Discussion Topic

Materialism in Fahrenheit 451 and its relevance to contemporary society

Summary:

Materialism in Fahrenheit 451 is depicted through society's obsession with superficial entertainment and technology, leading to a decline in critical thinking and genuine human connections. This theme is relevant to contemporary society as it mirrors current concerns about the impact of consumerism and digital distractions on our ability to engage deeply with the world and maintain meaningful relationships.

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Does Fahrenheit 451 contain aspects of materialism? Is it still relevant today?

The people in Montag's society have a world that revolves around key material possessions:  their t.v. walls and their fast cars.  The t.v. walls are extremely expensive; so expensive, in fact, that one wall alone costs "one-third of [Montag's] yearly pay."  So 4 months of salary would be sucked down the tubes through one t.v. wall.  It would take their entire life's earnings to keep up with the entertainment expectations that Mildred has.  Also, Clarisse alludes to the fact that all of her friends have cars that they like to drive around really fast, causing havoc and violence; in fact, "ten of them died in car wrecks" from their driving.  Mildred, when she is upset, likes to take their car out and "get it up around ninety-five and you feel wonderful."  So, their society's entire happiness is centered around these material possessions; it is a way for them to escape, to not have to think, and to drown their miseries.  Later, Montag is talking about all of the wars that they have gotten into and wonders why, saying,

"Is it because we're so rich and the rest of the world's so poor...we're well fed."

So at least in his society, they are rich, well fed, and living a life filled with ease and comfort.

Today, there are many similarities.  Many people think that they can find happiness in money; many parents buy their kids things in order to show their love and provide a "better life" for their kids.  In fact, it has been materialism, and the desire for bigger and better things that has, in part, contributed to the economic recession that we are now in.  Too many people wanted a house, and wanted to have nice things, even if they couldn't afford it.  That has caused a lot of economic turmoil, and led only to more unhappiness, just as the people in Montag's society were surrounded by comforts, but miserable.

I hope that those thoughts help; good luck!

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Does our society exhibit materialism similar to that in Fahrenheit 451?

Yes, our society has the same materialistic tendencies as the society depicted in Fahrenheit 451. More to the point, we have the same obsession with technology. People tend to drive everywhere, just as they do in the novel. We tend to spend more time in the virtual reality of our various screens and devices than we do in nature or experiencing other people face to face. An old-fashioned family like Clarisse's, that walks and talks and is unplugged from technology, is as much an oddity in our society as in Bradbury's dystopia.

While the great worry in Bradbury's imagined universe is a nuclear war, which in the novel represents technology gone mad or run amok, in our culture it is climate change, though nuclear destruction still lurks as a potent concern. In both cultures, visual media is often the chief way people get information, rather than books, though books are not banned in our society. People in both worlds have a materialistic desire to own technological gadgets.

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Does our society exhibit materialism similar to that in Fahrenheit 451?

Yes, I believe our society has a materialistic propensity as the characters do in "Fahrenheit 451".  Just we do in our lives, the characters in the book measure their value by their possessions.  Montag's wife is constantly pestering him to purchase a 4th screen for their TV.  This addition to their possessions would seemingly make their lives complete.  In our society, people often measure their self-worth with the number and type of possessions they have.  Teenagers compete to have the best iPod or cell phone.  Just like in "Fahrenheit 451", advertising encourages this materialistic nature in our world.  The TV is constantly encouraging Montag's wife to buy this or that to help improve her life.  Our advertising is very similar.  Clarisse is a foil to this in the book.  Through her anti-materialistic nature, she helps the reader see this about the society in "Fahrenheit 451".

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What evidence shows society's fixation on materialism in Fahrenheit 451?

The people in the dystopia of Fahrenheit 451 are consumers of materialism: they burn books, overdose on drugs, watch TV non-stop, and use helicopters and mechanical hounds to spy on and kill people.

In Part II "The Sieve and the Sand" Captain Beatty says:

The books are 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.'  Most of us can't rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends.  The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.  Don't ask for guarantees.  And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library.  Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore. (86)

Books stand in sharp contrast to materialism.  First, they are comprised of ideas, and they lead to asceticism (the holy life).  The Book People are like the prophets and disciples in the scriptures: they are common men who live outside society by humble means for a higher cause.  Other martyrs, like Clarisse and the woman who burned herself, refuse to base their lives on material items; instead, they live by the light of knowledge taken from books.  Gradually, Montag learns from their examples.

Beatty says that the "The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world."  The dystopia of F451 is based on worldly items: houses, wall screens, drugs, sex, and money.  Beatty tempts Montag here the way Satan tempted Christ: with bread (hunger for wants, desires, things).

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What evidence shows society's fixation on materialism in Fahrenheit 451?

I would say that the best evidence of both of these problems can be seen in the character of Millie Montag.

Millie is the character that we see who is most clearly fixated on material things.  It seems like all she can think about is getting that fourth parlour wall put in so that she can spend more time with her "families" in the shows that come on the parlour walls.  She does not really care about anything other than the walls and the "people" who she sees on them.

As far as not understanding themselves, she exemplifies that as well.  She is so clueless about herself that she does not even realize that she took the overdose of sleeping pills and almost died.  We can see that many people in the society are just like that because one of the men who pumped her stomach out said that they had lots of people who needed to be saved in that way.  To me, that indicates that many of the people think they are happy but don't understand that they are really very depressed.

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