but they are really collections of separate stories unified by theme and specially written bridge passages.) Fahrenheit 451 is a short novel, an expansion of a story, "The Fireman," originally published in Galaxy. The book is about as far as Bradbury has come in the direction of using science fiction for social criticism. Actually, the premise of the book is rather farfetched—that firemen in some future state no longer fight fires but set them, having become arms of a political program aimed at stamping out all literature. This purging of the written word, particularly of the imaginative sort, is found in other stories, most strikingly in "Pillar of Fire" and "The Exiles." But in these other stories the tone is clearly that of a fantasy. Fahrenheit 451 is realistic in tone, but keeps such a tight focus on the developing awareness of fireman Guy Montag that we can successfully overlook the improbability of his occupation. In fact, the very improbability of Montag's work allows Bradbury to maintain a certain detachment in the book, so that basic themes such as freedom of speech, the value of imagination, the authority of the state, individualism versus conformity, and soon, can be developed and explored without becoming either too realistic or too allegorical.
In the course of the book, Montag goes through what today might be called consciousness raising. He begins as a loyal fireman, burning what he is told to burn, progresses through a period of doubts and questioning, and ends up rebelling against the system and doing his part to keep man's literary heritage alive. But the bones of the plot do little to convey the feeling of the book. Bradbury's world here seems much closer to the present than the future—not so much in terms of its overall structure as in terms of its more intimate details. Some of the characterizations—Montag's wife, given over to drugs and mindless television; Clarisse, an archetypal hippie or flower child; and the old woman, who defies the firemen by pouring kerosene over her books and her own body before striking a match—might have been drawn from the turbulent political events of the sixties. It is almost necessary to remind oneself that Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953.
Many of Bradbury's pet themes are to be found in the novel. Metamorphosis is a major theme of the story, for in the course of it Montag changes from book-burner to living-book. Montag the fireman is intensely aware of the power of fire: "It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed." He himself is changed every time he goes out on a job: "He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burntcorked, in the mirror."
Machines are of crucial importance. Overall, the book traces Montag's flight from the dangerous mechanical world of the city to the traditional haven of the country. Montag at first feels comfortable with machines, especially his flame-throwing equipment. The first time Montag meets Clarisse he views the scene in mechanical terms: "The autumn leaves blew over the moonlit pavement in such a way as to make the girl who was moving there seem fixed to a gliding walk, letting the motion of the wind and leaves carry her forward." But many mechanical things are repellent to Montag, particularly the equipment the medical technicians use on his wife after she has taken an overdose of sleeping pills: "They had two machines, really. One of them slid down your stomach like a black cobra down an echoing well looking for all the old water and the old time gathered there."
Montag's particular mechanical enemy is the fire station's Mechanical Hound, more like a huge spider, actually, with its "bits of ruby glass and … sensitive capillary hairs in the Nylon-brushed nostrils … that quivered gently, gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubber-padded paws." As Montag becomes more fascinated with books and nearer to betrayal of his duties as a fireman, the hound becomes more suspicious of him. The hound is then symbolic of the relentless, heartless pursuit of the State.
When Montag finally flees the city, he must first cross a mechanical moat, a highway 100 yards across on which the "beetle" cars seem to take pleasure in using pedestrians for target practice. Other machines Montag grows to hate are the radio and television that reduce their audience, Montag's wife, for one, into listless zombies.
But Fahrenheit 451 is not primarily a work of social criticism. Its antimachine and antiwar elements are there primarily as background for Montag's spiritual development. It is interesting that this development seems to be in the direction of social outcast. Granted that Montag's society has its evils, but at the end of the book we are not so sure that Montag will be completely happy with his new-found friends, the book people. What we are sure of is that Montag has entrenched himself as nay-sayer to a society that has become hostile and destructive toward the past. Montag joins the book people whose task, as Granger puts it, is "remembering." But even as he does so, he promises himself that he will one day follow the refugees from the bombed-out city, seeking, though this is not stated, perhaps his wife, perhaps Clarisse. Most of the book people are like the old man in "To the Chicago Abyss," essentially harmless, using their talents for remembering things to aid their society in whatever way they can. But Montag may perhaps be too rigid an idealist, having rejected his former society with the same vehemence as he once embraced it. Like Spender in The Martian Chronicles, Montag has committed murder to maintain his freedom and the integrity of his vision. Unlike Spender, but like many of Bradbury's other outsiders and misfits, Montag has successfully achieved a truce or stalemate with a world hostile to his individuality. At the end of Fahrenheit 451, Montag's future can go either way; toward reintegration with a new, less hostile society, or toward a continuing, perpetual alienation.
John Huntington (essay date July 1982)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1706
SOURCE: "Utopian and Anti-Utopian Logic: H. G. Wells and His Successors," in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, July 1982, pp. 122-46.
[In the following excerpt, Huntington considers the dystopianutopian structure of Fahrenheit 451 and comments on the paradoxical symbolism of the book as both cultural and technological achievement.]
Montag, the protagonist of [Fahrenheit 451], like Graham [of H. G. Wells's When the Sleeper Wakes], D-503 [of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We], and Winston Smith [of George Orwell's 1984], is a man coming toconsciousness and attempting the overthrow or reformation of the closed, totalitarian, futuristic world he valued at the start. As in the other novels we have looked at, here too a woman is the inspiration for the change of mind. As in the other works, the act of seeing beyond the present is at least in part an act of recovery of a lost tradition: Graham is a revolutionary because he retains 19th-century sentiments of justice which the future world claims to have outgrown; D-503 and Winston Smith find an alternative to the totalitarian state in the antique parts of civilization. And Montag rediscovers books, which the future society has banned. Other similarities might be traced, but my point in sketching the by now conventional situation is not to estimate the extent of Bradbury's debt to the tradition, but to establish a broad common background against which we can understand the different way Bradbury's images function logically.
In Fahrenheit 451 the future is bad because people, denied the rich traditional culture contained in books and imaged by nature, have become unstimulated and unstimulating. The dystopian world is in large part conveyed in terms of the denial of positives. Firechief Beatty's defense of the bookless future is essentially that of the Grand Inquisitor, with the important change that the mass's fear of freedom is seen to be a historical phenomenon, a failure of education. In the past, so the ironic argument goes, people were capable of freedom, but because of technology and the triumph of a debased mass culture they have lost their ability to choose and their joy in freedom. Beatty's argument seems to be the author's; in Montag's wife we see heavily done exactly the mindlessness, the need for booklessness that Beatty defends. Beatty argues that mass culture is necessarily simple and, therefore, inevitably a decline from our own élite culture based on books, and in much of its satire the novel supports him. Where the novel makes Beatty clearly an ironic spokesman to be refuted is not in his characterization of the masses and what they want, but in his inadequate appreciation of the sensitive few who are capable of freedom.
The novel expresses this vision of freedom with images of sentimentalized nature (Clarisse rhapsodizes about the smell of leaves, the sight of the man in the moon), the recollection of the small, mid-western town (the front porch and the rocking chair become symbols of freedom), some tag ends of 1930s' romanticizing of Depression survival, and an unquestioning admiration for books. This cluster poses an absolute pole around which accrues all good and in relation to which all movement away is bad. The dystopian and utopian possibilities in the novel are thus represented by separate clusters of images and ideas that the novel finds unambiguous and leaves unchallenged.
What needs emphasis here is the extent to which Bradbury's novel preserves the dystopian-utopian structure by ignoring the implications of its own imagery. The author advises his audience that they must preserve books to prevent the horror he imagines, but he never questions the values implicit in the books. When the new age is accused of serious flaws—unhappiness, fear, war, andwasted lives—there is no sense that the age of books may have also suffered from such problems. At the end, in his vision of a wandering group of book-people Bradbury invokes an idealized hobo mystique, but with little sense of the limits and tragedy of such a life.
In such a simple system of good and bad values, mediation produces horror rather than thought. Nature is good and technology is bad, but the ultimate terror is a mixture of the two, a kind of symbolic miscegenation. When Montag finally makes his break from the technological future he is pursued by a "mechanical hound," a terrifying figure which combines the relentlessness of the bloodhound with the infallibility of technology. In Bradbury's vision the hound is most terrifying for being both alive and not alive.
The threat the hound poses for the imagery system of the novel is put to rest the moment Montag escapes him, and the clear opposition between technology and nature that Clarisse has preached strongly reasserts itself. Montag hears a whisper, sees "a shape, two eyes" in the forest and is convinced it is the hound, but it turns out to be a deer, not just harmless, but afraid of him. Nature is submissive and controllable, while technology is predatory and threatening. This important refuge then leads to a sequence of reversals. Montag sees a fire in the woods and for the first time in his life realizes that fire need not be destructive, that in providing warmth it can be benign. And this perception leads to a moment of trance in which Montag resees himself:
How long he stood he did not know, but there was a foolish and yet delicious sense of knowing himself as an animal come from the forest, drawn by the fire. He was a thing of brush and liquid eye, of fur and muzzle and hoof, he was a thing of horn and blood that would smell like autumn if you bled it out on the ground.
I take it that this reduction of the human to animal parts is somehow consoling and ennobling. Like all the nature images in this novel, the purple rhetoric obscures true perception, but nevertheless the revelation is there and the blurred but central symbolic transformation of the novel is complete: Montag has escaped the urban world of destructive technology and joined the nurturing forest world. By rescuing fire for the good, natural side, he has enabled the novel to convert dystopia into utopia.
The interesting difficulty is where do books fit into this simple opposition? Since Gutenberg the book has been a symbol of technological progress. Bradbury partly counters this meaning of his symbol by reducing his pastoral, not to paper books, but tohumans who remember books. Thus the replication and general availability that are books' virtues, but which the novel has seen as the instruments of the mass-culture that has ruined the world, are denied. We have the idea of the book without the fact of its production. Then, by becoming a general symbol of the past now denied, the book becomes a symbol for all old values, but this symbolism brings up two difficulties. First, whatever good books have propagated, they have also preached the evils that have oppressed the world. The very technology that the novel finds threatening would be impossible without books. Second, books can readily inspire a repressive and tradition-bound pedantry which, while anti-technological, is also against nature.
Through most of Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury simply ignores these potential problems with his symbol; but in the final pages, in an act of renunciation that is surprising given the values the novel has promulgated, the moral vision retreats from its main symbolism. The memorizers of books are about to move out of the forest to give succor to the cities that have just been bombed; and Granger, the leader of the bookish hoboes, says:
Hold onto one thought: you're not important. You're not anything. Some day the load we're carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn't use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting on the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We're going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we're doing, you can say, We're remembering. That's where we'll win out in the long run. And some day we'll remember so much that we'll build the biggest steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up.
The vagueness, ambiguity, and misdirection of this passage confuse what Granger is saying; but in the technological imagery of the last line and in the attack on the previously sentimentalized past, in the recognition that books have done little to make life better, this paragraph implies a renunciation of the values the novel has been, however naïvely, building. But perhaps it is also, finally, an awareness of a true opposition, of an irony that gets beyond the simple sentimentalisms of much of the novel. Though one may have doubts as to how to take it, one way would be to see here a titanic revision of values, a deep questioning of the pieties that have inspired Montag and Clarisse. In line with such a reading we should observe that one of the books Montag remembers is Ecclesiastes: perhaps this is an allusion to the Preacher's famous words against the vanity of life, and particularly the vanity of books. But, then, to read it this way would be to suppose that Bradbury is attempting anti-utopian thought, and that seems unlikely.
Bradbury's novel is in the tradition of utopian prose put forth by Wells himself in his later romances. Whatever political differences we might discover between Wells's sane, organized, post-cometsocieties and Bradbury's nomadic society in nature, we can see that they both depend on an imagery which ignores contradiction. Such utopian thought is incompatible with the basic logical techniques of Well's earlier work. It marks an evasion of the pressure of contradiction. It attempts to bring about conviction not by thought, but by the emotive power of rhythmic prose, the attractiveness of pretty images, the appeal to hope which will treat doubt as merely regretful cynicism. Such utopian images have an honored place, but they belong to a genus quite unlike the anti-utopian investigations that mark Wells's greatest scientific romances.
George R. Guffey (essay date 1983)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2349
SOURCE: "Fahrenheit 451 and the 'Cubby-Hole Editors' of Ballantine Books," in Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George E. Slusser, Eric S. Rabkin, and Robert Scholes, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983, pp. 99-106.
[In the following essay, Guffey explores Bradbury's indictment of censorship in some of his early short stories and comments on the bowdlerization of Fahrenheit 451 for high school readers.]
In April 1975 on the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Ray Bradbury delighted an assembled audience with an uninhibited speech entitled "How Not to Burn a Book; or, 1984 Will Not Arrive." At one point in his wide-ranging presentation he reflected on the emotions which have typically impelled his fiction. "Sometimes I get angry and write a story about my anger. Sometimes I'm delighted and I write a story about that delight. Back in the Joseph McCarthy period a lot of things were going on in my country that I didn't like. I was angry. So I wrote a whole series of short stories."
One of those short stories, "Usher II," was first published in 1950. The hero of "Usher II" is William Stendahl, a wealthy lover of fantastic literature and an embittered enemy of censorship and book burning. At one time on Earth, Stendahl had been the proud owner of fifty thousand books, but the Bureau of Moral Climates, in league with the Society for Prevention of Fantasy, had destroyed his beloved library. Amongst the works burned were those of Edgar Allan Poe. "All of his books," Stendahl tells the architect he has hired to re-create the House of Usher, "were burned in the Great Fire. That's thirty years ago—1975…. They passed a law. Oh, it started very small. In 1950 and '60 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books …, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark…. Afraid of the word 'politics' (which eventually became a synonym for Communism among the more reactionary elements … and it was worth your life to use the word!), and … the print presses trickled down from a great Niagara of reading matter to a mere innocuous dripping of 'pure material.'"
To gain a measure of revenge against the psychologists, sociologists, politicians, and moralists responsible for the burning of his books, Stendahl has built on Mars a letter-perfect imitation of Poe's original House of Usher and has invited many of his own persecutors to a very special kind of house-warming. Over the course of the story, Stendahl lures his antagonists one by one into traps inspired by Poe's macabre stories. One miscreant is killed by a robot ape and stuffed up a chimney; one is beheaded by an enormous razor-sharp pendulum; one is prematurely buried; and, in the climactic scene, the worst of the lot is mortared-up forever in a cellar beneath that melancholy and dreary house. His revenge complete, a jubilant Stendahl helicopters away from Usher II, as the great house breaks apart and sinks slowly into the dark tarn surrounding it.
Approximately a year after the publication of "Usher II," Bradbury broadened his attack on censorship. In a novella entitled "The Fireman," he depicted a future society in which most kinds of books had been banned. The hero of this story is Guy Montag, a fireman. Ironically, in this heavily regimented world of the future, firemen no longer extinguish fires. Their primary duty is to start them. More specifically, their main occupation is the burning of books. At one point in the story, Leahy, a fire chief, delivers a short lecture on the recent history of expurgation and censorship.
Picture it. The 19th Century man with his horses, dogs, and slow living. You might call him a slow motion man. Then in the 20th Century you speed up the camera…. Books get shorter. Condensations appear. Digests. Tabloids. Radio programs simplify…. Great classics are cut to fit fifteen minute shows, then two minute book columns, then two line digest resumes. Magazines become picture books…. Technology, mass exploitation, and censorship from frightened officials did the trick. Today, thanks to them, you can read comics, confessions, or trade journals, nothing else. All the rest is dangerous…. Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. We burn it. White people don't like Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it, too. Anything for serenity.
In spite of repeated warnings from Leahy, Montag becomes more and more fascinated by books and by reading. Eventually he is found out, and his small collection of books is burned. Angry and frustrated, he kills Leahy and flees to the open countryside. There, in a hobo camp, he meets a band of fugitives who have devoted their lives to the judicious memorization and communication of uncensored versions of the great classics. For years these "living books" have patiently awaited an inevitable, cataclysmic world war which will destroy all the oppressive bureaucracies inhibiting the free flow of ideas. At the end of the story, this long-awaited war comes, leveling the seats of government and, presumably, thereby making the world again safe for the dissemination of uncensored books.
Bradbury's rage against censorship and book burning reached its fullest and most eloquent expression in 1953 when he expanded "TheFireman" to novel length and published it under the new title Fahrenheit 451. During the following quarter of a century, Fahrenheit 451 was reprinted at least forty-eight times by Ballantine. In 1979 Bradbury discovered for the first time that, ironically, Fahrenheit 451 had in the past itself been systematically censored by its publisher.
At his insistence, the novel has recently been reset and republished, with a spirited Author's Afterword. In that afterword Bradbury emphasizes his continuing problems with publishers wishing both to reprint his popular stories and at the same time edit them for young readers. For example, his frequently anthologized story "The Fog Horn" was, he says, recently the proposed object of such treatment: "Two weeks ago my mountain of mail delivered forth a pipsqueak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story 'The Fog Horn' in a high school reader. In my story, I had described a lighthouse as having, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a 'God-Light.'
Looking up at it from the view-point of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in 'the Presence.' The editors had deleted 'God-Light' and 'in the Presence.'" But worst of all was what Ballantine had in the past, without permission, actually done to Fahrenheit 451: "Over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. Judy-Lynn Del Rey, one of the new Ballantine editors, is having the entire book reset and republished … with all the damns and hells back in place."
Collation of a copy from the first printing of the novel in October 1953 with a copy from the forty-fourth printing in August 1977 reveals that by that date fifty-two pages of Fahrenheit 451 had been completely reset and that, in the process, ninety-eight nonauthoritative, substantive changes had been made in the text. Most of those changes, as Bradbury in his afterword suggest, simply involved the deletion of expletives or oaths. For example, the Ballantine editors at one place in the book altered "'Jesus God,' said Montag. 'Every hour so many damn things in the sky! How in hell did those bombers get up there!'" to "'Every hour so many things in the sky!' said Montag. 'How did those bombers get up there!'"
But many of the changes made by the Ballantine editors fall into other categories. Nudity in the boudoir, no matter how abstractly described, troubled them. "His wife stretched on the bed, uncovered and cold" became merely "His wife stretched on the bed." And parts of the body, particularly that innocuous depression we call "the navel," seem also to have offended them. They altered "All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean" to "All the minor minor minorities with their ears to be kept clean." Wherever possible, references to the consumption of alcohol were muted. For example, the passage "Did we have a wild party or something? Feel like I've a hangover. God, I'm hungry" was altered to read: "Did we have a party or something? Feel like I've a headache. I'm hungry." In another instance, "Are you drunk?" became "Are you ill?"
