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Fahrenheit 451 is about the loss of humanity in humans. Everything that constitutes the culture Guy Montag inhabits reveals a criticism of society. From the entertaining parlor rooms to the lack of interest in books, Ray Bradbury communicated the danger in indulging the more pleasurable over the more important, and gave us perspective into the damage it could do. The society Bradbury depicts is hopeless and far from admirable, where people show a lack of curiosity, a lack of a critical thinking, and a lack of progression or development, stagnation.

The calling card of Fahrenheit is its depiction of a society that has banned books. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman, the role of which in this society is to start fires, not extinguish them. Books are illicit, reported by well-intentioned neighbors and loved ones whenever found in a home or on a person. Then the firemen roar, arriving with fire trucks equipped to douse with kerosene, not water. Houses are fireproof, but books are not, and every book will burn to the ground.

Guy Montag eventually becomes a man who rejects the basic tenets of his society, and for a man like Guy Montag, who is by no means unusually smart or innately remarkable, to do that, thereʼs got to be a reason. The narrative impetus for this eschew is Clarisse McClellan, whom Montag meets at the beginning of the novel during a walk home from work. Later in the novel itʼs revealed that Clarisse is killed, representing that she is so out of place in her society that she is literally rejected, which is most likely the impetus for Montag deciding to reject society himself before it rejects him.

Montag describes Clarisseʼs face, saying in it there was a “gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity.” She admits she rarely watches the “parlor walls” or goes to races or fun parks, which gives her time to think. At one point while walking together, Montag and Clarisse walk in silence, hers “thoughtful” and Montagʼs “a kind of clenching and uncomfortable silence in which he shot her accusing glances.” Bradbury paints Clarisse as inquisitive, thoughtful, and critical. While walking with Montag, she says, “I sometimes think drivers donʼt know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly. If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! heʼd say, thatʼs grass! A pink blur! Thatʼs a rose garden! White blurs are houses. Brown blurs are cows. My uncle drove slowly on a highway once. He drove forty miles an hour and they jailed him for two days. Isnʼt that funny, and sad, too?” To this, Montag responds, “You think too many things.”

Clarisseʼs characteristics illuminate just what Bradbury sees dangerous about societyʼs future. Clarisse, in effect, embodies everything Bradbury deems important in society as well as everything Montagʼs society isnʼt. Montagʼs society isnʼt curious about the world it inhabits, spends little time outside what is fun or pleasurable, and avoids or covers up what is uncomfortable. In the same way that the silence is at first torturous to Montag, society has reached a point where the uncomfortable is so foreign that it never seeks it.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to lamenting societyʼs loss of books, but books are symbolic of more than just the inclination to sit down and read. In Fahrenheit, books represent the last crumb of manʼs willingness to engage art. While there exist other mediums of entertainment - television, namely - each are dominated by vapid entertainment and none forge new territory for human expression. Parlors, rooms that project images onto a series of three consecutive walls, are where most people spend their time. In the beginning of the book, Guy Montag comes home to find his wife, Mildred, plopped in front of the parlor room, the television, just as he does almost every day.

Mildred acts as the foil for Clarisse, where nearly everything between them contrasts. Mildred would never read a book because itʼs against law and has no interest; Clarisse shows interest in books and fails to understand what about them is wrong. Mildred spends most of her free time in front of the parlor wall while Clarisse is almost always outside and almost always alone with her thoughts.

Mildred is a product of her society and a sad, unthoughtful character. Montag says, “ Happiness is important. Fun is everything. And yet I kept sitting there saying to myself, Iʼm not happy, Iʼm not happy,” to which Mildred responds, “I am. And proud of it.”

Like all worthy works of art, Fahrenheit 451 depicts a society thatʼs given into what feels good; in fact, the chief characteristic of Montagʼs society is ignorance (and, in some cases, preferred ignorance, where characters like Beatty, who, although he is well-read, enforces the ban on books because he finds them fake, contradictory, and uncomfortable, and that he eventually lets himself die speaks wonders about the effects of ignorance). Itʼs a society that is unwilling to do things that make them uncomfortable or that arenʼt fun for the sake of growth, which is the essence of art. Good art wonʼt always match the sofa.

Fahrenheit is a dystopian novel, which inherently carries with it some kind of warning against letting society devolve into the society it depicts. What Bradbury saw fit to warn against was that hunt for the pleasurable. Though Bradbury ostensibly pins societyʼs demise on mediums like television, in actuality itʼs their application that Bradbury eschews. For example, the character Faber, a derelict English professor whoʼs introduced late in the book, tells Montag that one of the most redeeming qualities of books is that the afford the reader the leisure to digest them how they will, whereas parlor walls (television) are so immediate and seem so real that they rob the viewer of the chance to consider what theyʼre seeing. Itʼs here that Bradbury reveals his fear of losing the ability to think critically.

This sentiment is shown earlier in the book when Montag first meets Clarisse. As she wonders about the role of firemen in the past, Montag begins to laugh, and Clarisse asks him why he is laughing - she doesnʼt understand why what she is saying is funny. Montag realizes he has no idea why he was laughing, touching on one of the more human tendencies to laugh or trivialize things that make us uncomfortable rather than confronting them.

Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit in the fifties. By 1960, roughly 37 percent of Americans had commercial televisions, but the writing was on the wall for the decline of print, an idea that continues even today. With every introduction of a new medium comes warnings of its dangers, but as said, Bradbury wasnʼt just warning against the loss of literature, he was warning against losing what books embody. As a well established medium, books are capable of holding many experiences that range from the vapid to the empathetic and artful, and thereʼs value in every experience in that spectrum.

The unwillingness to engage art, to be curious and inquisitive, and to think critically is stultifying, and thatʼs why Bradbury really wrote Fahrenheit 451. It was a warning that there was still value in holding on to those qualities, which is why Clarisse, who engenders them, is painted so delicately, a volatile dream we can barely remember but know is dearly important. Itʼs this reason Guy Montag becomes enamored with Clarisse McClellan: his interaction with her persuades Montag that there is something more, which is the seed of progression.

Itʼs not something to be taken lightly. 1950 Census of Population and Housing.” Census Bureau Home Page. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. <http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial/1950.html>.


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