Fahrenheit 451

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Fahrenheit 451

Social Context - Technological advances: Television - During the 50's, mass culture became very prominent in the United States. Since the audience of the television shows were of such a wide variety, producers moulded shows that would be both entertaining to most yet still offensive to as few as possible. By the end of the decade, 90% of American households had a television in their living room, and a large portion of the population listed watching television as their favourite past-time.   Transistor Radio - After its introduction in 1954, the transistor radio became widespread across America, as it was portable, allowing the car-crazed population to take their music with them. Social Context - Technological advances: Television - During the 50's, mass culture became very prominent in the United States. Since the audience of the television shows were of such a wide variety, producers moulded shows that would be both entertaining to more yet still offensive to as few as possible. By the end of the decade, 90% of American households had a television in their living room, and a large portion of the population listed watching television as their favourite past-time. Transistor Radio - After its introduction in 1954, the transistor radio became widespread across America, as it was portable, allowing the car-crazed population to take their music with them.

What is Censorship? Censorship is the suppression and supervision of ideas circulated throughout society. Authorities tend to control this through monitoring various forms of media and literature.

Historical Context: Nazi Book Burnings (April 1933) - The Nazi book burnings consisted of burning any books that were considered to be 'un-German'. It was proposed at the time that this would help cleanse the German society and make it more pure. In Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty has this same impression of book burning - that it can sanitise society by eliminating the unwanted. Beatty's perspective of fire being a means of achieving purity is refers in the quote "fire is bright and fire is clean". Here, Beatty is shown to consider fire as something that restores purity and is positive for his community. One of the symbols that a firman has adorned on his uniformin the text is the 'phoenix'. The phoenix is an Egyptian symbol representing rebirth, as it rises from the ashes of fire and is cleansed by the fire, therefore also being associated with purity. At the Nazi book burning, Joseph Goebbels (head of Nazi propaganda) stated that "from this wreckage [the ashes of the un-German books that were burnt] the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise...", a symbol that Ray Bradbury employs in Fahrenheit 451 as the firemen believe that the burning of books will give them a new, cleansed spirit.

What is a dystopia?A dystopia is a futuristic, imagined universe in which there is the illusion of a perfect society. Through an authority exercising an oppressive societal control, the creator of the dystopia makes a comment on socital trend or norm on the world at the time through magnifying the flaws of that society. Dystopias are commonly used in the sci-fi genre as it helps the writer to talk about current issues in a more indirect way - the future. Characteristics of a dystopia:- Propaganda- Restriction of freedom and independent thought- Citizens exist in a dehumanised state- Citizens conform to uniform expectations- Separation within society

Dystopian Literature

Fahrenheit 451Ray BradburyRachel Hertzman


How Fahrenheit 451 depicts a dystopia - Bradbury restricts all freedom of the futuristic society which the book Fahrenheit 451 is based on. This is through censorship, something achieved by the 'firemen' in society. These men burn books found in people's homes as possession of literature is considered to be a crime. The people of this society assume that they live in a world that is happy and thriving - however, the lack of books (and therefore knowledge) as well as the censorship of media, deprive the people of independent thought and curiosity. This illusion of a perfect world is one of the conventions of a dystopia. The citizens in the book generally exist in a dehumanised state. For example, Montag's firemen work-partners don't seem to notice nor care when the old lady sets herself on fire alongside her books. Even when Montag tells Mildred, she replies by saying that the woman deserved it, and is even happy about it, emphasizing the inhumane state the society lives in. Even dogs, an animal that is meant to bring joy to people, is only mentioned in the book in the form of a mechanical hound - an intimidating machine that hunts down people who have books, completing twisting and dehumanising the view of dogs people have today. The government in Fahrenheit 451 is far from a democracy, using both censorship and propaganda to control the way people in their rule think and act. An example of propaganda in Fahrenheit 451 is when the government are after Montag and are showing the events unfolding on screens city-wide. However, when Montag slips away from the chasers, the government does not want to seem as though they had lost him, so instead they kill an innocent pedestrian and inform the public that it was Montag when he was long gone.

Video played in American schools to show kids how to 'duck-and-cover', an initiative to prepare for supposedly impending nuclear attacks by the Soviets


Search for Happiness: After the termination of World War II, many American citizens were trying to recover the sense of stability and security they once possessed. The result of this was a population full of paranoid, over-precautious people. In order to try and reestablish this lost sense of security, America began to develop nuclear power - the sense of safety was mistaken by many Americans as being happiness. The false impression of happiness meant that many Americans were living in an illusion, and were subsequently unable to search for true happiness, as there was nothing to make them aware of this hole in their well-being. In Fahrenheit 451, the depicted society exists in a state of euphoria, believing that their world is ideal and everything is as it should be. However, as the plot progresses, Montage becomes aware of how he is not actually happy, prompted by Clarisse asking him "Are you happy?". Montag then comes to question is marriage, job and values as he starts to comprehend that his happiness was simply a mask he wore - this is referred to in the quote "He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask", the girl representing Clarisse.