Space will not permit an exhaustive account of the kinds of changes Fahrenheit 451 suffered at the hands of the Ballantine editors, but I must, before moving on, call attention to at least two other examples. At one point in the book, Montag angrily says to his wife's superficial, narcissistic friend: "Go home and … think of the dozen abortions you've had, go home and think of that and your damn Caesarian sections, too." The Ballantine editors removed from the passage both the word "damn" and the reference to abortion, leaving only "Go home and … think of that and your Caesarian sections, too." Finally, at another point in the action, a vigorously delivered speech culminates in an emphatic, effective vulgarism. "'To hell with that,' he said, 'shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.'" Under the scalpel of the Ballantine editors, the passage died, leaving behind this poor, shriveled carcass. "He said, 'shake the tree and knock the great sloth down.'"
Although in the afterword to the 1979 corrected edition of Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury indicated that his novel had, "over the years," been censored "bit by bit," my own research suggests that the excisions and revisions we have been examining were the result of more concentrated efforts. Evidently, Bradbury is unaware (or has forgotten) that, in January 1967, Fahrenheit 451 was for the first time published in the Ballantine Bal-Hi series. Comparison of my copy from the fifth Bal-Hi printing of October 1968 with my copy of the first Ballantine printing of October 1953 demonstrates that all the variants we have been considering were in actuality the result of revisions made for this special high school paperback series. In addition, comparison of the texts of the fourth printing of October 1963, the seventh printing of September 1966, and the thirtieth printing of July 1972 with the first printing of October 1953 indicates that, although Ballantine was publishing a revised version of the book in its Bal-Hi series, from 1967 to 1973 an uncensored version of the novel was simultaneously being sold to the general public.
According to the copyright page of the corrected 1979 edition, the tenth and last printing of the Bal-Hi version of the novel occurred in October 1973. After 1973, instead of continuing to publish theunexpurgated and unrevised text of the first printing of October 1953, Ballantine, with no warning whatever to potential readers, published, until taken to task by Bradbury himself in 1979, only the revised text prepared for the Bal-Hi series. The text of my own copy from the fortieth printing of December 1975, although in no way labeled so, is identical to the bowdlerized text of my copy from the fifth Bal-Hi printing (as is the text of my copy from the forty-fourth printing of August 1977).
To understand Ballantine's treatment of Fahrenheit 451 during the latter half of the 1960s, we must be conscious of the intense social and political pressures brought to bear on publishers of textbooks during the late 1950s and the early 1960s. In 1958, for example, E. Merrill Root published his Brainwashing in the High Schools, an assault on eleven textbooks, which, in his view "parallel[ed] the Communist line." Inspired by Root's opening thrust, the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1958 began to compile a list of "unsatisfactory" texts, and a year later, in 1959, began to distribute it. By 1963, the advocates of censorship had widened their offensive. In that year in their influential book, The Censors and the Schools, Jack Nelson and Gene Roberts, Jr., wrote: "A vice-president of McGraw-Hill says all publishers must be wary in their treatment of birth control, evolution …, sex education, and minority groups." "In some parts of the United States," Nelson and Roberts added, "it is worth a teacher's job to put modern novels such as J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye or George Orwell's 1984 on a classroom reading list."
Although librarians and teachers fought back, the pressure for censorship increased. "The pressure of censorship is a growing part of school life today," wrote Professor Lee A. Burress, Jr., in 1965, the year the first book in the Ballantine Bal-Hi series was evidently published. "If articles on censorship in education journals," he continued, "constitute a reliable index, teachers are much more concerned today than thirty years ago. When Education Index commenced publication in 1929, one article a year on censorship was published. In the most recent issues of Education Index, there are lengthy bibliographies on censorship." Burress cites numerous recent examples of capricious and ridiculous censorship in his own state of Wisconsin, including actions against Dostoevski's Crime and Punishment, for allegedly containing "too much profanity," and the magazine Today's Health, for dealing with "the birth of a baby."
Although self-appointed censors presented real problems for publishers of school texts during the 1960s, the rewards were great for those who managed to produce "acceptable" books. Especially lucrative, according to article after article in Senior Scholastic and The Library Journal during that period, was the growing market for paperback. It was for this increasingly lucrative market that the Bal-Hi series was apparently designed.
A number of important questions now naturally come to mind: What were the titles of the other books published in the Bal-Hi series? Were the other books in the Bal-Hi series, like Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, bowdlerized in order to assure their marketability? And, if bowdlerized, did they, as in the case of Fahrenheit 451, eventually replace uncensored versions of the same titles in the regular Ballantine line? All these questions are, I think, well worth answering.
Jack Zipes (essay date 1983)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6914
SOURCE: "Mass Degradation of Humanity and Massive Contradictions in Bradbury's Vision of American in Fahrenheit 451," in No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction, edited by Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983, pp. 182-98.
[In the following essay, Zipes examines inconsistencies in Bradbury's sociopolitical criticism of post-World War II America in Fahrenheit 451.]
Perhaps it is endemic to academic criticism of science fiction to talk in abstractions and haggle over definitions of utopia, dystopia, fantasy, science, and technology. Questions of rhetoric, semiotic codes, structure, motifs, and types take precedence over the historical context of the narrative and its sociopolitical implications. If substantive philosophical comments are made, they tend to be universal statements about humanity, art, and the destiny of the world. Such is the case with Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. As a result, we hear that the novel contains a criticism of "too rapid and pervasive technological change" within a tradition of "humanistic conservatism." Or, it is actually "the story of Bradbury, disguised as Montag and his lifelong affair with books" and contains his major themes: "the freedom of the mind, the evocation of the past; the desire for Eden; the integrity of the individual; the allurements and traps of the future." One critic has interpreted the novel as portraying a "conformist hell." Another regards it as a social commentary about the present which levels a critique at "the emptiness of modern mass culture and its horrifying effects."
All these interpretations are valid because they are so general and apparent, but they could also pertain to anyone or anything that lived in a "little how town." Their difficulty is that they form abstractions about figures already extrapolated from a particular moment in American history, and these abstractions are not applied to the particular moment as it informs the text, but to the universe at large. Thus, Fahrenheit 451 is discussed in terms of the world's problems at large when it is essentially bound to the reality of the early 1950s in America, and it is the specificity of the crises endangering the fabric of American society which stamp the narrative concern. The McCarthy witch hunts, the Cold War, the Korean War, the rapid rise of television as a determinant in the culture industry, the spread of advertisement, the abuse of technology within the military-industrial complex, the frustration and violence of the younger generation, the degradation of the masses—these are the factors which went into the making of Fahrenheit 451 as an American novel, and they form the parameters of any discussion of the dystopian and utopian dimensions of this work.
Bradbury is an eminently careful and conscious writer, and he always has specific occurrences and conditions in mind when he projects into the future. In Fahrenheit 451, he was obviously reacting to the political and intellectual climate of his times and intended to play the sci-fi game of the possible with his readers of 1953. Obviously this game is still playable in 1983 and may continue to appeal to readers in the future. It depends on the author's rhetorical ability to create a mode of discourse which allows him to exaggerate, intensify, and extend scientific, technological, and social conditions from a current real situation to their most extreme point while convincing the reader that everything which occurs in the fantasy world is feasible in the distant future. Belief in reality is at no time expected to be suspended. On the contrary, the reader is expected to bear in mind the reality of his/her situation to be able to draw comparisons and appropriate correspondences with the fictional correlates which are projections not only of the author's imagination but of the probabilities emanating from the social tendencies of the author's environment. Thus, in Fahrenheit 451 specific American problems of the early 1950s are omnipresent and are constantly projected into the future, estranged, negated, and finally exploded in the hope that more positive values might be reborn from the ashes in phoenix-like manner. Fahrenheit 451 is structured around fire and death as though it were necessary to conceive new rituals and customs from the ashes of an America bent on destroying itself and possibly the world. Bradbury's vision of America and Americans assumes the form of the sci-fi game of the possible because he wants it to be played out in reality. That is, the ethical utopian rigor of the book imbues the metaphorical images with a political gesture aimed at influencing the reader's conscience and subsequent behavior in society. While Bradbury obviously takes a position against the mass degradation of humanity, there are curious massive contradictions in his illumination of social tendencies which make his own position questionable. Let us try to recast the discursive mode of the narrative in light of the sociopolitical context of Bradbury's day to see what he perceived in the social tendencies of the 1950s and what alternative paths he illuminated in anticipation of possible catastrophes.
First, a world about Montag and his situation at the beginning of the novel. As a law-enforcer, Montag symbolizes those forces of repression which were executing the orders of McCarthy supportersand the conservative United States government led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, and J. Edgar Hoover. He is not a simple law officer but belongs to the special agency of liquidation and espionage, similar to the FBI and CIA. Moreover, he is an insider, who at thirty years of age has reached full manhood and is perhaps at his most virile stage. This is exactly why he was created and chosen by Bradbury. At thirty, as we know from real life and from numerous other novels of the twentieth century, Montag is also entering a critical stage and is most susceptible to outside influences. Therefore, he is perfect for initiating the game of the possible. Montag likes his job. He gets pleasure out of burning, and his virility is closely linked to "the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world." We first encounter Montag in a fit of orgasm, idealistically fulfilling his mission of purging the world of evil books. The image of book-burning, the symbolic helmet, the uniform with a salamander on the arm and a phoenix disc on his chest suggest a situation of the past, namely the Nazis, swastikas, and book-burning of the 1930s. But it is not far from the realm of possibility in the early 1950s of America that Montag as an American fireman might be pouring kerosene over books and burning them. The censorship of books which dealt with socialism, eroticism, and sexuality in the early 1950s made the extension of Montag's actions conceivable for Bradbury and his readers. Indeed, Fahrenheit 451 begins with an acceptable statement for the silent 1950s in America which demanded a silence to all dissent: "It was a pleasure to burn." Here male identity is immediately associated with liquidation and destruction, with dictatorial power. Bradbury plays with the unconscious desires of the American male and extends them into the future as reality while at the same time he immediately questions that reality and machoism through Montag's misgivings.
The narrative thread of the American male vision of 1950 hangs on Montag's piecing together what has made him into the man he is at age thirty so that he can pursue a more substantial and gratifying life. This means that he must undo social entanglements, expose his understanding to the world, and burn in a different way than he does at the beginning of the narrative. His sight is our sight. His possibilities are our possibilities. His discourse with the world is ours. What he does in the future corresponds to the tasks set for us in the 1950s which may still be with us now. Though not exactly a Bildungsroman, Fahrenheit 451 is a novel of development in that Montag undergoes a learning experience which lends the book its utopian impetus. Let us consider the main stages of Montag's learning experiences because they constitute Bradbury's angry critique of America—and here we must remember that Bradbury was writing about the same time as the Angry Young Generation in England and the Beat Generation in America, groups of writers who rejected the affluence and vacuousness of technological innovation in capitalist societies.
The first phase of Montag's learning experience is initiated by Clarisse McClellan, who makes him wonder why people talk and why hedoes not pay attention to small things. The name Clarisse suggests light, clarity, and illumination, and Montag must be enlightened. His own ability to discuss, see, feel, and hear has been muted. He is unconscious of his own history and the forces acting on him. Clarisse infers that his consciousness has been stunted by the two-hundred-foot-long billboards, the parlour walls, races, and fun parks, all of which she avoids because they prevent her from being alone with her own thoughts. Thus, she illuminates the way Montag must take not only for his own self-questioning but for the reader's own questioning of the consciousness industry in America. Bradbury wants to get at the roots of American conformity and immediately points a finger at the complicity of state and industry for using technology to produce television programs, gambling sports games, amusement parks, and advertising to black self-reflection and blank out the potential for alternative ways of living which do not conform to fixed national standards. As Bradbury's mouthpiece, Clarisse wonders whether Montag is actually happy leading a death-in-life, and Montag quickly realizes that he is not happy when he enters his sterile and fully automatic house. He proceeds to the room where his wife Mildred is ostensibly sleeping and senses that "the room was cold but nonetheless he felt he could not breathe. He did not wish to open the curtains and open the french windows, for he did not want the moon to come into the room. So, with the feeling of a man who will die in the next hour for lack of air, he felt his way toward his open, separate, and therefore cold bed." The image of death is fully impressed upon him when he becomes aware that his wife has attempted suicide. This is startling, but what is even more startling for Montag is the mechanical, indifferent way the operators treat his wife with a machine that revives her by pumping new blood into her system. Moreover, he becomes highly disturbed when the pill given to his wife by the operators makes her unaware the next morning that she had tried to take her own life. Montag witnesses—because Clarisse has made him more sensitive—the manner in which technology is being used even in the field of medicine to deaden the senses while keeping people alive as machines. He is part of the deadening process. In fact, dead himself he now begins to rise from the ashes like the phoenix. He is testing wings which he never thought he had.
Clarisse is his first teacher, the one who teaches him how to fly. For one intensive week he meets with Clarisse, who instructs him through her own insight and experience why and how the alleged antisocial and disturbed people may have a higher regard for society and be more sane than those who declare themselves normal and uphold the American way of life. Bradbury attacks the American educational system through Clarisse's description of classes in school which are centered on mass media and sports and prevent critical discussion. Schooling is meant to exhaust the young so that they are tame, but the frustration felt by the young is then expressed in their "fun" outside the school, which always turns to violence. Communication gives way to games of beating up people, destroying things, and playing games like chicken. Clarisse admits that she is "'afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always used to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I'm afraid of them and they don't like me because I'm afraid.'" But it is not simply fear that cannot be shown in public but all kinds of feelings. Form has subsumed emotions and substance, dissipated humanity, so that the medium has become the message. Art has become abstract, and people are identified with the things they own. They themselves are to be purchased, used, and disposed of in an automatic way.
Montag's life was in the process of becoming a permanent fixture in a system of degradation, but it was fortunately upset by Clarisse for a week. And she upsets it again by disappearing. Despite her disappearance, she has already served an important purpose because Montag is now somewhat more capable of learning from his own experiences, and he moves into his second phase. Significantly it begins with his entering the firehouse where he will start doubting his profession. The mood is set by the firemen playing cards in the tidy, polished firehouse, idling away the time until they can destroy, and the "radio hummed somewhere … war may be declared any hour. This country stands ready to defend its—'" Throughout the novel, war lurks in the background until it finally erupts. The obvious reference here is to the Cold War and the Korean War which might lead to such an atomic explosion as that which occurs at the end of the book. Again the media spread one-sided news about the nation's cause, driving the people hysterically to war instead of convincing them to seek means for communication and co-existence.
Montag gradually learns how the government manipulates the masses through the media, shows of force, and legal measures to pursue its own ends. His first lesson is quick and simple when he discusses a man who was obviously sane but was taken to an insane asylum because he had been reading books and had built his own library. Captain Beatty remarks: "'Any man's insane who thinks he can fool the Government and us.'" Montag's next lesson comes from his direct experience of witnessing a woman destroy herself because her books are burned by the firemen. This incident causes Montag to bring a book back to his own house and to question what it is in books that would make a woman want to stay in a burning house. For the first time in his life he realizes that human effort and feelings go into the making of a book, and he resolves, despite a warning visit from Beatty, to pursue an experiment with his wife so that they can understand why their lives are in such a mess. Beatty had already attempted to give a false historical explanation of how firemen had been organized by Benjamin Franklin to burn English-influenced books. This time he tries a different ploy by placing the responsibility on the people and arguing that the different ethnic minority and interest groups did not want controversial subjects aired in books. This led to vapid and insipid publications. "'But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic-books survive. And the three-dimensional sexmagazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, andminority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade-journals.'"
Thus, in Beatty's view—one which, incidentally is never contradicted by Bradbury—the firemen are keepers of peace. He cynically argues that the profession of firemen had to expand to keep the people happy and satisfy their complaints. This is why it conducts espionage and has a computerized system to keep track of each and every citizen in the United States. Yet, despite Beatty's explanation, Montag is firm in his resolution, for he suspects that there is more to Beatty's analysis than meets the eye. Intuitively he recalls Clarisse's discussion about her uncle and the front porches which were eliminated from people's homes because the architects (i.e., the government) did not want people to be active, talking, and communicating with one another. This is why it has become so important for him to talk to his wife and share the experiment in reading with her. However, she has been too conditioned by the television parlour games and by the seashell in her ear—the electronic waves which broadcast music and programs to prevent her thinking. Therefore, Montag is now forced to seek help from Faber, a retired English professor, who had been dismissed from the last liberal arts college because the humanities had in effect been dismissed from the educational system.
By establishing contact with Faber, whose name connotes maker or builder, Montag enters into his third stage of learning experience and begins to assume command of his own destiny. Faber teaches him that the alienation and conformity in society have not been caused by machines but by human beings who have stopped reading of their own accord, and that too few resisted the trend toward standardization and degradation of humanity—including himself. However, Montag gives him hope and courage. So he decides to begin subversive activities with a printer and to set up a communication system with Montag which will depend on the fireman's initiative. He gives Montag a green bullet through which they can communicate and plan their activities without being observed. Here technology is employed to further emancipatory and humanistic interests. The green bullet will also allow Faber to share his knowledge with Montag so that the latter will begin to think for himself. After a violent outburst at home which he knows will end his relationship with Mildred for good, Montag knows that he has made a complete rupture with his former life and recognizes the significance of his relationship with Faber. "On the way downtown he was so completely alone with his terrible error that he felt the necessity for the strange warmness and goodness that came from a familiar and gentle voice speaking in the night. Already, in a few short hours, it seemed that he had known Faber a lifetime. Now he knew that he was two people, that he was above all Montag, who knew nothing, who did not even know himself a fool, but only suspected it. And he knew also that he was the old man who talked to him and talked to him as the train was sucked from one end of the night city to the other one on a long sickening gasp of motion." From this point on Montag moves toward regaining touch with his innermost needs and desires, and he will not be sucked into anything. He avoids the trap set for him by Beatty and burns his real enemies for the first time. His flight from the claws of the mechanical hound, which represents all the imaginative technological skills of American society transformed into a ruthless monster and used to obliterate dissenting humanity, is like the flight of the phoenix born again. Not only is Montag a new person, but he also invigorates Faber, who feels alive for the first time in years. It is a period of war on all fronts, a period of destruction and negation which is reflective of the Cold War, the Korean War, and the oppressive political climate of the 1950s. Yet, there are signs that a new, more humane world might develop after the turmoil ends.
