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The Heat of Censorship: 'Fahrenheit 451'

The Future According to Ray Bradbury
The Future According to Ray Bradbury

When classical dystopian literature starts to look like the modern world, the definition of dystopia has to change. Once it becomes reality, it can no longer be science fiction. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is welcomed by people to this day simply because we can see our world becoming what he predicted. Using basic poetic devices and prose style, Bradbury takes a future and makes it the present in this generation. It is metaphor, personification, and simile that help express the torn feeling that the main character, Montag, is fighting as he grows in the story. Montag has a very unique journey as far as being a classic male protagonist. His view of the world as it is takes a total and complete turn from the first page to the last. Each section build’s Montag up by breaking him down completely. Bradbury uses a casual, modern language structure with Montag which he develops as the character changes to match the tone of the sequences as they go. After meeting Clarisse, Montag begins adopting patterns and characteristics of the people influencing him which is a very unique way to arc character development. Bradbury’s revolutionary style and the poetic characteristics and cleverly structured prose he uses in this novel are what make it speak to audiences even in the twenty-first century.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of Bradbury’s style in this work is his use of metaphor. He uses this device almost straight away and makes good use of it throughout the book. For Montag’s experiences, only a unique descriptive process is adequate because of the nature of the society the book investigates and the possibility it implies. This is where metaphor is most often used. When Montag discovers his wife’s mistake with her sleeping pills, he slips right into a metaphoric description of her, comparing the process of cleaning her body of the drugs to digging a trench, “the woman on the bed was no more than a hard stratum of marble…” which is to say that Mildred is unaware, unfeeling, and ignorant of what’s being done to her, not much more than an obstacle the technicians have to overcome to clean out her system. This is an important sequence as the story begins because it sets up the society very well in a very short amount of time. The reader can see the clash between society and Montag beginning in this scene. The moment he finds the empty pill bottle, he searches for his identity, for happiness, and he realizes just how far gone the world is. “Someone else just jumped off a pill box.” The technician tells Montag as they prepare to leave him alone with his comatose wife. This simple sentence with the casual demeanor of the man who says it very effectively sheds a small light on the world that grows as the story goes on.

Montag understands and begins to question the society they live in when he hears the McClellan family discussing its structure and how grotesque it has become. The reader follows Montag at this point in his curiosity and his fear of what his life has become. He begins to hate his involvement very slightly just at this moment, and he wonders what it would be like to be different than they are. ““I don’t know anything anymore,” he said,” his mind wandering as he falls asleep, confusion coupled with fear stay with him long after he wakes. He’s begun to question the very foundation of his belief system and all he’s ever known. This sequence allows juxtaposition later when Montag tries to explain what happened to his wife then speaks with Clarisse, the former expressing the obscenely frivolous lifestyle of modern society, the latter a sheer joy in experience. Montag’s perception of the world around him changes vastly from this point. Part one has a distinctly darker tone in Montag. As he learns about himself and grows into awareness, the tone becomes more hopeful with a dreamlike quality.

When Clarisse disappears, Montag is lost in this new awareness and he doesn't think he has anyone to ask for help. This is when Beatty takes time to throw his mind off even more. The lecture Beatty gives Montag very clearly shows the decline of their society, his fancy words saying little more than it’s their own fault things have become this way, and there’s no point trying to change it. Beatty succinctly bastardizes literature by metaphorically putting its decline in a centrifuge which “flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought.” His justification for the illegality of books in that time period centers primarily around the idea that people simply want to be entertained, not taught or scolded. To Beatty, and indeed most people Montag comes into contact with, books were only to make certain groups of people feel inferior, to argue and contradict ideas. From this point of view censorship is a matter of political correctness, but for Montag it’s a loss of something he doesn't understand. He knows he can change nothing if he’s burned with the books, so he hides within himself until he remembers his chance meeting with professor Faber and realizes that Faber could help him. “I don’t talk things sir… I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I’m alive,” so Montag lets himself hope just a little remembering what Faber told him that started him down this path so long ago.
The extended metaphor that alludes to Montag’s childhood compares putting sand in a sieve to absorbing the knowledge of books, and Montag fights with all he has to keep some of the sand in the sieve. It’s a sense of despair that overtakes him to the point of madness on his way to meet Faber at which point he sees beyond the fear of the old man and helps him hope again. They are able to support each other through their mutual uncertainty until Montag is forced to run from his whole life just to live and be free. From Beatty, the reader learns one side of the journey that led to the dystopia Montag lives in, from Faber, there is another. These two monologues from opposite sides of the spectrum tie Montag’s journey nicely up into a neat package so that afterwards, he can rip it open and throw it in the river, and finally, he understands.

In his novel, Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury uses metaphor, simile, and prose style to mark the change, the journey of his protagonist, Guy Montag. Within the story Montag is faced with three different world views through Clarisse, Beatty, and Faber and in the end he finds his own opinion. This novel is a known classic that carries applicability even in the twenty-first century.