Contrasting ideologies of America and the USSR

Nazi book burning - 1933

Iron curtain that divided Western (blue) and Eastern (red) Europe

Alienation: The main protagonist of the text, Montag, develops a feeling of estrangement from the rest of his society. As the text progresses, Montag becomes increasingly aware of this separation as he starts to see the faults and flaws which the world around him possesses. He becomes an outsider, alongside Clarisse and the old woman in his views and values. The rest of society is consumed by mass culture, which deprives people of their individuality and independent thought. Ray Bradbury shares Guy Montag's feeling of alienation as he is as disconnected from his soicety as Montag was from his. Bradbury's view of the world at the time was negative, that it was moving too fast and without consideration for consequences and that we were consumed by mass media. However, many saw the 1950's as the beginning of a new, progressive era and therefore Bradbury was separated from the rest of society.

Dominance of Technology: In the book, the society which Montag lives in is desrcibed as being very technology dependent, replacing real people with virtual 'families', and conversations with media-broadcasting earplugs. This reflects the decade of the 50's with both significant political events as well as technological advances. The Atomic Era was at its peak in the 1950's, with multiple countries worldwide racing to be more advanced with nuclear power, with little regard to the consequences of all these advances. There was the same issue with technology for entertainment - there was too much too soon and the population of Western societies quickly became obsessed with it. Bradbury expressed what he saw to be the potential future for this world, a future were technology was everywhere and unescapable. He protrays technology negatively, as something that takes away our free will as we become enslaved to our dependence of modern technology. Mildred's character is made to represent this technology-dependent population which the world was becoming in the 1950's. She will rarely tear away from the 'Sea-shell' radio in her ear, and prefers virtual company to real relationships. Mildred is always concentrating on the screen, and therefore misses out on the joys of reality

Rise of the television in the 1940's-50s

Utopia - Dystopia visual comparison

Censorship: During the 1950's, censorship existed in both America and on the eastern side of the iron curtain. The growing presence of McCarthyism in America meant that there was constant surveillance of the population, trying to weed out the communists as well as communist-sympathisers. In the USSR, the totalitarian government meant that anything un-communist was destroyed, including books. In Fahrenehit 451, the government censors both media and literature. On Mildred's television walls, the shows that are shown don't have any content that may upset certain people or spark any curiousity amongst viewers. Through the appointment of firemen, many books that supposedly caused too much conflict were destroyed through fire in Bradbury's dystopia. This censorship leads to people having their freedom of speech taken away from them and for future generations, a loss of knowledge and independent thought.

Political Context - The Cold War (1947-1991) -The term 'Cold War' describes the mutual, distrusting relationship between America & the USSR (also known as the Soviet Union) after WWII. The main difference between these two powers were their ideologies - the Americans were capitalists and had a democratic government, whereas the USSR was based on communism and possessed a totalitarian government. Despite there being no direct combat, there was still great tension between the two powers. In the text Fahrenheit 451, a war is commonly referred to, but the mentioning of a looming war is never paired with a sense of urgency or worry. For example, one of Mildred's friends, Mrs Phelps talks about her husband's leave for the army as if it were a business meeting. She says "Quick war. Forty-eight hours they [the army] said, and everyone home", and after some fidgeting, she goes on to state "I'm not worried". Despite Mrs Phelps fidgeting, a word that connotes worry, her words portray feelings of relaxation and security. Among Americans at the time of the Cold War, there was always the presence of an imminent war, however no one seemed to appear concerned.  Iron curtain -The iron curtain was a term used to describe the split between east and western Europe that was a result of the Soviet's attempt to seal itself off from Western, non-communist Europe as a way to protect themselves. Those living on the eastern side of this 'curtain' were affected by totalitarian control, which affected their freedom of speech when authorities began to censor the media and literature, systematically removing anything that was pro-communism - including book burnings (which were inspired by the Nazi book burnings). The term 'iron curtain' was used in Winston Churchill's famous 'Sinews of Peace' speech of 1946, where he warned of a divide between the two halves of Europe, one side controlled by Joseph Stalin, who burned any books that were too positive about non-communism. The phrase "iron curtain" was adopted as a curtain is commonly used to either divide, to hide, or to stop something from reaching in. By placing this word with 'iron', a metal relatively strong and immoveable, it makes it seem as though Stalin has permanently caused a divide of Europe, where no one can get out nor can anyone get in or see what is happening. McCarthyism -Starting in the early 1950's, Senator Joseph McCarthy used the growing fear of communism in America to his advantage when he started to charge people for being communists without proper evidence. McCarthy accused hundreds of people in the government of being 'card-carrying' communists. Many entertainers and writers had to stop working as they were considered to be communist-sympathisers and were therefore on the list of McCarthy's paranoid 'witch-hunt'. Authorities began to censor most of what happened in America, including mail, trying to stem out these communists. The Atomic Era (post WWII) -The Atomic Era began with the American attack on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, the event that was the catalyst for the end of WWII in July, 1945. After nuclear development of the bomb 'Trinity', US President Harry S. Truman decided to utlise this bomb by dropping it on Hiroshima, with hopes of ending the war. This goal was actualised on August 14th, 1945, one month after the dropping of the bomb, when Japan surrendered. After this first large-scale use of an atomic weapon, multiple countries across the globe started to develop atomic power, and many believed that this was the future of power in all aspects. Since there was a palpable tension between different powers that arose from the Cold War, countries developed this technology on their own, without consulting with others. In America, the impending Soviet atomic attacks that citizens were warned of were prepared for across all areas of America, with school children being taught duck-and-cover drills, and told to wear gas masks.

Senator Joseph McCarthy


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