Montag's last phase of learning is a spiritual coming into his own. He escapes to the outside world and follows the abandoned railroad track which leads him to a man whose name, Granger, indicates that he is a shepherd. Granger takes him to the collective of rebels, who are largely intellectuals. Here Bradbury suggests—as he does in many of his works—that the anti-intellectual strain in America forces most intellectuals to take an outsider position from which it is difficult to influence people. The tendency in America is to drive forward without a humanistic intellectual core. Still, Montag learns that certain intellectuals have not abandoned the struggle to assert themselves and still want to assume a responsible role within society. Granger informs him:
"All we want to do is keep the knowledge we think we will need, intact and safe. We're not out to incite or anger anyone yet. For if we are destroyed, the knowledge is dead, perhaps for good. We are model citizens, in our own special way; we walk the old tracks, we lie in the hills at night, and the city people let us be. We're stopped and searched occasionally, but there's nothing on our persons to incriminate us. The organization is flexible, very loose, and fragmentary. Some of us have had plastic surgery on our faces and fingerprints. Right now we have a horrible job; we're waiting for the war to begin and, as quickly, end. It's not pleasant, but then we're not in control, we're the odd minority crying in the wilderness. When the war's over, perhaps we can be of some use in the world."
By the end of his adventures, there is very little that Montag can learn from his mentors anymore. That is, he will undoubtedly continue to share their knowledge, but he, too, has become an imparter of knowledge. He takes the world into himself and becomes at one with it. The notions of the Book of Ecclesiastes are carried by him, and he will spread its humanistic message to help heal the rifts in the world. There is a suggestion at the end of the novel that the American society is largely responsible for the wars and destruction brought upon itself. A time has come, a season, Montag envisions, for building up. He is no longer a fireman but a prophet of humanity. The dystopian critique gives way to a utopian vision.
In their book on science fiction, Robert Scholes and Eric Rabkin state that "dystopian fiction always reduces the world to a 'State,' and presents us with the struggles of an individual or a small group against that State." Later they amplify this statement by maintaining that "most twentieth-century writers have seen no way to get beyond the enslavement of technology, and we thus find a series of distinguished dystopias (like Huxley's Brave New World, 1932) that predict a dismal future for humanity. Some writers, however, have tried to get beyond this doom by postulating psychic growth or an evolutionary breakthrough to a race of superpeople. These tactics, of course, presume the possibility of a basic change in human nature; they do not so much see a way beyond technology as around it." In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury depicts the struggle of the individual against the state, or individualism versus conformity. In the process, despite the overwhelming powers of state control through mass media and technology, he has his hero Montag undergo a process of rehumanization. That is, Montag must shed the influences of the state's monopoly of the consciousness industry and regain touch with his humanistic impulse. In this regard, Bradbury follows the postulates of dystopian fiction as outlined by Scholes and Rabkin. However, there is a curious twist to the "humanistic" impulse of Bradbury which accounts for great contradictions and quasi-elitist notions of culture in Fahrenheit 451.
Bradbury does not locate the source of destruction in the state, class society, or technology, but in in humankind himself. He has remarked that "machines themselves are empty gloves. And the hand that fills them can be good or evil. Today we stand on the rim of space, and man, in his immense tidal motion, is about to flow out toward far new worlds … but he must conquer the seed of his own self-destruction. Man is half-idealist, half-destroyer, and the real and terrible fear is that he can still destroy himself before reaching for the stars. I see man's self-destructive half, the blind spider fiddling in the venomous dark, dreaming mushroom-cloud dreams. Death solves all, it whispers, shaking a handful of atoms like a necklace of dark beads." This is all rather poetic and virtuous, but it is also naive and simplistic because Bradbury, while recognizing the awesome power and tentacles of the state in Fahrenheit 451, shifts the blame for the rise of totalitarianism and technological determination onto man's "nature," as if there were something inherent in the constitution of humankind which predetermines the drives, wants, and needs of the masses. Both Beatty and Faber serve as Bradbury's mouthpiece here, and they depict a history in which the masses are portrayed as ignorant, greedy, and more interested in the comfort provided by technology than in creativity and humanistic communication. As we know, Beatty maintains that the different ethnic and minority groups had become offended by the negative fashion in which the mass media depicted them. Thus the machines and the mass media were compelled to eliminate differences and originality. The mass strivings of all these different groups needed more and more regulation and standardization by the state. Thus, individualism, uniqueness, and a critical spirit had to be phased out of the socialization process. Books had to be banned, and the mass media had to be employed to prevent human beings from critical deliberation andreflection.
This analysis exonerates the state and private industry from crimes against humanity and places the blame for destructive tendencies in American society on the masses of people who allegedly want to consume and lead lives of leisure dependent on machine technology. Bradbury portrays such an existence as living death, and only intellectuals or book-readers are capable of retaining their humanity because they have refused to comply with the pressures of "democracy" and the masses who have approved of the way in which the state uses technological control and provides cultural amusement. Faber makes this point even clearer than Beatty: "'The whole culture's shot through. The skeleton needs melting and reshaping. Good God, it isn't as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord.'" Faber equates human beings with "squirrels" racing about cages and calls them the "solid unmoving cattle of the majority."
The dystopian constellation of conflict in Fahrenheit 451 is not really constituted by the individual versus the state, but the intellectual versus the masses. The result is that, while Bradbury does amply reflect the means and ways the state endeavors to manipulate and discipline its citizens in the United States, he implies that the people, i.e., the masses, have brought this upon themselves and almost deserve to be blown up so that a new breed of book-lovers may begin to populate the world. (This is also suggested in The Martian Chronicles and such stories as "Bright Phoenix.") This elitist notion ultimately defeats the humanistic impulse in Bradbury's critique of mass technology and totalitarianism because he does not differentiate between social classes and their vested interests in America, nor can he explain or demonstrate from a political perspective—and essentially all utopian and dystopian literature is political—who profits by keeping people enthralled and unconscious of the vested power interests.
True, the quality of culture and life in the America of the 1950s had become impoverished, and machines loomed as an awesome threat since a military-industrial complex had been built during World War II and threatened to instrumentalize the lives of the populace. Nor has the quality been improved, or the threat diminished. But this deplorable situation is not due, as Bradbury would have us believe, to the "democratic" drives and wishes of the masses. Such basic critiques of society and technology as Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man, William Leiss's The Domination of Nature, and Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital have shown that mass conformity has its roots in relations of private property and capital, not in the "nature" of humankind. In particular, Braverman provides an apt analysis of the degradation of work and life in the twentieth century. He focuses clearly on the problem which concerns Bradbury, yet which is distorted in the dystopian projection of Fahrenheit 451:
The mass of humanity is subjected to the labor process for the purposes of those who control it rather than for any general purposes of 'humanity' as such. In thus acquiring concrete form, the control of humans over the labor process turns into its opposite and becomes the control of the labor process over the mass of humans. Machinery comes into the world not as the servant of 'humanity,' but as the instrument of those to whom the accumulation of capital gives the ownership of the machines. The capacity of humans to control the labor process through machinery is seized upon by management from the beginning of capitalism as the prime means whereby production may be controlled not by the direct producer but by the owners and representatives of capital. Thus, in addition to its technical function of increasing the productivity of labor—which would be a mark of machinery under any social system—machinery also has in the capitalist system the function of divesting the mass of workers of their control over their own labor. It is ironic that this feat is accomplished by taking advantage of the great human advance represented by the technical and scientific developments that increase human control over the labor process. It is even more ironic that this appears perfectly 'natural' to the minds of those who, subjected to two centuries of this fetishism of capital, actually see the machine as an alien force which subjugates humanity.
It might be argued that Bradbury has no sense of irony. Certainly his depiction of conformity and neo-fascism in America lacks subtle mediations, and thus the potential of his utopian vision wanes pale at the end of Fahrenheit 451. In fact, it is debatable whether one can call his ending utopian since it is regressive—it almost yearns for the restoration of a Christian world order built on good old American front porches. A group of intellectuals who memorize books are to serve as the foundation for a new society. There is a notion here which borders on selective breeding through the cultivation of brains. Moreover, it appears that the real possibility for future development is not in human potential but in the potential of books. That is, the real hero of Fahrenheit 451 is not Montag but literature. This accounts for a certain abstract dehumanization of the characters in Bradbury's novel: they function as figures in a formula. They are sketchily drawn and have less character than the implied integrity of books. In essence, Bradbury would prefer to have a world peopled by books rather than by humans.
This becomes even more clear when we regard Francois Truffaut's film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. Truffaut maintained that
the theme of the film is the love of books. For some this love is intellectual: you love a book for its contents, for what is written inside it. For others it is an emotional attachment to the book as an object…. On a less individual and intimate level, the story interests me because it is a reality: the burning of books, the persecution of ideas, the terror of new concepts, these are elements that return again and again in the history of mankind…. In our society, books are not burnt by Hitler or the HolyInquisition, they are rendered useless, drowned in a flood of images, sounds, objects. And the intellectuals, the real ones, the honest ones, are like Jews, like the Resistance; if you're a thinker in the world of objects, you're a heretic; if you're different, you're an enemy. A person who creates a crisis in society because he acknowledges his bad conscience—the living proof that not everyone has betrayed in exchange for a country house, for a car, or for a collection of electronic gadgets—he is a man to eliminate along with his books.
Though Truffaut's interpretation of Bradbury's novel is informed by his French consciousness and experience of fascism and the Resistance, he extends the basic theme of the novel to its most logical, universal conclusion. From the very beginning of the film, the heroes are the books themselves, and all of Truffaut's changes highlight the significance of the books. For instance they are always prominent in each frame in which they appear, and the characters are dwarfed by them in comparison. The people are less human, sexual, and alive than in Bradbury's novel. The divisions between good and evil become blurred so that all human beings without distinction share in the guilt for the mass degradation of humanity. The same actress plays Clarisse and Mildred; Montag becomes more ambivalent as a moral protagonist while his adversary Beatty becomes more sympathetic. The defenders of the books are not noble creatures, and, even in the last frame where people actually become books themselves, they are less significant than the literature and do not seem capable of communication. Annette Insdorf has pointed out that
Truffaut's film explores the power of the word—but as a visual more than an oral entity. In a sense, the main characters are the books themselves. Truffaut even noted that he could not allow the books to fall out of the frame: "I must accompany their fall to the ground. The books here are characters, and to cut their passage would be like leaving out of frame the head of an actor." During the book-burning, close-ups of pages slowly curling into ashes look almost like fists of defiance. As in The Soft Skin, he suggests that the written word can capture and convey emotional depths, while the spoken is doomed to skim surfaces. The stylistic analogue to this sentiment can be found in the film's subordination of the dialogue to visual expression.
While it is true that both Bradbury and Truffaut desire to show that behind each book there is a human being, their obsession with books and literature leads them away from exploring the creative potential of people themselves, who are portrayed both in the novel and film as easily manipulated and devoid of integrity. In the film, the settings and costumes are both futuristic and contemporary, and they evoke a suburban, anonymous atmosphere. Conformity is the rule, and the landscape is frozen and sterile. Strange as it may seem, the book-lovers or exiles do not seem capable of breaking through the homogenized barren setting and congealed human relations. Again, this is due to Truffaut's adherence to the basic assumptions of Bradbury's critique, whichretains its elitist notions and can only display frustration and contradictions. What is lacking in both novel and film is a more comprehensive grasp of the forces which degrade humanity and the value of literature. The dystopian constellation does not illuminate the path for resistance or alternatives because it obfuscates the machinations of the power relations of state and private industry which hinder humans from coming into their own. Bradbury in particular exhibits no faith in the masses while trying to defend humanity, and the dystopia which he constructs does not shed light on concrete utopian possibilities.
In Ernst Bloch's study of concrete utopias reflected by literature, he discusses the important notion of Vor-Schein, or anticipatory illumination, which is crucial for judging the social value of the imaginative conception. The symbols and chiffres of a literary work must illuminate the tendencies of reality and at the same time anticipate the potential within reality if they are seriously concerned with projecting the possibility for realizing concrete utopias, those brief moments in history such as the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, the October Revolution in Russia, etc., when actual models for egalitarian government and non-exploitative social relations were allowed to take form. The latent possibilities for such concrete utopias must be made apparent through the work of art, and their truth value depends on whether the artist perceives and captures the tendencies of the times. In discussing Bloch's philosophical categories and their significance for science fiction, Darko Suvin discusses anticipatory illumination in terms of the novum, "the totalizing phenomenon or relationship deviating from the author's and implied reader's norm of reality." Suvin maintains that "the most important consequence of an understanding of SF as a symbolic system centered on a novum which is to be cognitively validated within the narrative reality of the tale and its interaction with reader expectations is that the novelty has to be convincingly explained in concrete, even if imaginary terms, that is, in terms of the specific time, place, agents, and cosmic and social totality of each tale."
Like Bloch, Suvin uses this notion of novum to clarify the political and ethical function of utopian literature. The artistic depiction of social tendencies and the novum always indicates willy-nilly the actual possibilities for putting into practice new and alternative forms of human comportment which might enable humankind to emancipate itself from alienating and oppressive conditions. Bloch regards both life and art as a process with utopia serving as a beacon, illuminating those elements and moments which can bring to life what-has-not-been-realized:
The lonely island, where utopia is supposed to lie, may be an archetype. However, it creates a stronger effect through ideal figures of a sought-after perfection, as free or ordered development of the contents of life. That is, the utopian function should essentially hold to the same line as the utopias themselves: the line of concrete mediation with an ideal tendency rooted in thematerial world, as mentioned before. In no way can the ideal be taught and reported through mere facts. On the contrary, its essence depends on its strained relationship to that which has become merely factual. If the ideal is worth anything, then it has a connection to the process of the world, in which the so-called facts are reified and fixed abstractions. The ideal has in its anticipations, if they are concrete, a correlate in the objective contents of hope belonging to the latent tendency. This correlate allows for ethical ideals as models, aesthetic ones as anticipatory illuminations which point to the possibility of becoming real. Such ideals which are reported and delivered through a utopian function are then considered altogether as the content of a humanely adequate, fully developed self and world. Therefore, they are—what may here be considered in the last analysis as a summary or simplification of all ideal existence—collectively inflexions of the basic content—the most precious thing on earth.
Though Bradbury is idealistic, ethical, and highly critical of reified conditions in the America of the 1950s, the utopian function in Fahrenheit 451 is predicated on a false inflexion of tendencies and contradictions in American society. The novum is not a true novelty allowing for qualitatively changed human relationships and social relations. Montag's learning experience reflects Bradbury's confused understanding of state control, education, private industry, and exploitative use of the mass media. Since he does not dig beneath the people and facts as they are, he cannot find the utopian correlate which points to realizable possibilities in the future. It is a far-fetched dream to have book-lovers and intellectuals as the progenitors of a new society, especially when they have an inaccurate notion of what led the "bad old" society to become fascist and militaristic. The ethical and aesthetic ideals in Bradbury's narrative are derived from an indiscriminate and eclectic praise of books per se. Despite his humanitarian intentions, Bradbury's hatred for the machine and consumer age, its effect on the masses, and the growing deterioration of the cultural level through the mass media led him to formulate romantic anticapitalist notions from an elitist point of view. Thus, what becomes significant about Bradbury's attempt to depict utopian possibilities for humankind individualized like a phoenix rising from the fire is his own contradictory relationship to America.
There is an acute tension between the intellectual and the majority of people in America. There is a disturbing element in the manner by which dissent and doubt are often buried in standard patriotic rhetoric in America. Yet, there are just as many intellectuals and book-lovers, often called mandarins, who upheld the formation of the military-industrial complex in the 1940s and 1950s, as there are those who dissented. To love a book or to be an intellectual is not, as Bradbury would have us believe, ideally ethical and humane. Writing at a time when the military-industrial complex was being developed and received the full support of the university system, Bradbury overlooked the interests of private corporations and complicitous network of intellectuals and book-lovers who havecreated greater instrumental control of the masses. Such an oversight short-circuits the utopian function of his books, and he remains blind to the intricacies of control in his own society. Books are not being burned with "1984" around the corner. Books are proliferating and being distributed on a massive scale. They are being received and used in manifold ways just as are the mass media such as television, film, radio, video—and not by a solid mass of cattle. The struggles of minority groups and women for equal rights and alternate technology and ecology point to certain massive contradictions which underlie the premise of Fahrenheit 451. If there is a utopian vision in Bradbury's novel, then it is based on a strange love of humanity and will surely never be concretized unless by books themselves.
William F. Touponce (essay date 1984)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 17088
SOURCE: "Reverie and the Utopian Novel," in Ray Bradbury and the Poetics of Reverie: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and the Reader, UMI Research Press, 1984, pp. 79-110.
[In the following essay, Touponce examines the utopian construct and social criticism of Fahrenheit 451 through extensive analysis of dialectic; historical and psychological effect; and reader response.]
Although the utopian novel addresses itself to a reader, literary criticism has been primarily concerned with the author's point of view, paying little attention to how the reader might be affected. One notable exception to this rule is Richard Gerber's Utopian Fantasy, which brings out the important role of reader expectation in such works. In following the theme of the utopian traveller in the evolution of utopian fiction since the end of the nineteenth century, he notes that the general aesthetic problem of utopian literature—how to present us with a society already made—inevitably involves the reader in a search for the past history of the society, what he calls the "utopian past."
If the writer of utopia could express the ideas of his hypothetical model of society directly in the experience of his characters, Gerber explains, he could dispense with the argumentative essays—the exposition of utopian life and passages of undigested social theory that often mar the attempt to create an effective utopian novel. But in practice this is nearly impossible to avoid. The new world is simply too unfamiliar. And the creator of a fictional utopia has to present us with a new construct that must be explained to the reader much as the naturalist writer explained society to his readers, but without the initial familiarity of the latter's scenes.
For the nineteenth century, Gerber points to the example of William Morris's News from Nowhere as being typical of how the past is hardly ever made a dramatic problem. As in most utopian novels of this century, historical accounts or discussions of how the utopian society came to be are usually placed in a central part where afamiliar repertoire of characters engage one another. Usually, the stranger or utopian wise man (Old Hammond in Morri's novel) meet and discuss all the important questions connected with the subject. Gerber argues that few utopian novels of this sort are successful at making the society come alive for the reader because of the reader's position in the historical account—he is being passively informed rather than actively searching for the meaning of the utopian past for himself. These discursive passages, Gerber concludes, inevitably slow down the pace of the reader's exploration and discovery so that the reader is barely made to feel what it would be like to live in such a utopia. This last requirement Gerber takes to be the historical task of the utopian tradition and the uppermost desire of utopian authors throughout the historical period his book encompasses.
Gerber also observes what happens to the reader's role in twentieth century utopian fiction, where an assimilation of techniques from the modern novel enables utopian writers to effect their desire for a complete society on the reader with more direct means than didactic arguments and discussions. The imaginary journey with its functional type, the pseudonative traveller who reminds us of the unreality of the utopian world by his very presence in it, gives way to a new kind of plot which he terms "completely utopian action." In this type of story (Gerber lists Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World as examples) the historical account has been effectively absorbed into the structure of the novel. Interest centers in the utopian characters and their existential problems which are directly presented (we might say through the system of perspectives that Iser has outlined as the underlying structure of the novel). More importantly, the reader is acquainted with the utopian world by means of an initial shock or surprise (a defamiliarization, we might say) instead of a gradual transition. This surprise enables the utopian writer to attain the closest possible connection with the reader's present-day reality. The reader must of necessity try to familiarize himself with his estranged surroundings (by projecting images into the text). In this manner, and by individual strategies which we need not examine here, 1984 and Brave New World bring the reader to actively imagine the utopian society for himself: "At last the utopian writer's aim has been achieved: utopia has come alive, the reader becomes a citizen of the imaginary world."
This traditional desire to achieve the effect of an imaginary society goes along with Gerber's system of aesthetic values in utopian fantasy. Gerber proposes a series of touchstones for the successful utopian novel which can easily be integrated into Iser's theory. Gerber says that in general the reader must feel the presence of a consistently worked-out fundamental hypothesis, first by giving it imaginative reality and then by following it through all its ramifications. Furthermore, the utopian novel must present us with a society worked out in suggestive detail. The narrative must work on the reader's imagination with more than just statistics, arguments, or discussions. If there is any satire implicit in the contrast of the two societies (the reader's and theone presented in the book,) it cannot be merely didactic: the reader must feel it for himself. Most importantly for Gerber, the novel's imaginary society should seem to be alive, and we should be made to feel what it would be like to live in such a utopia (utopia must be given full ontological status as an imaginative reality—not written off by the author as just a "fantasy" as W. R. Irwin's study would seem to indicate). And finally, Gerber's aesthetic value system requires that after reading a negative utopia (dystopia or anti-utopia) the reader should be thoroughly and experientially dissatisfied with the present state of society: he will have worked out for himself through the exercise of his own utopian imagination the meaning of the novel's latent social criticism.
Beyond this modicum of expectation, we should refrain at the outset from imposing any abstract generic schemes on our reading of Fahrenheit 451, for those critics who have not done so have been led by their preconceptions to derive false interpretations from a true response. A good case in point is John Huntington's recent study of utopian and anti-utopian logic in the novel. Huntington claims that the novel moves from dystopia to utopia, from negative to positive without evoking any critical positions in between, and he thinks that this is a deep structural contradiction which cannot be mediated except in a "blurred" fashion (imagery and evocation rather than true thought): "The dystopian and utopian possibilities in the novel are thus represented by separate clusters of images that the novel finds unambiguous and leaves unchallenged." Indeed, in this view of the text, mediation produces horror rather than thought. Nature is good and technology is bad, but the ultimate horror is a mixture of the two, the mechanical hound, which combines the relentlessness of the bloodhound with the infallibility of technology.
But if both possibilities depend on systems of imagery that ignore contradictions, Huntington goes on to note the very presence of contradiction in the novel's central symbol:
The interesting difficulty is where do books fit into this simple opposition? Since Gutenberg the book has been a symbol of technological progress. Bradbury counters this meaning of his symbol by reducing his pastoral, not to paper books, but to humans who remember books. Thus the replication and general availability that are books' virtues, but which the novel has seen as the instruments of the mass-culture that has ruined the world, are denied. We have the idea of the book without the fact of its production. Then, by becoming a general symbol of the past now denied, the book becomes a symbol for all old values, but this symbolism brings up two difficulties. First, whatever good books have propagated, they have also preached the evils that have oppressed the world. The very technology that the novel finds threatening would be impossible without books. Second, books can readily inspire a repressive and tradition-bound pedantry which, while anti-technological, is also against nature.
One wonders how Huntington could have arrived at this awareness of contradictions if the novel in fact so studiously avoids them. Thus Huntington is confused by the end of the novel where he sees the moral vision of the novel and its ideal of radiant literacy made subject to a "titanic revision of values." But to read it this way would be to suppose that Bradbury is attempting anti-utopian thought, which he admits seems unlikely. These difficulties are the result of genre theory, narrowly conceived. If Huntington had remained true to his actual experience of reading, instead of trying to impose an abstract scheme on it, he would have been led to discover the complex dialectical process by which the social criticism of the novel is effected and to a clearer perception of its themes. On the oneiric level, mediations are everywhere suggested, and as we will show later they evoke anything but horror.
The reader's search for the meaning and significance of utopia is in essence the subject of the book, as should be obvious from the fact that the protagonist, Montag the fireman, is caught up as a reader himself in the very contradictions Huntington mentions. This is what makes the book's portrayed world so dramatic and easily realized (quite apart from the fact that fire itself easily and dramatically brings about the phenomena of a fantastic world). Its main hypothesis—that technology, mass culture, and minority pressure brought about the world we see portrayed in the novel—is indeed made concrete for the reader because of the very contradictions of books. I do not mean that Fahrenheit 451 is contradictory in the sense that it refutes its own hypothesis, but only that it does not deny the negative and contradictory values of books themselves. Why this negative value needs to be preserved is something we can now elaborate on.
Fahrenheit 451 makes vivid for the reader the whole problematic course of Western enlightenment that culminated in technology and the positivistic processes of thought its worldwide dominance have brought about. In order to know nature objectively we in a sense misrecognize or forget ourselves as part of nature. The price of progress is brought about by a kind of oblivion, like that of a surgical operation on our bodies during which we were unconscious or anesthetized. Consciousness once more restored, we find it difficult to bridge the gap between our present and our past: "The loss of memory is a transcendental condition for science. All objectification is a forgetting." The disenchantment of nature and myth brings about a certain triumph of man over his fears, but by defining man in opposition to nature it sets up a program for domination and so reverts to barbarism and mythic repetition. Thus like the phoenix symbol used in the novel, history in Fahrenheit 451 appears to go in cycles. The irony seems to be that the capacity to know and represent the world to ourselves is the measure of our domination of it, but domination—power and knowledge—are the things most often represented. Language itself (as that of Fire Chief Beatty in the novel) is used deceitfully as a tool for domination: "The capacity of representation is the vehicle of progress and regression at the same time."
It is understandable then that this dialectical process is represented in Fahrenheit 451 as a fantastic reversal of the real world. Firemen who should control fires (perhaps the ultimate symbol of technology in the novel) are lighting them instead. The reader is at first surprised by this when the novel opens immediately with a scene of house burning or arson in which Montag takes pleasure in burning books, and it sets him off on his quest for understanding the relationship between this fantastic world and his own. It is also therefore a contradiction within the imagery system of the dystopian world itself, for how can the technological world be represented by natural imagery? It seems that we must find a nonalienating way to represent the demands of unrecognized nature. Fire in this world can only be ironic enlightenment.
The principles of this false enlightenment are made apparent to the reader by the book's vitriolic attack on mass culture, which turns out to be a permanent denial of pleasure despite the power it displays and promises. No modern utopian novel insists more than Fahrenheit 451 on the nonidentity of culture and society. The book struggles at every point to double or split the reader's forced and false identification with the society which has nurtured him. It compels the reader to discover for himself the passivity of the subject in mass culture, his loss of critical autonomy and freedom, and the general decline of negative critical forces in society—forces which could lead to a critique of existing conditions if not to utopia. This splitting constantly happens to Montag in his readings and is dramatized especially in the second part of the novel. It is here that the book registers a deeply felt fear that mass culture is threatening to collapse art as an autonomous realm of utopian freedom into the mere mechanical reproduction and repetition of the economic base. Why are books banned in this society? The reader discovers with Montag that they are the only thing left which harbors the forces of negation or principles through which the world around us could be made to appear false and alienating (what the implied author obviously thinks is the case). As the utopian wise man Faber says, books show the pores in the face of life, its gaps and discontinuities.
But what role does reverie have in the novel? This only emerges clearly in the third part of the novel when Montag has escaped the city. The third part of Bradbury's hypothesis is realized here. It was minority pressure which combined with the other two forces which eventually led to the need for everyone to be the same—to narcissism, in short. People must be mirror images of each other which means that they never have any real contact with a world outside themselves. And advertising and other media techniques are bent on artificially stimulating the consumption of grandiose images of the self within the city itself. This psychological theme is very prominent in Fahrenheit 451, and it is surprising that no critic has made much of it since Kingsley Amis twenty years ago.
Amis argued that the lesson to be drawn from Fahrenheit 451 is not only that a society could be devised that would frustrate active virtues, nor even that these could eventually be suppressed, but that there is in all kinds of people something that longs for this to happen. This need presupposes not some kind of overt political action (indeed, no violent military takeover or class struggle is indicated in the novel), but a tendency in human behavior that could be reinforced if certain tendencies presently at work in society were not corrected or mitigated. Analyzing a scene from Fahrenheit 451 in which Mildred, Montag's wife, is near suicide from a drug overdose and is listening only to the noise of an electronic Seashell, he concludes that it demonstrates to him a "fear of pleasure so overmastering that it can break down the sense of reality or at least the pattern of active life, and break them down in everyone, not merely in the predisposed neurotic." Now, it is the experience of reverie in the third part of the novel which connects us to a real natural world (an arcadian utopia, in fact) outside the narcissism of the city. The reader rediscovers through a long water-reverie, which is the exact opposite of Mildred's, the archetypes of utopian satisfaction. We experience with Montag a non-alienating relationship to nature, and this experience of the imaginary, of another world not based on domination, enables us to effect an oneiric criticism of technological society.
It is Bradbury's strategy to link initially the experience of reverie and world with Clarisse, Montag's teenage neighbor. Montag knows that all books that are works of art are connected with her in some way, for she awakens in him the desire to read (to create an imaginary world). But we must also be given some distance from this experience of the imaginary if we are to effect social criticism. To identify completely with a character in a novel or play, as Madame Bovary and Don Quixote do, to become the book, is romantic madness and Faber tells Montag so in the book's central section. This sort of narcissism is resisted early in the book; the reader is repeatedly split, and we should therefore not be surprised at the end when Granger, the leader of the book people, tells Montag that he is not important, but the book he remembers is. Books must preserve their independent, autonomous and negative character, if they are to aid us in transforming basic impulses in the personality such as narcissism. Works of art, therefore, by representing deprivation as negative retract, as it were, the prostitution of the utopian impulse by the culture industry and rescue by mediation what was denied: "The secret of aesthetic sublimation is its representation of fulfillment as a broken promise. The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses." In Bradbury's novel media are not mediations unless they have some historical content to transform in the first place. Books are the repositories of that content, the novel's utopian past.
So Bradbury's novel is itself negative in representing utopia as a broken promise and pessimistic to the extent that utopian alternatives seem to be preserved nowhere else than in the damaged lives of cultural outsiders. Yet it must be that Bradbury believes that social freedom is inseparable from enlightened thought, from remembering the mistakes of the past and not from forgetting them, because he holds out the promise that after this new Dark Age man may begin again. At the end of Fahrenheit 451 books are no longersymbols of technological progress—of power and knowledge—but rather of wisdom.
Roughly, that is the course of the reader's discovery in the novel. It remains to be shown in detail how the reader builds up an understanding of these themes by means of a repertoire of patterns serving an overall strategy through which the world of Fahrenheit 451 is presented. As previously mentioned, there are two opposed imagery systems in the novel. They have been isolated and independently studied by thematic criticism, as has the elaborate system of allusions and quotations in the novel. They are in fact two different modes of fantasy, one leading to existential and reflexive use of the imagination in which the self can represent a world to itself in a non-alienated fashion, the other undermining the self's ability to conceive of anything outside of a fragmented dream. Together they constitute the poles of the suspended system of equivalences that the reader activates in reading the novel, which unfolds in a dialectical three-part structure as I have indicated.
In a first reading, and not by reading selectively to illustrate the imaginative and moral values of the novel, as we will do in a moment, the reader of Fahrenheit 451 is immediately struck by the fact that the implied author has chosen to select and "depragmatize" a certain mode of fantasy as representing the dominant ideological systems of the fifties. Why, the reader asks, has this one been chosen and not another? Specifically, why is Montag's job (which is supposedly so important to the maintenance of order) treated as a carnival, and why is he a kind of clown? Why is happiness and not freedom the ideal of this society?
This simultaneous evocation and depragmatization of images representing the "culture industry" (Kulturindustrie—the term is Theodor Adorno's) leads the reader to project acts of consciousness into the text under conditions very different from that in which he experiences these media in real life. The reader thereby discovers deficiencies or contradictions inherent in such a system. The selection and intensification of Freudian fantasy (perhaps best exemplified by his book The Interpretation of Dreams, which discusses the unconscious processes involved in the dream's staging and representation of fulfilled desire) by the repertoire brings the reader to discover a destructive core of narcissism pervading the world of the novel, and by direct implication, the society around him.
I find that Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism (1979) simplifies but still gets at the essential criticism that Bradbury's reader has to enact. Lasch's point is that people in the "society of the spectacle" (and by that he means the specific social and economic environment of the post-World War II period) have lost the experience of real satisfaction because of the fabrication of so many pseudo-needs by industrial civilization. Uninterrupted advertising transmitted by mass media uses Freudian images of utopian satisfaction not so much to create desire (which in Freud's system is related to a lost object anyway) as to activate anxiety about one's self-image. Indeed, the similarities are so striking in so many details that I am tempted to agree with French post-structuralist thinkers such as Louis Marin who argue that at a determined moment of history, utopian textual practice sketches or schematizes unconsciously, by the spatial plays of its internal differences (non-congruences), the empty places (topics) which will be filled by the concepts of social theory in a later phase of history. To write a utopia is to indicate what cannot yet be said within the available language.
But this would be to deconstruct my own phenomenological project, perhaps the subject for a future book, but hardly compatible with my view here of the temporal unfolding of meaning for the reader of Fahrenheit 451, which, as in all fantasy based on reverie, exists in a realm between the unspeakable and the conceptually spoken, the realm of the poetic word. It would also be to deny that the utopian novel can effect critical thought in the reader, is more than a "neutralization" of society's contradictions. For the moment it is best to bracket the relationship between social theory and literature, although Bradbury's book did appear at a time when many studies purported to analyse the psychological impact of social changes on character structure: Eric Fromm's "market-oriented personality," or William H. Whyte's famous "organization man" being two obvious examples. It may be, as Lasch says, that these social theorists mistook the bland surface of American sociability for the deeper reality, which he believes was the creation of a narcissistic personality amenable to social domination, but such arguments, interesting as they are in themselves, would take us too far afield.
In any case Bradbury does lay bare the hidden violence and emptiness of this sort of personality. The reader cannot organize the image-sequences of the programmed fantastic (or so I term the fantasy of the telescreens) which represents the world of appearances, into a coherent experience. Furthermore, we are made aware by a constant ironic switching of character perspectives that the self-mastery and happiness preached by the advocates of this mode of fantasy is completely false. Their inner selves are exposed as chaotic and impulse-ridden. Both Fire Chief Beatty and Mildred are deeply suicidal.
Once the reader discovers that Freudian fantasy has been selected to personify negative trends in our society (especially advertising and debased romantic fantasies, "the Clara Dove five-minuteromance"), he is also led, through the activation of his own archetypal imagination in reverie, to seek out and consider solutions to the problems raised by the programmed fantastic. This is tied together with Montag's search for the utopian past, as I have mentioned, and his readings produce a system of allusions and quotations which guide us in this process by stimulating, however briefly, the experience of the imaginary, the promise of a world of meaning that can only be given through literature. Thus both modes of fantasy converge on the problem of utopia through a process of coherent deformation, a reciprocal projection and contrast of images drawn from both systems.
The search for answers to the utopian past is, as Gerber indicates, an aspect of plot which needs to be integrated into the experience of the main character. Fahrenheit 451 accomplishes this through its strategies. In particular, the experience of literacy as a new psychic faculty is organized by a theme-and-horizon strategy which now foregrounds and now allows to be part of the background the reading of forbidden books. This strategy controls the dialectical contradictions experienced by Montage, who goes from being a burner of books curious about what they contain, to a Promethean reader who wants to redeem all culture, to a chastened man who assumes responsibility for his existence, and, by resolutely committing himself to memorize a part of the Bible, for the healing of others. The plot of Fahrenheit 451, if we wanted to discuss it apart from the demands of signification made on the reader, is not simply an inversion from positive to negative or vice-versa. The mediations go from ignorance to knowledge and from knowledge to its enunciation as the novel ends.
Despite the apparent oppositional arrangement of the repertoire, which would seem to require that the text set norms against one another by showing up the deficiencies of each norm when viewed from the standpoint of the others, in a process of reciprocal negation and continual conflict, in actuality the strategy embodied in Fahrenheit 451 is much simpler, closer to what Iser terms the counterbalancing arrangement, and to the traditional utopian novel. In this arrangement the elements of the repertoire allotted to different perspectives form a very definite hierarchy. Qualities and defects of the perspectives are clearly graded. The hero represents the principal perspective through which a catalogue of norms is unfolded. In Fahrenheit 451 Montag is intended to be an effective counterbalancing visualization of that which the society of spectacles seems to exclude—an exemplary concern for the rights of others and a world outside the self. Nevertheless, the norms of the culture industry take place in a context of negated and negating perspectives—a context quite different from the system out of which they were selected. This is tantamount to saying that the reader becomes aware of the influences and functions they perform in real life. And Clarisse, a minor character by objective standards because she disappears early in the novel, is in essence the inspirational anima figure of Montag's quest. She represents those imaginative values he lacks and which he must acquire. Otherwise the social norms and imaginative values of the repertoireare assigned to perspectives that are subtly undermined. Those characters attracted to fantasy-spectacle (Mildred and Fire Chief Beatty) have complexes which reveal a hidden ontological insecurity which they have not consciously faced. Even Faber's ideal of radiant literacy is undercut, but self-consciously by himself.
What this amounts to saying is that the reader must pay special attention to the oneiric level of the text, the transcendental vantage point which eventually he must build up in order to have a coherent aesthetic response to the text's world and from which the events and characters are to be imagined. Nowhere is this more necessary than in the case of the mechanical hound and the sense of uneasiness it is intended to provoke. This feeling of uneasiness or uncanniness is linked to the oneiric strategy of making the reader become aware of the nonidentity of society and culture. The reader must be doubled or made self-conscious of it. Treated objectively (as Huntington and W. R. Irwin seem to do) the hound represents another character perspective, a failed mediation, or the dragon on Montag's quest. On the oneiric level of significance, however, it is the embodiment of the uncanny return of our existential problems that we have attempted to banish with the use of technology. It represents also the history of repressed nature which follows its own underground logic: "It was like a bee come home from some field where the honey is full of poison wildness, of insanity and nightmare, its body crammed with that overrich nectar …"
Huntington says that mediation in this novel produces only horror, which is a true response on the affective level, but it is also a contradiction or negation or mediation because the reader wants to know why technology is represented by alienated natural imagery. Interpreted in a dialectical-historical fashion, these images yield up their truth and cognitive value: this is not the utopian nectar of the gods on Olympus, offering eternal bliss, but that of some dark underworld; it is surely not wisdom or spiritual riches either, but the representation of the productivity and abundance of nature gone awry. What is "that overrich nectar"? The obedient activity of dominated nature, the bee, produces only poison for us by some process that is now mysterious. Like a nightmare it seems alien to conscious life, and cannot be integrated into it. Yet the bee has come home to its hive, our society, and is familiar to us. The material imagination aids us in understanding the oneiric level of significance here, which is much more than metaphor, and in transforming historical content. Thus the reader's response has to be both cognitive and sublimative; he is doubled or split by the initial uncanniness, but in responding he must make full use of his humanity.
W. R. Irwin's response to the novel is interesting in this regard, for he reports that the mechanical hound evokes no uneasiness in him and that the reader is not doubled. Irwin's rhetoric of fantasy, The Game of the Impossible, argues that the reader's role in any fantasy text is a kind of "dual participation" because fantasy is a demonstrational narrative dominated by intellectual persuasion. The reader is persuaded by the author's rhetoric toaccept an "anti-fact" which is then developed by intellectual play. But the reader must be kept continuously aware that he is engaged with the impossible as a factitious reality—there can be no surprises or ambiguities about the rules of the game of the impossible (Irwin's theory is in fact the exact logical opposite of Todorov's). The reader "must feel at all times intellectually 'at home' in the narrative and yet maintain his sense of intellectual alienation as a means of reflecting on the displaced real." According to Irwin, Fahrenheit 451 is not a fantasy because its narrative does not deal with the impossible and does not evince utopian thinking that asserts and plays with the idea of an impossible society. Incredibly, Irwin bases these conclusions not on an analysis of the reader's role in Fahrenheit 451, or even on a consideration of what the generic role of the reader is in utopian fantasy, but on the supposed science-fiction content of the novel. Science fiction, he says, while it may deal with the improbable, does not assert "the thing which is not." After summarizing the plot of the novel he goes on to affirm:
My point is that all the devices by which tyranny is secured either exist at present or may be foreseen as probable technological developments of the near future. Even the Mechanical Hound puts no strain on belief; it is a not very daring instance of the malevolent robot. And we are all used to robots. I feel safe in saying that no machine that possesses super-animal or superhuman capabilities can prompt a reader to say "impossible."
Quite apart from the fact that this analysis cannot be made to agree with Irwin's own normative statement that "to define a genre by its material content alone is a mistake," one senses in the background and from his disparagement of reverie in general the presence of a non-dialectical Aristotelian logic with its categories of probable, improbable and impossible. This sort of logic cannot deal with dialectical contradiction or the Freudian logic of the uncanny. Irwin reports that he "feels safe" in his response to the mechanical hound, but also that the narrative did not make him feel at home while engaging in a game of contradictory credences (in other words, this is science fiction, not fantasy; but we are all familiar with robots). Again one wonders whether a true response has been falsified by the imposition of a foreign logical scheme. The recognition that we are the source of strangeness, and that we cannot escape our existential problems by the use of technology and representational logic, constitutes an uncanny feeling to say the least.
In what follows I shall be concerned only to point out instances of the reader's developing response to the oneiric level of the text. Limitations of space forbid my giving a narrative reading as in previous chapters.
In part I, "The Hearth and the Salamander," the main events are the opening scene of arson, already mentioned, Montag's meeting with Clarisse, Mildred's attempted suicide, our first encounter with the mechanical hound, another fire in which an old woman chooses to diewith her books (and during which Montag steals a volume), Clarisse's disappearance, Montag's subsequent illness or alienation from his work, and Beatty's attempt to win him back through a defense of utopia. It ends with Montag's decision to find out for himself whether books contain anything worth dying for.
How are these events and characters to be imagined? To begin with, the title of this section is clearly ironic, for houses in this future society have all been "fireproofed." There is no possibility for a fireside reverie in which man might find repose in centering his consciousness on a specific object. The landscape is instead infested with a cold mythical beast, the fire engine/Salamander that "spits its venomous kerosene upon the world." Montag is also a part of this landscape, and his complex emerges in the following lines: "… his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history." One critic has called it a "Nero complex" and I see no reason to change this designation. Besides, it provides a useful semantic index for the reader in later contexts where the complex is being transformed. In the second part, where Montag learns from Faber that books are a counter force to man's narcissism, he is told that books exist to remind us "'… what asses and fools we are. They're Caesar's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue. Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.'" And in the third part, Granger further tells Montag to forget security, to see the world outside himself that is more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in the factories of the culture industry, to hate the Roman named Status Quo.
The first step towards the transformation of this complex is Montag's meeting with Clarisse on a moonlit sidewalk on his way home from work. Ostensibly happy and adjusted to his work and society, a minstrel man, Montag is gently divided against himself during their encounter:
He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electricity but—what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle. One time, as a child, in a power-failure, his mother had found and lit a last candle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vast dimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son alone, transformed, hoping that the power might not come on again too soon …
Himself reflected in minuscule in the miraculous water of Clarisse's eyes, in fine aesthetic detail, Montag is given a tranquil affirmation of his being. The material imagination is present here in amber, the scented hardened fossil resin "wept" from trees. This substance is naturally miraculous because it preserves fossils and time. Montag can see himself in the heart of matter, transparent, in tact, and living (unlike the melted tallow skin of his false face which comes later). The amber is oneirically appropriate for Clarisse (and her object reveries), expressing her love and knowledge of the natural world and the past. But more significantly, a world of intersubjectivity is granted here: in the instantaneous moment of the image, which usually inaugurates reverie, Montag rediscovers a dimension of consciousness lost to this society which paradoxically is saturated with image-spectacles (so much so that he wears a fiery permanent smile on his face, as if he were being recorded and simultaneously transmitted to an unseen audience—another aspect of narcissism). On the level of reflexive reading indicated here, this passage shows us what a reverie text can do, namely, mirror the process of intersubjectivity in reading, of that moment when we feel another consciousness enclosing ours.
Furthermore, this reassuring act of consciousness is tied to our experience of childhood in subtle ways. Husserl, the founder of phenomenology as the eidetic science of the possible structures of consciousness, argued that the first formal act (der erste Aktus) that constitutes the child as child is an act of empathy stemming from the felt awareness of the other (usually the mother's face or glance) and the subsequent communicating and working with the other. Husserl suggests that through the act of empathy the child comes to see itself as appearing for the other, in the other's surrounding world, and, at the same time, the child comes to see the other as appearing for the child, in the child's life-world. For Husserl, the mirroring structure of the glance is founded on the recognition of the other as an entity existing independently of the child, though supporting him. It is an act of consciousness that opens also new possibilities of love and empathic being, possibilities of transcendence towards a common horizon, instead of the infinite repetition of the same. Such phenomenological interrelatedness gives rise, he says, "to an infinite reciprocal 'mirroring' … an unlimited reiteration which is a potentiality for levels of empathy." Thus Montag is brought back to his childhood and the security of reverie in a single instant.
This movement of consciousness is clarified and developed when Montag searches for an equivalent to the soft constant light of Clarisse's face and discovers the memory of a utopian past in a reverie towards childhood that is the opposite of the fantasy world of the programmed fantastic (here represented by the hysterical light of electricity). The light of her face is not the hysterical light of electricity, but the generic light of the candle, the light of reverie texts, a humanized light lacking in this technologically oriented society. That light which is strangely comfortable and gently flattering (already the candle speaks poetically and we can imagine an admiring glance between self and world) assures the reader that he is going to discover in this passage the shadings of an ontology of well-being, or reverie. The candlelight which gathers dispersed being around the dreamerawakens the reflexive dimension of consciousness lost to this society: reading.
By leaving the end of his last sentence blank and in suspension, "hoping that the power might not come on again too soon …," Bradbury structures a gap which the reader has to fill in with his own imagination of what the mother and son did after they lit the candle and space lost its vast dimensions, drawing comfortably around them in humanized reverie. In that brief hour of rediscovery where the mother and son are transformed, I imagine they are reading, perhaps even a book of fairy tales. And as Bachelard indicates in a book devoted entirely to a philosophic meditation on reveries of the candle flame, the lifting force of this vertical-tending reverie is the most liberating of all, especially when it dreams of another possible world above the prosaically horizontal, or in the case of the programmed fantastic, circular, life. In oneiric terms, the candle flame is both strange and comfortable because it allows for shadows (indeed, shadows seem part of its valiant struggle to be) and for the unconscious mind under the beneficial influence of the anima to make the candle flame's struggle for illumination and its frail vertical existence into our own because of our own desire for transcendence. The flames of hell are certainly transforming, but they belong properly to the fantastic, not to the delicate penumbral ontology of Bachelardian reverie where the values of the dream and reality can be freely explored.
So the oneiric level of significance discovered by Montag in his reverie of the candle's flame is very much the opposite of the on/off logic of the light switch which controls the source of illumination in these "fire-proofed" houses. Our only role in technological illumination is to be the mechanical subject of a mechanical gesture. "We have entered in the era of administered light," Bachelard says of our loss of the ability to make the light of candles and lamps our own through reverie, humanizing the world and making ourselves at home in it. Bradbury would seem to agree, for mother and son are very much at home in the solitude of the candle flame. Having gathered our reverie of verticality around us, and having glimpsed with Montag the possibility of transcendence of his situation, we can well understand their hopeful consciousness that the lights will not come on again too soon and destroy the beneficial influence of reading in anima.
If I seem to stress Clarisse unduly, it is because her perspective is held up as one of the ideals of the novel, at least initially. Her reveries in which consciousness intimately touches the reality of the material universe offset the erosion of Montag's capacity to dream. Through his encounters and talks with her he rediscovers the power of reading in anima (and later, when he begins to read more resolutely, he realizes that "These men have been dead a long time, but I know their words point, one way or another, to Clarisse.") Although she is presumed dead early in the novel, her spirit returns in the third section when Montag is finally able to represent a utopian experience to himself.
A gentle hunger and curiosity, a desire to look at things as epiphanies of a marvelous reality, pervades the presence in the novel of this anima figure. Obviously she has a very deep sympathy with nature. When Montag first meets her out walking one enchanted moonlit night, the leaves and the wind seem to carry her forward like a wood spirit along the sidewalk. Her unique slender face is wholly outward-looking, nourishing itself on things. Furthermore she constantly probes Montag's identification with his job by asking him questions ("Do you ever read any of the books you burn?"), shocks him with her knowledge of the past (firemen once put out fires instead of lighting them) and of the present (how advertising billboards have been made two hundred feet long so that speeding drivers can read them, whereas grass is a green blur, cows are brown blurs). She lives surrounded by a loving family in a house brightly lit at night where Montag can hear human conversation weaving its magic spell.
Bachelard tells us that the subject in reverie is astonished to receive the image, astonished and awakened. When Montag's capacity for reverie is awakened, it is always Clarisse's face (her very name is a simulacrum of reflected light) that will guide him: "The girl's face was there, really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact." But her own reveries are object reveries, a simple faithfulness to the familiar object. Bachelard says that in object reveries we learn to dream near things and explore our attachment to the world. Clarisse tries to stimulate these reveries in Montag. She leaves a bouquet of late autumn flowers on his porch, or a handful of chestnuts in a little sack or some autumn leaves neatly pinned to a sheet of white paper and thumbtacked to his door. Although her reveries are not the complexly layered structures of consciousness that Montag will develop in his long water reverie, she can do things with a common dandelion flower that reveal Montag's inner being. Her consciousness is infused with objects of the world: there seems to be no distance between them and her, so faithful and welcoming is her glance. Clarisse is truly one of Bachelard's dreamers of looking (rœveurs du regard) who can raise objects to a level of poetic existence, and therefore of human existence.
In addition to awakening wonder in the contemplation of the ordinary itself (we are told her face is "fragile milk-crystal," a seemingly commonplace object but evoking at the same time a recognition of it as an exceptional phenomenon, a cool stillness in a world of fiery conflagrations) Clarisse does three things for Montag. First of all, Montag receives from her gaze not a narcissistic mirror image, but a tranquil affirmation of his existence, which is also an act of empathy and a genuine intersubjective relation with an other. Second, she awakens in him an other experience of temporality, an ontological sensitization to the future. The girl's simple wonder at the things of this world (her pale surprise, the narrator says) make her fore-sighted in a utopian sense. Third, she contributes to the level of reflexive reading in the text by stimulating Montag's reading in anima. The second and perhaps most utopian of these accomplishments emerges in the following passage, where the narrative mode creates the effect of a strange mental process (reverie) suddenly intruding into Montag's mind:
Montag shook his head. He looked at a blank wall. The girl's face was there, really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing in fact. She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of the night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it has to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward further darknesses, but moving also toward a new sun.
"What?" asked Montag of that other self, the subconscious idiot that ran babbling at times, quite independent of will, habit, and conscience.
Here we can observe a penumbral reverie forming in Montag's mind, beginning with the astonishment of the image (the girl's face in memory), then moving on to a search for an equivalent to that astonishment, a clock seen in the middle of the night upon awakening, and then onward to a sequence where technological segments of time (hours, minutes, seconds) are more and more minutely divided, until only a durational flow, a continuous pulse of experiential time, remains. Montag awakens to discover a new consciousness of time as sustaining the forms of life instead of destroying them. The clock's face is a white silence and a glowing. Like the moon in Montag's long water reverie in the novel's concluding section, it shines by reflected light, not burning time, but telling us where we are. Compensating Montag for a lack in his conscious mind, Clarisse enables him to project unconscious feminine values. An image received from the anima puts Montag's mind in a state of continuous reverie; it is a time fully experienced and filled, disclosing to Montag an inexhaustible reserve of latent life. As Bachelard says, the clock of the feminine runs continuously in a duration that slips peacefully away, but the masculine clock is composed of technological segments, jerks of time, so many projects and ways of not being present to oneself.
One has the sense here also of being guided by the anima figure, because the feminine clock is certain of what it tells Montag: the darkness of the night will get darker, but there is no need for despair; we are also moving toward a new sun. We feel reassured in this strange new experience of time. Montag's reverie begins in memory (perhaps a memory of childhood, of awakening from a nightmare), but opens up to the future, toward not-yet-being, a pattern of consciousness which splits Montag from his identification with his social mask or persona. It lays down the temporal pattern of Montag's utopian longings.
On the oneiric level, meaning is constituted here by Montag's questioning "'What'?" directed towards that "other self," the archetypal shadow, which he has taken previously to be a fool butwhich he will want to educate through reading. Prior to this scene, Clarisse and Montag walk together for perhaps five minutes of objective clock time, yet now that time seems immense and numinous to him. The narrator says that her slender figure throws an "immense shadow" on the stage of his imagination. Indeed, it is clear that she reveals to him his shadow, without which he would be a one-dimensional man, his shadow which represents the large undiscovered part of himself that this society has repressed and excluded. In the Jungian development of individuation, the persona is the counterpart to the shadow, and its original existence is prompted to a large extent by the need to repress material inconsistent with the social environment. Until he meets Clarisse, Montag's ego is largely fused with his persona as a fireman, but the anima intervenes between these two figures and allows him to deal with his shadow in a manageable and integrative way, although not without a certain amount of anguish when the desire for illumination, expressed as a candle flame, becomes opaque and consciousness thickens into the substance of unhappiness:
He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. 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 and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.
Here Montag is beginning to make the transition from identification with society to open rebellion against it. His unhappiness is further deepened by his discovery of Mildred's attempted suicide. She is Clarisse's opposite, a true victim of consumer culture. Inwardly, she is a frightened child in despair about ever knowing reality. Outwardly, however, she is an advertising man's dream, addicted to novelty, gadgets, and anxiety-easing pills, Her hair is burnt by chemicals to a brittle straw, her body thin as a praying mantis from dieting. Montag's relationship to her is always "mediated" by some desiring-machine of the media. At night she lies in bed with the little Seashells (remember Johnny Bishop, our other dreamer of the sea, and how he escaped the adult world?) or thimble radios, tamped tight in her ears, "and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind." This is hardly a natural reverie of sea, since it is programmed by the media, and the fact that it is so unsatisfying in indicated by the fact that Mildred is unsleeping and suicidal: "There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time." Mildred is an expert at lip reading (ten years of study in this technique having been provided by the Seashell corporation) and when she has the Seashells in her ears, conversation is reduced to a kind of pantomime. The only thing Mildred seems to desire is the fourth parlor wall "to make the dream complete." If they had a fourth wall, she argues, then the room wouldn't be theirs anymore, but would belong to "all kinds of exotic people."
As Lasch has indicated, this is the pattern of pathological narcissism that advertising and consumer culture have reinforced through stimulating the desire to consume grandiose images of the self. Mildred's intrapsychic world is so thinly populated, consisting of these shadowy and specular images, that Montag in a moment of oneiric insight (derived, it is clear, from his dialogues with Clarisse,) senses the effect on Mildred's inner world of these mindless conversations emanating from the fantasy people who inhabit the T.V. walls. Mildred is the little girl of a fairy tale, lost, however, without the hope traditionally granted to heroines by the spirit-figures of this genre which Jung has identified (the anima herself, the wise old man, the archetype of the tree of life which Montag rediscovers at the novel's end). Mildred cannot find a way out of this insane asylum where the walls are always talking to her (where she is always talking to herself). Images of a real family have disappeared; fake images have taken their place. None of these "relatives" of the telescreen family will tell her a fairy tale, that traditional source of popular wisdom which, as Bettelheim indicates, offers a convincing view of the adult world to the child and which therefore builds a bridge to that world. And if fairy tales are the oldest form of utopian narrative, as Ernst Bloch suggests, then there is something sadly lacking in this "utopia" which feels it must burn those allegedly terrifying stories. The psychologistic age depicted in Fahrenheit 451 has destroyed one of the primary means for assuring continuity of generations (since the child can come to feel, according to Bettelheim, that his parents do not inhabit a world that is totally alien to his own) and the memory of happy experiences. Recently, Ursula Le Guin has also written about the beneficial effects of these Jungian figures in fantasy and science fiction.
What this amounts to is that Mildred has no culture complex outside of a very primitive narcissism. Society has provided her with no means, however contradictory, to transform her inner psychic world, which is seen even more clearly from the narrator's perspective during her attempted suicide. In a cleverly staged scene in which two impersonal "operators" come to the rescue with a kind of vacuum cleaner mounted with an electronic eye, we are made acutely aware of the individual's dependence on a bureaucratized state and the "helping professions," those outside experts who intervene in family problems. The irony of the scene is that they are not even doctors, but "handymen," since suicide has become so common that it required the production of a new machine to deal specifically with the problem, and with a new job speciality. At the same time as we are working out for ourselves the depths of irony in which no one is really getting at the real problems behind Mildred's suicide (though of course the operators are efficient, practical and helpful), the narrator directly asks the reader a rhetorical question about the machine and its eye: "Did it drink of the darkness? Did it suck out all the poisons accumulated with the years?" On the oneiric level of material imagination, we must imagine through this critical negation of technology how time has stopped flowing toward the future for Mildred, how it has gathered in a "liquid melancholy" that cannot be sucked away by the machine, indeed that the "eye" of the machine cannot even see. Unlike the machine and its operators, we must give a full human response, cognitive and sublimative, if we are to grasp the significance of the scene.
Clarisse's disappearance brings about "vague stirrings of disease" in Montag and in a scene in the firehouse he recognizes that these men whose faces are sunburnt by a thousand real and ten thousand imaginary fires are "all mirror images of himself." Montag had stolen a book of fairy tales at the last fire; in a slip of the tongue which reveals the dominance of the anima in his mind he asks Fire Chief Beatty if "once upon a time" firemen put out fires instead of lighting them. This brings on a lesson in history of the Fireman of America which is nothing less than an illustration of the Freudian dream-work, which distorts a basic content in order to represent a wish as fulfilled. Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who established the Firemen in the colonies to burn English-influenced books. The lives of the Firemen are governed by a series of five rules laid down by him that define a narrative circuit from alarm to fire to firehouse to alarm, the very instance of an anxiety mechanism.
In the next fire Montag witnesses a suicide that is undertaken deliberately with full knowledge of the consequences. An old woman chooses to die in the conflagration which destroys her library and home rather than be taken to the insane asylum. This action, while it horrifies Montag, also leads him to equate people with books and books with people. Fire Chief Beatty argues that the old woman was driven insane by the contradictions among the books ("a regular damned Tower of Babel"), but Montag begins to realize that their job is only to provide more spectacle, a show for the neighbors. In addition to this cognitive level of discovery, the oneiric level of significance emerges when books begin to pour out of the destroyed walls of the house onto Montag's shoulders: "A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon." This is a clear image of transcendence, the bird being symbolic of a proffered flight to the imaginary. The feather is snowy and of a very different climate from the burning world with which Montag is familiar. And the words of this book are not printed, making it a symbol of technology, but painted, which suggests the medieval illumination of manuscripts where words themselves come alive in ornate and painfully slow scriptive fantasy. Once one has seen one of these books, all other books, however produced, pale in comparison. Unfortunately, Montag loses this book of reveries, but not before reading a line in it: "Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine," which suggests an illuminator patiently reading and transcribing with love a sacred scripture, an occasion on which real time would seem to be transformed magically. It is nonetheless a powerful negation of Montag's sense of time as burning away the past and memory and history.
It is no wonder then that Montag is not ready to accept Fire Chief Beatty's defense of the status quo, no matter how sympathetic he may seem. His perspective is undercut by all we and Montag have learned about books. They may indeed by contradictory, but that experience in itself is somehow valuable. Beatty wants a type of society that requires only enough mind to create and tend machines, which, of course, he thinks are marvelous labor-saving devices. He thinks that they have eliminated unhappiness: "The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour." It is, of course, also an indication of his ambivalence towards the "doubleness" of philosophy whose terms seem to keep sliding despite the quest to embody truth, and an ironic indictment of him, that his own speech reveals more than he intends it to, that it is more than just the revelation that "Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure did the trick," in bringing about this "happy society." Beatty's language is an attempt to "sell" Montag on the idea of being a fireman, which is why it seems to be alienated from any connected meaning or attempt to think of a social totality. Just before he launches into his defense, we see him obsessively flicking his lighter:
He examined his eternal matchbox, the lid of which said GUARANTEED: ONE MILLION LIGHTS IN THIS LIGHTER, and began to strike the chemical match abstractedly, blow out, strike, blow out, strike, speak a few words, blow out. He looked at the flame. He blew, he looked at the smoke. "When will you be well?"
This brief passage informs the reader about how to imagine the relationship between consciousness, language, and its objects during the course of Beatty's speech. It shows us the lighter as a practical technological device bearing a promise, but this object in turn shows us only the reified language of mass culture itself. The lighter is a fetish, an emblem of the eternal consumer, the ideal of this society of narcissists (in contrast, Faber tells Montag: "I don't talk things, sire … I talk the meaning of things.") So the structure of Beatty's language, and the reasons for its debasement, are here succinctly presented for the reader. As a symbol of our control over fire, with its promise of a million imaginary fires, it must be understood in a negative sense. Its ideal, the beauty in consumption, is a deception, based on repetition and sameness. It is this deception we must bear in mind throughout Beatty's defense and in the next part of the novel where we again see him talking about the "false promises" that literature offers.
Beatty's language has a quality difficult to capture in brief quotation. It seems to destroy previous stages of the argument without preserving anything for further thought. Although it is full of novelty and dynamic tempo (he invokes a film speeding faster and faster), it is really governed by a constant sameness, the rhythm of mechanical reproduction. It is a montage of superstructural effects which do not touch upon basic economic realities. Beatty's attitude towards the past (which he is supposed to be revealing) is obviously one in which there is no possibleexperience of an integrated tradition. Everything has to run incessantly to maintain the illusion of life:
"Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh?, Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digests-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl man's mind around so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!
This is really a biting satire about the ways in which the culture industry turns the successes of enlightenment into mass deception. With the proliferation of magazines does not come more knowledge and power for the individual, but the absence of these things, and a brutalization and re-barbarization of language, a gradual descent into subhuman grunts. The lack of political discussion indicates that real freedom has been forfeited in order to preserve happiness (political candidates are chosen for their "winning images.") There is nothing left for the consumer to classify, no fundamental concepts that are evoked by these predigested tabloids. Beatty gives an artificial impression of being in command, but as he stares abstractedly into his eternal consumer lighter, we know that he is simply rationalizing. We must seek out, as Montag does, the true utopian wise man, Faber, who appears in the second part of the novel.
Part II, "The Sieve and the Sand," foregrounds the process of reading itself as a process of self-discovery. Once he begins reading in earnest, Montag is deeply worried that he will not be able to retain what he has read (hence the sieve), or understand it more deeply. He therefore seeks out an old retired school teacher, Faber. During this search the programmed fantastic is intensified as a threat to reading (especially in the subway). But finally Montag is equipped by Faber with an electronic transmitter which allows them to communicate their thoughts and especially for Faber to read to him unbeknownst to others. But Montag rashly thinks that he can reform his wife and her friends at one of their T.V. parlor parties by reading them a poem (Arnold's "Dover Beach"). This event marks the turning point of the novel, for Montag is now in open rebellion. Although he tries to cover up his mistake by burning the book in question, and even though he appears to lose another debate with Beatty, his wife decides to turn in the alarm on him. Part II ends with the fire engine arriving at Montag's own house. Again the oneiric level of the text provides us with instructions about how to imagine these events. In particular, Faber's demystifying of the programmed fantastic occurs before we are given a series of representations from it (earlier we were only given the fragmented experience of the self in such a fantasy, which provides us with the proper distantiation to effect a criticism of its inner mechanisms and the secret of its appeal).
Early on in this part Montag remembers or imagines Beatty telling him how to read a book:
He could hear Beatty's voice. "Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page from the second and so on, chain smoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and time-worn philosophies." There sat Beatty, perspiring gently, the floor littered with swarms of black moths that had died in a single storm.
Beatty's reading is a kind of defloration, a perverse destruction that conserves nothing but depends on a total blank out of differences, lighting the third page from the second, never achieving synthesis but destroying past stages of history. The delicate nuances of meaning (color) produced by the flowering of reverie in the reader's mind (recall the flower image offered by the narrator of "The Sea Shell" here) are homogenized and made black by fire. Fire destroys those impurities and frictions, those irritants in reading that stimulate us to discover new things. Fire destroys dialectical negation, the very principle of reading, as Iser has shown, and with it the labor of the concept and the fruitfulness of historical contradiction. The hallucination Beatty creates on the basis of the text is one of repetition and sameness. Each page becomes a black moth in the scattering storm of his reading. The butterfly, often a symbol of fantasy itself, or, in less capricious terms, of the soul's unconscious attraction towards light, here dies without the hope of ever rising up past the threshold of the unconscious, for Beatty's reading is a habituation, like chain smoking. Elsewhere, in a later perspective segment bearing on his fascination for fire, Beatty says:
"What is there about fire that's so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?" Beatty blew out the flame and lit it again. "It's perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it'd burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It's a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don't really know. Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it. Now, Montag, you're a burden. And fire will life you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical."
Here Beatty's feeling for the beauty of fire, which mingles elements of both idolatry and ideology, belies his interest in its supposedly technological and practical effects. He is drawn to it (like a moth) because it destroys responsibility for his own life, his freedom. We note the persistence of a mythical attitude despite his claims to enlightenment. He even claims to know what the positivists do not know about fire with their "gobbledegook": fire as ideology is not brought about by friction with the real.
As Bachelard has shown, fire is an imaginative force that constantly distorts scientific inductions because it can explain anything—that is the secret of its ambivalence, which can never be entirely mastered, for human desires. It is both the subject (that which burns) and object (that which is burned); it is love, it is hate, comfort and torture, cookery and apocalypse. Beatty reveals his awareness of these contradictions when he says that fire is antibiotic, aesthetic, and practical, yet still a mystery, all at the same time. But if by ideology is meant a particular or relative discourse seeking to pass itself off as universal or absolute, then Beatty's discourse deserves this title, for it affirms only certain aspects of fire—those which stabilize a society of spectacles (the phoenix emblem on his uniform is a perfect example of this). Instead of proving our domination over nature, Beatty's discourse reveals an alienated nature's power over him, for man could never invent perpetual motion, the ideal of the consumer culture.
Beatty's complex thus is a true complex uniting the love of fire with the instinct for dying, felt as the appeal of the flames. At the center of his idolatry of fire is the Empedocles complex (Bachelard's name for it) containing the wish for the least lonely of deaths, one that would involve the entire universe in a conflagration (yes, Beatty also wants a cosmic reverie), but ironically he dies the most dehumanizing of deaths. In addition and most importantly, Beatty's idolatry of fire embraces the very principle of consumer culture: repetition and mechanical reproduction; once the reader discovers this, he has realized Bradbury's implicit oneiric criticism of our society.
It is Faber, however, who instructs Montag in the phenomenology of the reading process:
"Number one: Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are. That's my definition anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
"So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality."
The forbidden and dangerous book that Faber is holding in his hands—the Bible—could well stand as a resonant symbol for the totality of literature, so many of the central myths and archetypal patterns of literature have come from it (including both patterns of utopia, the arcadian paradise and the heavenly city). According to Northrop Frye, the Bible is a total verbal order, the supreme example of how various myths can be integrated into a single vast vision of the world. Faber asserts almost the same thing earlier in this dialogue when he says the magic in the web of literature is texture: "How they stitched the patches of the universe into one garment for us."
Indeed, there is a striking resemblance between Faber's remarks on the function of literature and Frye's assertion that the reader himself is responsible for the moral quality of what he reads, that the cultivated response to culture is a redemptive if not a revolutionary act of consciousness. Faber is a kind of failed Northrop Frye, who has always insisted that we can get a whole liberal education simply by picking up one conventional poem and following its archetypes as they stretch out into the rest of literature. In the context of a study of romance (which Frye believes to be the structural core of all fiction) Frye remarks:
When we study the classics of literature, from Homer on, we are following the dictates of common sense, as embodied in the author of Ecclesiastes: 'Better is the sight of the eye than the wandering of desire.' Great literature is what the eye can see: it is the genuine infinite as opposed to the phony infinite, the end-less adventures and endless sexual stimulation of the wandering of desire.
This resemblance may seem all the more striking when we remember that Montag's moral response to this society, which stimulates the wanderings of desire, is, loving the wisdom of the preacher so much, to become the Book of Ecclesiastes among the itinerant book people.
Actually, Frye is ambivalent about the wanderings of desire, as of any centrifugal motion. Perhaps, he opines, literature would not exist without it, for the production of culture may be, like ritual, a half-involuntary imitation of organic rhythms or processes. But our response to culture remains nevertheless a formed response to human values. For Frye, literature is not mere wish-fulfillment; it provides not satisfaction of desire, but a realization of both its positive and negative moments (in Fahrenheit 451, for example, the reader discovers both the negative and positive dimensions of utopia). The literary universe is saturated with desire: its heroes incarnate the desirable, its villains the undesirable. The romance-world, and by extension the world of literature in general, is a paradise, then, not because our desires are always fulfilled there, but because they can in any case always be incarnated, brought to consciousness, formulated by the reader. For Faber also fiction is a genuine infinite, an imaginative vision that is also an ordering process, opposed by its very structure to the spectacles (fireworks) of the mass media.
But whereas Frye's visual imagination pertains more to a flash of insight, when we at a certain point in the narrative see a total design or unifying structure of converging significance, and nothing more, Faber's gives way to material imagination and our recessive desire in reading. People have lost touch with the earth, the principle of continuity and reality. They have lost the ability to ground their needs in the experience of satisfaction and real contentment. They have allowed the "helping professions"—psychiatrists, family counselors—to define their needs and psychic health for them. It is no wonder that those needs never seem to be satisfied: they are completely mediated by electronic images; flowers are trying to live on flowers.
Faber's reading complex appreciates images, telling details, but wants them to be part of the chemistry of the earth. Literature must also make us feel Bachelardian reverie, the texture of that good black loam. For him, books smell of nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land: "I loved to smell them when I was a boy." Even though he scoffs at Montag's naive request that he teach him to read, calling him a hopeless romantic for equating books with happiness (the archetypal wise old man always has some sobering truth for us!) he reveals through his reading complex that literature was for him as a boy the secular scripture, romance. Frye suggests that it is possible to look at secular stories as a whole, as forming a single integrated vision of the world, parallel to the Christian and Biblical vision. Faber shares this formal and visual imagination, telling Montag next a story from that other fabulous branch of now secular literature, classical mythology: the fable of Hercules and Antaeus; but the very presence of a book such as the Bible (which he has not held in his hands for so long) is enough to stir the material imagination of a better world.
Faber tells Montag, and us, how to read, by himself using suggestive details. Hercules was only able to defeat the giant wrestler, Antaeus (whose mother was Earth and who stands here for the force of the material imagination) by holding him rootless in the air. Each time Hercules threw Antaeus to the ground he grew stronger from contact with his source, so each time we read books of quality and texture we gain the experience of life—grainy, fibrous, woven and dimensional, as opposed to smooth, narcissistic, surface interests. Faber's Antaeus complex also tells us that as acts of consciousness and as lived experiences, images (flowers/fireworks) produced from the reading process must be sustained by an awareness of a historical dimension. In Iser's cognitive terms we would say that the text's repertoire of literary allusions suggest answers to the problems that the selection of norms and thought systems raises. Realistic texture (Faber' saesthetic is close to that of a realist) is therefore the imaginary correction of a deficient reality. It is an infinite profusion that is imaginatively real, not a false infinity of mere facts. By contrast, Beatty wants people crammed full of "noncombustible data," such as the fact, which every fireman and reader of the book should known, that book paper catches fire at 451°F.
Although this vision of a radiant literacy has failed, in another sense it has not entirely been disproved either, which is perhaps the reason why Montag chooses to read Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" to Mildred and her friends in a scene we will examine in a moment. The powers of literature exist apart from any attempt to theorize them, and theory may ultimately be a kind of defense against this power, as Geoffrey Hartman argues in connection with Fahrenheit 451. As readers we realize this also about Beatty's theorizing: he is secretly afraid of literature. When Montag is asked by one of Mildred's friends if the presence of the book in his hands is because he is reading up on fireman theory he responds: "Theory, hell … It's poetry." So we would be wise to keep our distance from theory as well in reading this book. Nevertheless, we can affirm that Faber, like Frye, still convinces us that we need a means to unite the world of nature with a total human form. Frye has argued that culture insists on totality—for whatever is excluded from culture by religion or state will get its revenge somehow. Faber exults in Montag's ruse of putting forbidden books he has stolen in the houses of firemen and then turning in the alarm: "The salamander devours his tail!" Faber's speech is didactic, but it leaves open paths of reverie and cognition by using the legend of Hercules and Antaeus for Montag to imagine and complete his own cycle back to reality. Books precisely are not completely real, although they allow the real to enter into them. They can be beaten down with reason, he says. On the other hand the programmed fantastic is so immediate that it rivals the real world: "It grows you any shape it wishes!"
Let us now consider, in the light of these discoveries made by the utopian reader, an example of the representations of the programmed fantastic:
"Isn't this show wonderful?" cried Mildred.
On one wall a woman smiled and drank orange juice simultaneously. How does she do both at once? thought Montag, insanely. In the other walls an x-ray of the same woman revealed the contracting journey of the refreshing beverage on its way to her delighted stomach! Abruptly the room took off on a rocket flight into the clouds, it plunged into a lime-green sea where blue fish ate red and yellow fish. A minute later, Three White Cartoon Clowns chopped off each other's limbs to the accompaniment of immense incoming tides of laughter. Two minutes more and the room whipped out of town to the jet cars wildly circling an arena, bashing and backing up and bashing each other again. Montag saw a number of bodies fly in the air.
"Millie, did you see that!"
"I saw it, I saw it!"
Montag reached inside the parlor wall and pulled the main switch. The images drained away, as if the water had been let from a gigantic crystal bowl of hysterical fish.
In the five minutes during the showing of this fantasy, we see more action than in our slow moving world in many a day. It is, in fact, almost a perfect realization of Lasch's fears about the warlike social relations of a declining capitalist society where people are bashing and chopping each other to pieces for more consumer goods. First of all, we note the stimulation of infantile oral cravings. The x-ray provides the assurance (in this society which respects scientific images and facts it creates an aura of authenticity) that the shadowy and specular image of the ideal consumer's satisfaction is real. Then there follows a series of aggressive fantasy scenes, disconnected, and which entertain no relations of any kind with the reality principle. The action in these scenes completely defies the laws of gravitation, and seemingly all other known laws of nature. The room takes off on a rocket flight into the clouds and in the same sentence splashes into a lime-green sea where predation comically takes place. Weirdly artificial colors lend a kind of cartoon beauty to this scene that belies the obvious aggression of the fish; this is a reverie of the bright narcissistic surface of water, which quickly disperses without committing the imagination.
As the psychoanalytic critic Hans Sachs wittily observed on the subject of cartoons, this is animation with a vengeance (Sachs was punning on the regression of "animistic" thinking in cartoons). But interestingly, Sachs argued that the cartoon, unlike the fairy tale which does arouse anxiety and enable us to master it through its formal literary properties, is unable to eliminate or even diminish an anxiety situation (caused by the aggressive impulses of the spectator's projected id). This is so, Sachs argued, because in its pure form the cartoon is pure id, the overflowing vitality of libido. It offers us no coherence either of plot or of figures remotely resembling the human and through which we might identify.
How, then, does the cartoonist display so much aggression without arousing anxiety? Basically, says Sachs, it is "the amazing unreality of the world of cartoons which saves us from anxiety." In cartoons there really is no form by which we might master our fears (in Holland's sense of the transformation of fantasy), but everything is kept in constant motion (against the known laws of nature) so that our emotions seems sufficiently real, i.e., vivid. The cartoonist uses the unlimited despotic powers afforded to him by his medium to keep anxiety out of it. And as Lasch's social criticism here corroborates, in this type of fantasy Bradbury shows us that the modern propaganda of commodities has no need to disguise its id impulses—it gives us the illusion of a world full of vitality and force (in order to sell orange juice) and without the need for our imagination to engage itself. In the programmed fantastic, there are no novelistic techniques of illusion-building that might seek to simulate the reality of an action or a situation by having the reader use his own "free" imagination. Indeed, the very category of the real seems to be absent.
The Three White Clowns, who merrily chop each other's limbs off, are, of course, human figures, but the unreality of their gestures is rather emphasized by the fact that they are clowns. Anxiety is not supposed to be aroused here because they are not really losing their limbs (Sachs provides the example of Mickey Mouse, who in one instant is cut in half by a rolling wheel with a razor edge, and who in the next instant is reunited again, none the worse for his experience) in this unmistakably sadistic situation. It may of course arouse anxiety in the reader of Fahrenheit 451, but that is another matter. The spectators of this fantasy are perfectly assured that this violence is not real because the one technique for displacing anxiety that cartoons do in fact have is here effectively used: the Three White Clowns chop off each other's limbs to the accompaniment of immense incoming tides of laughter.
After unplugging the T. V. walls, Montag reads to Mildred and her friends Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach." It is an indication of Bradbury's confidence in the power of literature to bring neglected states of mind to light, to convert passive knowledge into active, that he makes us feel in this scene, despite the obvious impracticality of Montag's gesture, that as long as we remember one poem from the repertoire of mankind's greatest poetry, the effects of habituation which threaten to devour, like fire, our families, friends, and even our fear of war, will find it more difficult to settle in. The last line about ignorant armies clashing by night rings particularly true for this society which indeed seems like a land of dreams, for none of the women seem to acknowledge the impending war. The poem provides also the idea of an alternative life in which people really speak to one another. Lovers communicate their deepest feelings, needs, and aspirations consequent on the very condition of being alive, knowing they have to die, needing love. This is decidedly not the happy ending which these women have come to expect, however, for it brings out uncontrollable sobbing in Mrs. Phelps and outright anger in Mrs. Bowles. Montag cannot help furiously throwing them out of his house when they attack him for arousing real emotions in them.
He realizes later that he has made a terrible error in acting so openly against the state and reproaches himself for being such a fool. Nevertheless, as Faber gradually reads to him he feels himself gently split into two people, one of whom is educating the other. On the oneiric level of experience, Montag is able to imagine himself as fire plus water, Montag-plus-Faber: "Out of two separate and opposite things, a third." That third thing brought about by dialectical sublimation is wine, for wine remembers, as it is put away and conserved, the earth from which it came. This newself will remember the past and will know the fool it once was.
It is only in part III, "Burning Bright," that technology is used directly against itself. Montag destroys the mechanical hound with a "single wondrous blossom" of fire, and Beatty as well, who dies like "a gibbering mannekin, no longer human or known." Montag also burns his own house, making everything once familiar seem strange. In a final nightmarish scene, Montag on the run has a vision of himself reflected in millions of T. V. sets, and imagines seeing himself killed on television by the hound, "a drama to be watched objectively." This vision of a fictive self and its false identification with society marks the climax of Montag's feelings of unreality and doubleness. From hence forth in the novel burning bright will mean the rediscovery of the utopian ideal. We need now to examine how this is presented to the reader:
He felt as if he had left a stage behind and many actors. He felt as if he had left the great seance and all the murmuring ghosts. He was moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new.
The narrator relates these thoughts of Montage as he is "floating in a sudden peacefulness" downstream in a very real river he has plunged into in order to escape pursuit by the mechanical hound and the helicopters. They mark the beginning of a transition, a rebirth through water, a rite of passage that devests Montag entirely of his Fireman persona. This long water reverie symbolically puts out all the imaginary fires in Montag's mind. Montag's reverie becomes cosmic when he dreams of the sun and the burning of Time and the moon which shines by reflected light, discovering that he must never burn again in his life if human time is to be preserved.
When Montag drifts toward the shore, another reverie begins, organizing and transforming Montag's experience toward a utopian openness to the future. It has a highly organized, complexly layered, existential structure bearing the three dimensions of time (one indication that the programmed fantastic is so unreal is that it does not possess these existential temporal horizons): including the rediscovery of a happy childhood memory, events in the present, and a situation which is to emerge in the future, representing the fulfillment of a utopian wish as a broken promise.
The motion of the waters and the smell of hay from the shore awaken in Montag the memory of a farm he visited when he was "very young, one of the rare few times he discovered that somewhere behind the seven veils of unreality, beyond the tin moat of the city, cows chewed grass and pigs sat in warm ponds at noon, and dogs barked after white sheep on a hill." Obviously, he has transformed and idealized this memory through reverie into an arcadian utopia. Montag imagines sleeping in a hay loft on that farm. From this inhabited space he projects images of the future, utopian longings:
During the night, he thought, below the loft, he would hear a sound like feet moving, perhaps. He would tense and sit up. Thesound would move away. He would lie back and look out the loft window, very late in the night, and see the lights go out in the farmhouse itself, until a very young and beautiful woman would sit in an unlit window, braiding her hair. It would be hard to see her, but her face would be like the face of the girl so long ago in his past now, so very long ago, the girl who had known the weather and never been burnt by the fireflies, the girl who had known what dandelions meant rubbed off on your chin. Then, she would be gone from the warm window and appear again upstairs in her moon-whitened room. And then, to the sound of death, the sound of the jets cutting the sky in two black pieces beyond the horizon, he would lie in the loft, hidden and safe, watching those strange new stars over the rim of the earth, fleeing from the soft color of dawn.
Because of its oneiric level of meaning, this passage bears an experience of exceptional poignance. It may even approach the sublime. All the elements of its structure seem braided together like the girl's hair, with loving recollection. Clarisse has disappeared, and Montag hopes that she is not dead, projecting her face on that of the very beautiful young woman he imagines distantly in the window. That woman is clearly archetypal, however, being a Jungian spirit figure who symbolizes the free and sovereign image-making capacity of the mind. Clarisse had revealed Montag's unhappy being to him through the being of an image, a "dandelion test." She seems to him now the very spirit of utopia, innocent and inviolate, never burned by the sparks of any destructive fire, enabling him to master the sound of death with her fairy-tale stillness and beauty, helping him to watch with the ease of reverie the dawn chase away the apocalyptic stars.
For Freud, the utopian urge originates in the drive to restore an earlier state of gratification (mother-infant Eden-eternity), but Montag's reverie, from which we are forced to make only this brief selection, is actually what Ernst Bloch describes as a Traum nach vorwarts, a dreaming forward which fills the future with sublimated images of utopian desire. These images are certainly compounded of childhood wishes and desires, but reverie has so idealized them that they are uplifting and inspiring, quite unlike the images of satisfaction that can be found in the programmed fantastic, which are narcissistic and destructive. According to Bloch, the essence of the utopian principle is this: the interweaving of fear and wish (in our case, activated by the childhood image of the dawn) into a visionary future modeled on remembrance, imaginary or partially real, of the past. But Bloch stresses that utopian desire is not chaotic; it is formed wish. We would say that it is an imaginative existential structure open to the future: "… for the daydreaming 'I' persists throughout, consciously, privately, envisaging the circumstances and images of a desired, better life."
Montag's reverie is therefore a means for overtaking the future rather than a regression to the past. This scene resonates with what Bloch calls aurora archetypes which, when examined hermeneutically, reveal indications of utopian content like a glow on the horizon. For example, consider the open window lit bymoonlight (which, we have already learned from Montag's cognitive reverie in Part 1, shines with a reflected light, reminding us of a source of light to come) where we can barely see the face of our ideal. Consider the girl herself who symbolizes utopian reverie and who remains forever young despite the fact that Montag knows that Clarisse is dead (hence the feeling of broken promise in the passage). And finally, there is the dawn itself, which we are certain is going to bring the apocalypse yet not entirely destroy our hopes for the future.
Objects too are transformed in this reverie, revealing their being to us. Montag's reverie is powered by distinctly oral images of happiness, yet paradoxically these objects are not there to be destroyed by eating; they are sings of a different relationship to the world:
A cool glass of fresh milk, and a few apples and pears laid at the foot of the steps. This was all he wanted now. Some sign that the immense world would accept him and give him the long time he needed to think all the things that must be thought.
Imagining this scene, Montag steps from the river, having gained some notion of what the real satisfaction of human needs must be like "… a complete country night would have rested and slept him while his eyes were wide and his mouth, when he thought to test it, was half a smile." In the pink light of early morning when Montag has been made so aware of the world through his reverie, these objects appear as a "small miracle." But they are more than just the signs of a new composure towards things. Since they are no longer objects for consumption, allowing for their being to be revealed, Montag wants the time to "think all the things that need to be thought" in the hope of a poetic dwelling on the earth. Only when we let the thing be as the gathering together of the world in its "worlding" do we think, Heidegger says, of the thing as thing, how all that a thing is, is granted to it by the world. In terms of Heidegger's phenomenology, the fruit and the glass of milk a "thinging" things, not objects consigned to oblivion of being by technological thinking. These objects have lost their aura of commodity production and have taken on the power to reveal our being-in-the-world.
It is difficult to summarize the many levels of Montag's utopian aspirations in this long water reverie, and we have not even touched upon his dream of inhabiting the hayloft which stabilizes him long enough to participate in dramatic cosmic events, to represent to himself a world which is as yet to him unexplored and unfamiliar (he is floating on the surface of the water during the entire sequence). As an ontological structure relating self and world, however, we can affirm that it clearly manifests what Paul Tillich calls the transcendence of utopia: a structure of being wanting to transcend itself although at the same time wanting to remain within itself and protect itself. Montag's imaginary house-barn is a well-rooted being, so he does not fear climbing up to the loft where he can be open to the wind and the dawn, and toanother house seen from outside at night.
Montag goes on, after he emerges from the river, to deeper reveries of a new autochthony in the forest world, where he imagines himself an animal attracted to a campfire, around which a group of the itinerant book-people have gathered to warm themselves. Montag is unfamiliar with this human use of fire and with the experience of language it gives rise to:
There was a silence gathered all about the fire and the silence was in the men's faces, and time was there, time enough to sit by this rusting track under the trees and look at the world and turn it over with the eyes, as if it were held to the center of the bonfire, a piece of steel these men were all shaping. It was not only the fire that was different. It was the silence. Montag moved toward this special silence that was concerned with all of the world.
And then the voices began and they were talking, and he could hear nothing of what the voices said, but the sound rose and fell quietly and the voices were turning the world over and looking at it; the voices knew the land and the trees and the city which lay down the track by the river. The voices talked of everything, there was nothing they could not talk about, he knew, from the very cadence and motion and continual stir of curiosity and wonder in them.
This description of campfire and silence at first breaks the pattern of narrative by putting the reader in a position of reverie, and therefore of reflection vis-à-vis himself. It is, in fact, a Bachelardian reverie of the forge which expresses the liberation of natural resources and the productive use of human energies. These men are intent on touching the world in material imagination, shaping it like a piece of metal in the sunset of their fire. Concern is the dominant mood. Even though we enter into a position of observing, we do not lose ourselves through technological domination of nature, because language and representation here arise from a conscious center (the bonfire). New worlds are being cast; language has the power to talk about anything but nothing is repressed. In the image of the campfire-forge, Bradbury shows us how the imagination (for it is clear that Montag has never before encountered such a "forge" in reality) can itself provide standards and values for our involvement with the world.
Even the nightmare of the telescreens has shrunk to a manageable proportion in this wilderness:
Granger snapped the portable viewer on. The picture was a nightmare, condensed, easily passed from hand to hand in the forest, all whirring color and flight.
It is Granger who further enlightens Montag about the programmed fantastic by showing him how to view, without allowing hisimagination to take over, the death of someone who unfortunately looks like him on the telescreen. He exposes this society's carefully controlled scapegoating and murder of innocent victims. We realize that books have been the mock victims on an altar of fiery sacrifice all along. This society was not rational or enlightened, but had reverted to myth and ritual in order to control forces it no longer understood.
After the atomic war that has been building finally erupts, destroying the city, Granger also tells Montag a fable about the phoenix, who "must have been a first cousin to man." This is not symbolism, but allegory. The fabulous bird embodies our multi-colored dreams of the dominance of nature—our aspiration towards utopia—but also the destructive tendencies inherent in such a project which involves a forgetting of ourselves as part of nature. Yet it is also that within us which enables us to overcome the death of our dreams and to build again. If we understand it as allegory, we can effect some distance from this blind destructive cycle. The bird is only first cousin to man, and unlike the bird, we know the "damn silly things" we have done as Granger makes clear. We know temporal difference and irony, if we remember our past, our books. Beatty (whose very name suggests the ringmaster of a famous circus) was obsessed with the phoenix and the salamander as visionary images of atemporal authority and power that suppresses differences. We understand now that he was himself a frustrated romantic who believed, despite himself, in numinous symbols of nature.
Montag searches the faces of the book people for some trace of his ideal of radiant literacy, but finds none. The old romantic metaphor of the lamp is put away for Granger's idea of the book as a mirror. But we know this is not to be taken to mean simple identification, for we are to take a long hard look at ourselves. Besides, we are jokingly told not to judge a book by its cover. We must read it slowly and thoughtfully first, paying attention to its images and what it has to say. Montag is only partly sure that he has wisdom within him, but not from the tree of knowledge. As the book ends we are offered a quotation from Revelations that is itself a leaf from the tree of life, for the healing of nations. Knowledge must someday be converted back into life; through it the fruitfulness of utopia must come.
The complaint that utopian novels are more concerned with ideas than characters, and present characters who are simply one-dimensional spokesmen for the author's social hypothesis, is often voiced. I do not think that this change can be brought successfully against Fahrenheit 451, despite the fact that it uses the conventional figures of the utopian novel (Montag is himself the utopian traveller in disguise). Because it dramatizes the contradictions of books in a society where the reading of literature is forbidden, it motivates the reader easily and intensely to take up the quest for the utopian past. And because of its suggestive deployment of many different modes of reverie, it preserves the archetypes of utopian satisfaction as a criticism of the culture industry the reading subject has to work out for himself. Is it necessary to say that Fahrenheit 451 continues to be relevant today, since the trends Bradbury projected in 1953 are unabated?
David Mogen (essay date 1986)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2505
SOURCE: "Fahrenheit 451," in Ray Bradbury, Twayne Publishers, 1986, pp. 105-11.
[In the following excerpt, Mogen provides favorable analysis of Fahrenheit 451, citing Bradbury's use of satire, metaphor, and stylistic excellence to deliver social commentary.]
If The Martian Chronicles (1950) established Bradbury's mainstream reputation as America's foremost science-fiction writer, publication of Fahrenheit 451 three years later (1953) confirmed the promise of the earlier book. Indeed, these two science-fiction novels from the early fifties seem destined to survive as Bradbury's best-known and most influential creations, the most sustained expressions of his essentially lyrical treatment of science-fiction conventions. The Martian Chronicles presents the pioneering space romance in a distinctive tone of poignant irony and elegy; Fahrenheit 451 counterpoises this ironic otherworldly drama with a searing vision of earthbound entrapment, evoking a painfully ambivalent poetry of incineration and illumination from the conventions of antiutopian fiction. Whereas The Martian Chronicles portrays entrapment in memory, the difficulty of accepting and adapting to an alien environment, Fahrenheit 451 dramatizes entrapment in a sterile and poisonous culture cut off from its cultural heritage and imaginative life, vigilantly preserving a barren present without past or future. Though Fahrenheit 451 has been accused of vagueness and sentimentality, it remains one of the most eloquent sciencefiction satires, a vivid warning about mistaking, in Orville Prescott's phrase, "mindless happiness and slavish social conformity" for "progress."
Fahrenheit 451 fuses traditional themes of antiutopian fiction to focus satirically on the oppressive effect of a reductionist philosophy of "realism" translated into social policy. A very American satire, written in response to the cold war atmosphere after World War II, the novel's sarcasm is directed not at specific government institutions but at antiintellectualism and cramped materialism posing as social philosophy, justifying book burning in the service of a degraded democratic ideal. Fahrenheit 451 depicts a world in which the American Dream has turned nightmare because it has been superficially understood. For all his burning eloquence Captain Beatty represents Bradbury's satirical target, not Big Brother but the potentially tyrannical smallmindedness of the common man, perverting the most basic community institutions to enforce conformity. The underground scholar Faber warns Montag that the captain's rhetoric, like the seductive brilliance of the fire, destroys the foundations of true freedom in its leveling blaze: "Remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy totruth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, the terrible tyranny of the majority."
Given this satirical target—the debased Americanism of McCarthyism—the ironically reversed role of the "firemen" serves admirably as Bradbury's central metaphor, since it represents both the charismatic seductiveness of demagoguery and a perversion of the community values of Green Town, Bradbury's symbol of the American tradition at its best. Indeed, the power of Fahrenheit 451's imagery derives from this ironic inversion of values in an institution that once evoked Bradbury's boyish awe and respect. Writing of the personal memories that inform the novel, he recalls how like many boys he idolized local firemen prepared to battle the "bright monster" of fire:
And I did pass the firehouse often, coming and going to the library, nights and days, in Illinois, as a boy, and I find among my notes many pages written to describe the red trucks and coiled hoses and clump-footed firemen, and I recall that night when I heard a scream from a part of my grandmother's house and ran to a room and threw open a door to look in and cry out myself.
For there, climbing the wall, was a bright monster. It grew before my eyes. It made a great roaring sound and seemed fantastically alive as it ate of the wallpaper and devoured the ceiling.
In his memory, the firehouse is the protector of library and home. And this heroic image of the community firehouse, the curiously thrilling terror of fire, inspire the angry lyricism of Bradbury's vision of the American Dream gone awry: for in this appalling future the community firehouse has become the impersonal agent of fire itself, destroying rather than preserving the community institutions Bradbury cherishes above all others—family life, schools, and, most fundamentally of all, perhaps, the local library. As Donald Watt demonstrates in "Burning Bright: Fahrenheit 451 as Symbolic Dystopia," ambivalent associations with fire, both destroyer and center of hearth and home, fundamentally structure the novel. But the ambivalence evoked by fire metaphorically represents the ambivalent implications of American democracy, the possibility that the communal spirit of Green Town could become an American form of totalitarianism, a "tyranny of the majority" as fearful as the tyranny of Big Brother, founded on shallow misunderstanding of rationality, science, and the nature of "happiness."
Yet if Fahrenheit 451 gains power and specificity from its American frame of reference, the satire also applies to patterns that can recur in all societies, whenever reductionist philosophies resultin the sacrifice of individuals and free play of imagination for the common good. Bradbury's satire is directed not at American ideals but at simplistic perversions of them, as well as at the American innocence that assumes totalitarianism can't happen here. However, horror at Hitler inspired the book's original conception, that to burn books is to burn people: "When Hitler burned a book I felt it as keenly, please forgive me, as burning a human, for in the long sum of history they are one and the same flesh." And though Hitler is defeated, and McCarthy's era finished, they will always have successors who will keep the firemen at work: "For while Senator McCarthy has been long dead, the Red Guard in China comes alive and idols are smashed and books are thrown to the furnace all over again. So it will go, one generation printing, another generation burning, yet another remembering what is good to remember so as to print again." Ultimately, Fahrenhelt 451 warns that tyranny and thought control always come under the guise of fulfilling ideals, whether they be those of Fascism, Communism, or the American Dream. Yet the cyclical pattern Bradbury describes also suggests the positive implications of one of the book's central symbols, the Phoenix: for, like the Phoenix, mankind always arises from ashes to rediscover and refashion a desecrated cultural heritage.
Though Fahrenheit 451 has been compared frequently to Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four—an obviously influential model—it actually combines the oppressive atmosphere of Orwell's police state with a cultural milieu derived from the other major model in the science-fiction antiutopian tradition, Huxley's Brave New World. Indeed, the novel's affinities with Brave New World are profound, since they establish the basic thrust of Bradbury's satire, which is not directed at authoritarianism but at a more characteristically American problem, a reductionist, materialist image of human nature and human culture reinforced through mass entertainment media. Though the novel's basic mechanics of thought control derive from Orwell, Bradbury's satirical vision does not focus primarily on government itself but on the potentially poisonous superficiality of mass culture, on whose behalf the firemen work. As in Huxley's satire (itself profoundly influenced by American culture in the twenties), the power of totalitarianism in Fahrenheit 451 derives primarily from pleasure rather than pain, from addiction to mindless sensation rather than from fear of government oppression. The firemen work for the "people," not for an established hierarchy. Indeed, compared to Big Brother the firemen are haphazard and mild agents of repression.
Next to Orwell's vision of totalitarianism, Bradbury's appears vaguely defined, both ideologically and politically. Montag's entrapment generates nothing like the weight of despair that crushes Winston Smith's spirit. Yet understanding the American context in which Bradbury writes clarifies the logic of this political vagueness, since his major satirical target is the leveling impulse of mass culture, rather than the rigidity of ideology. As Kingsley Amis suggests, Bradbury's style is very different from Orwell's, working through key symbols rather than through elaborately imagined detail. Yet the final effect is similarly impressive: "The book [Fahrenheit 451] emerges quite creditably from a comparison with Nineteen Eighty-four as inferior in power, but superior in conciseness and objectivity."
As is true of all Bradbury's best science fiction, Fahrenheit 451 dramatizes its central extrapolations with lyrical intensity, creating an atmosphere of entrapment that originates in the mind-numbing addictiveness of mass culture as much as from the firemen themselves. The novel's most powerful scenes are not the sometimes tedious expositions in dialogue, but descriptive passages, asides, which capture the inarticulate spiritual desolation disguised by the busy, upbeat appearances of this world. As they burn, books and magazines appear as "slaughtered birds" drenched with kerosene, expiring with a dying fall: "A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering." Montag sees himself in the mirror as "a minstrel man, burnt-corked" smiling a smile that "never ever went away, as long as he remembered." The single most powerful scene evoking this atmosphere of glazed entrapment, perhaps, is the description of Mildred dying of an overdose of sleeping pills in their bedroom, a "cold marbled … mausoleum after the moon has set." She is at her most appealing in this icy trance, like a princess cast under deathly enchantment by incantations from her "Seashell ear thimbles" and the hypnotic ritual activity of her television "walls," imaging forth in her "moonstone" eyes a despair she can never consciously acknowledge: "Two moonstones looked up at him in the light of his small hand-held fire; two pale moonstones buried in a creek of clear water over which the life of the world ran, not touching them."
This icy alienation is the inner reality preserved by the fierce blaze of the firemen, a sterile desert of "happiness" within the widening circle of flames. Mildred's waking self, hungry only for distracting sensations, has irrevocably disassociated itself from her interior life, a subliminal meaning Truffaut artfully visualized by casting the same actress as both Mildred and Clarisse. Montag himself has never been able to distance himself so utterly from his inner self, that "subconscious idiot that ran babbling at times" inside his skull. It is this irrepressible inner self that projects his culture's hidden despair into cosmic imagery of alienation, imagining their noisy machines might leave them snowbound in stardust: "He felt that the stars had been pulverized by the sound of the black jets and that in the morning the earth would be covered with their dust like a strange snow. That was his idiot thought as he stood shivering in the dark, and let his lips go on and on, moving and moving."
Structurally, Fahrenheit 451 moves from these early images of entrapment and alienation ("Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander"), through Montag's acknowledgement of and integration with the voice of his inner self (which becomes for a while the literal voice of Faber in "Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand"), to the final journey downriver to refuge in the wilderness ("PartThree: Burning Bright"). There those who have preserved their own inner life and man's cultural heritage quietly observe the final apotheosis of the culture that drove them out, as it finally consumes itself in flames. Thus, as the novel develops, the ambiguous connotations of Bradbury's central symbols express the emotional impact of his theme, the process of death and rebirth for Montag and the interior values he represents.
As the title suggests, fire provides the central metaphors for Fahrenheit 451. It opens and closes with contrasting images of fire and light, and the shifts in their symbolic associations illustrate how the novel's theme develops. In the opening description Montag revels in flame, like the mythical salamander, a blackened emblem of his culture's exhilaration in sensationalism and destruction: "It was a pleasure to burn…. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning." This fire is associated with darkness rather than light. But by the book's conclusion Montag has learned of the other fire of the "hearth," which warms and lights both "home" and "heart." Watching an old woman martyr herself in a pyre of her own books ignites a blaze of illumination inside him he cannot extinguish: "This fire'll last me the rest of my life." When he stumbles upon his first campfire in the wilderness, he finally comprehends fire's natural role in the "hearth," and he draws the moral himself: "It was not burning, it was warming."
In the campfire's glow Montag finally experiences the warmth of genuine human community, the slow lilt of relaxed conversation that in other contexts Bradbury identifies with talk at dusk on Green Town porches: "The voices talked of everything, there was nothing they could not talk about, he knew, from the very cadence and motion and continued stir of curiosity and wonder in them." And after the cities are scorched in the salamander's final revelry, the glow of the morning campfire blends into the light of a new day, as fire and light once again assume their roles in the natural cycle: "They finished eating and put the fire. The day was brightening all about them as if a pink lamp had been given more wick. In the trees, the birds that had flown away quickly now came back and settled down." Thus, the phoenix spirit of mankind regenerates new life from ashes, as Montag walks in the wilderness and savors the prophetic lines from Revelation: "And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
Like all of Bradbury's best fiction, Fahrenheit 451 creates its best effects through vivid style. Yet it is also unique among his major writings for the sustained tautness of the narrative. Two of his other book-length fictions, The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine, are not so much novels as patterned colleges of vignettes and short stories. And his other major novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Death Is a Lonely Business, are baggy monsters by comparison, in which the lyrical asides threaten to subvert the central narratives. But in Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury achieved his central artistic objective, to rewrite the original novella, "The Fireman," with the sustained intensity of his bestshort fiction: "I wanted to write a short novel and have it as 'truthful' as my stories. A novel, that is, with a skin around it and its own essence and being sacked up inside." This results, as Kingsley Amis describes it, in a "fast and scaring narrative" that successfully utilizes Bradbury's lyrical gifts to musically develop its disturbing theme.
An illustration of the fact that science fiction can comment eloquently on social problems, a story that translated effectively into Francois Truffaut's film, Fahrenheit 451 deserves its reputation as one of the best American books of the postwar era. Willis McNelly calls it "in every way a magnificent achievement, perhaps his best book," and Mark Hillegas described it in the mid-sixties as "the archetypal anti-utopia of the new era in which we live." Fueled by Bradbury's lifelong passion for books and libraries, by his indignation at seeing American ideals defiled, Fahrenheit 451 succeeds in warning of fire's seductive appeal while also affirming the power of man's phoenix-nature—the capacity to be warmed with inner illumination in desperate circumstances, to endure and rebuild new hearths in the ashes of history.
Susan Spencer (essay date 1991)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2267
SOURCE: "The Post-Apocalyptic Library: Oral and Literate Culture in Fahrenheit 451 and A Canticle for Leibowitz," in Extrapolation, Vol. 32, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 331-42.
[In the following excerpt, Spencer examines oral tradition, textual knowledge, and their respective implications for memory and power as demonstrated in Fahrenheit 451.]
At the dawn of widespread literacy in fourth-century Athens, Plato appended to the end of his Phaedrus a story that has often been perceived as, as Jacques Derrida puts it, "an extraneous mythological fantasy." Derrida argues in Dissemination that there is nothing extraneous about the myth at all, but rather it is an expression of an important and timely idea with which the classical Athenians were concerned. Recent orality/literacy theory, as outlined by Eric A. Havelock, Walter S. Ong, and others, would seem to back him up. The story is that of the discovery of the technology of writing, a tale that Socrates claims is traditional among the Egyptians. According to Socrates, the god Theuth invented this technology and offered it to the king of Upper Egypt as something that would "make the people of Egypt wiser and improve their memories." But the king scorned Theuth's gift, saying:
by reason of your tender regard for the writing that is your offspring, [you] have declared the very opposite of its true effect. If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only itssemblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.
The remark about "telling them … without teaching them" is evidently an expression of uneasiness with the idea of text as what Ong calls "unresponsive." In Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, Ong sees one of Socrates's arguments as being "if you ask a person to explain his or her statement, you can get an explanation; if you ask a text, you get back nothing except the same, often stupid, words which called for your question in the first place." While this idea is so commonplace to us as to go practically unnoticed, except when we are frustrated by a particularly opaque text, it was new and frightening to the Greeks. According to Havelock in "The Oral Composition of Greek Drama," the late fifth and early fourth century B.C. was a period of relatively rapid change in literary style, as a direct result of the spread of popular literacy. Not only was an explanatory oral framework done away with, but also the old formulaic devices that helped oral composers keep their place and remember what they were talking about. "Compositionally, as plays began to be written with the expectation of being read, the composer would feel a reduced pressure to conform to certain mnemonic rules. The invented would be freer to prevail over the expected." This, Havelock hypothesizes, created some tension in the Greek theater—a tension that can be traced in Aristophanes's Frogs, where the more conservative, more "oral" Aeschylus wins a contest against the more "literary" and startlingly original Euripides; and, as we can see (although Havelock does not mention it here), in the inherent uneasiness in Plato's Phaedrus.
Although "The Oral Composition of Greek Drama" was first published in 1980, some theory of postliterary tension was working its way into the intelligentsia several decades before. To quote Havelock again, in his 1950 book The Crucifixion of Intellectual Man, the myth of the Fall in Genesis, as a direct result of eating of the tree of knowledge, "gives poignant expression to that conflict within the civilized consciousness of man, between his sense of intellectual power and his distrust and fear of that power…. All the warmth and the richness of man's nature demand that he live in the protection of certain illusions in order to be secure, happy, and peaceful." The "expected" rather than the "invented." The further the artificial "memory" created by textuality stretches back, and the more it can be built upon by an advancing science, the more that security fades away. Man becomes dangerous and also frightened. "Though our science may kill us, it will never allow us to retreat. Somehow we know that we would never burn enough books, nor eliminate enough intellectuals, to be able to return to the warm room" of blissful ignorance.
Within a decade of this assurance, two famous science fiction novels appeared dealing with the very attempt that Havelock had just pronounced futile: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959). In Fahrenheit 451 the protagonist, Guy Montag, is a "fireman"; that is, he burns forbidden books, and the houses that hide them, for a living. This is a busy job, considering the fact that just about all books are forbidden. There are a few rare exceptions, such as three-dimensional comic books, trade journals and, of course, rule books, those mainstays of any oppressive society. The rule book for the Firemen of America includes a brief history of the profession: "Established 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin." According to the only available text, and to the voice of political authority, this is a glorious and time-honored profession, an idea that gives the firemen a sense of continuity and security … and, perhaps, allows Bradbury to make a comment on the fact that textual knowledge is power, even—or perhaps especially—false knowledge. Power becomes unbreachable if textual information is monolithic. According to the sinister but brilliant fire chief, Beatty, the main danger in books is that "none of those books agree with each other." Very true, but a danger to whom? Peace of mind, he argues repeatedly. To one law-breaker, kneeling despairingly amid her kerosene-soaked illegal books, Beatty cries, "You've been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap out of it!"
Inevitably, Montag becomes discontented with the status quo and curious about this nebulous "danger." Both his discontent and his curiosity are intensified when the woman mentioned above chooses to burn with her books rather than lose them. Beatty, seeing his distress when Montag feels "sick" and feigns illness, explains the real advent of the firemen in phrases that echo Havelock's concept of the loss of the "warm room" but takes it to its extreme limit:
You always dread the unfamiliar…. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.
On the literary side, he also echoes Plato on the "conceit of wisdom," and just how far that can be taken as a sort of leveling device:
Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. 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, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.
These things are written, but they are not literature. The classicist may be reminded here of the problems associated with Linear B, the proto-Greek script found at Mycenae and Knossos. All of the inscriptions are "bald counting-house dockets," "a text of the greatest interest" being a tablet that "lists amounts of barley against various classes of craftsmen." There is no literature per se, unless one were to use the standard eighteenth-century definition of literature as "anything written." As a result, it is difficult to get students interested in learning Linear B. There is simply nothing interesting to read. The situation is described by Havelock as one of preliteracy, in spite of the physical existence of written text: "whereas historians who have touched upon literacy as a historical phenomenon have commonly measured its progress in terms of the history of writing, the actual conditions of literacy depend upon the history not of writing but of reading." One needs an audience. Get the audience to lose interest, and you can do away with the literate civilization. In Fahrenheit 451 the reader has the feeling of moving backward in time to a preliterate society, and the content of the society's "literature," although here it is for political ends, strengthens this impression.
The last phrase of Beatty's pronouncement, "That way lies melancholy," with its literary overtones—very different from the plainer common speech of his subordinates—is not unusual for Beatty. In keeping with the idea that knowledge is power, Bradbury gives us several hints that the fire chief has had frequent access to the forbidden texts and that this is either a cause or a result of his being made chief (just which one is unclear). Like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s short story "Harrison Bergeron," set in another disturbing dystopia where "everybody [is] finally equal," some people are seen clearly to be more equal than others and thus enabled to wield power over their fellows. In Vonnegut's story, the ascendancy is physical: Diana Moon Glampers, the "Handicapper General," is the only citizen who isn't decked out in distorting glasses, distracting ear transmitters, and bags of birdshot to weaken her to the level of society's lowest common denominator. In Fahrenheit 451, the ascendancy is purely textual, but that is enough. Beatty's obnoxious confidence and habit of quoting famous works strikes the reader immediately and leads to a question that Bradbury never answers: why is this highly literate person permitted to survive, let alone hold a position of high authority, in an aggressively oral society? Something is rotten in the whole system. Evidently someone higher up, Beatty's shadowy superior, feels that there is some inherent value in a well-read man, in spite of all the political rhetoric. This probability is directly opposed to Beatty's frequent deprecation of texts (a protection of his own monopoly?) and claim that the eventual ban of almost all books was not a political coup accomplished by a power-hungry elite at one fell swoop. Beatty's explanation, which we are never called upon to doubt, is that an outraged people seeking complete equality called for more and more censorship as texts became more widely available to interest groups that might be offended by them: "It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick." As Plato warned thousands of years earlier, well-read man had become anoffensive "burden to his fellows."
Bradbury closes the novel, however, with an optimistic view: the text will prevail, and man will be the better for it. This is shown symbolically in the escape from the city by Montag and Faber, the only two literate men in the story besides Beatty—who, also symbolically, perishes in the same manner as the many books he has burned. The ignorant oral-culture citizens, radios tamped securely in their ears, remain in the city to be blown up by an enemy they could easily have escaped, if it weren't for the fact that their monolithic media preferred to keep them ignorant and happy. Having taken up with a group of itinerant professors, haltingly trying to remember the text of Ecclesiastes, Montag takes the first steps toward realizing the dream he had as he blindly fled the government's persecution: "Somewhere the saving and the putting away had to begin again and someone had to do the saving and keeping, one way or another, in books, in records, in people's heads, any way at all so long as it was safe, free from moths, silverfish, rust and dry-rot, and men with matches."
The idea that it is safe only when locked away in memory is almost a startling one in this book that so privileges the literary text; it seems as if the author has come full circle to an oral culture and the need to circumvent the shortcomings of Theuth's invention. Yet Bradbury makes it clear that they will write everything down as soon as possible and will try to reconstruct a fully literate society again. This should not take long, and is certainly desirable. The concept of text is a progressive thing, not a cyclical, and as long as any remnants remain there is always a base, however small, on which to build a better and wiser world….
Both A Canticle for Leibowitz and Fahrenheit 451 end with a nuclear apocalypse and a new literacy springing from the ashes. Bradbury's positive, progressive view of literary history contrasts sharply with Miller's negative, cyclical view, just as Bradbury's depiction of a predominately oral culture as mind-numbing contrasts with Miller's depiction of orality as the preserver of ritual and collective human values. One might conclude this paper with the Unanswerable Question so popular with medieval bards at the ends of their stories: "Which point of view is the correct one?" And, as it has always been, the correct answer is "both."