top of page

Set The World On Fire At Fahrenheit 451


“It was a pleasure to burn.”


I remember this book like yesterday. As if I was back in middle school, jotting thoughts in my analysis journals. Doodles galore on every page, whimsy ideas flying about without fear of judgment. When learning felt less systemic and more fun, more engaging, more rewarding.


Before we’ve become slaves to immediate gratification, the convenience of it all.

Indeed, those were much simpler times, though this isn’t the place for retroactive whining. Even so, I bring this up because I treasure a particular memory associated with F451. For, one day, my dear English teacher assigned us this particular task. Memorize a paragraph in the story and recall it in front of the class. I, of course, took to theatrics and acted out three pages because I could. I wanted to feel special. Which, in the end, went well beyond expectations; I ended up performing this act for all her classes. A little girl eager to please her teacher, a fun anecdote to share on occasion. Except, several years later, its message has become more relevant than ever.




Because, in many ways, Fahrenheit 451 is not just about censorship. Of willful ignorance and intolerance of things that challenge the peace of mind. It is a protest against hedonism and the anti-intellectualism it promotes. How overreliance on technology and its convenience diminishes incentives for critical thinking. Valuing instant gratification, convenience, and comfort above all else. Yet, Fahrenheit 451 also represents hope and resistance. The perseverance and courage to fight against oppression. Fire can destroy but it can also bring about change.


            What I found fascinating, years later, is how I unknowingly played out this story. At the time, I didn’t think about the purpose behind the assignment. I only knew that I should do it for a grade. And really, isn’t that how we’ve been conditioned? We just do as we’re told without thinking about why or how the things we learn apply in real life. It feels like there’s no real incentive for innovation and creativity - only efficiency. I cannot say whether this applies to everyone, but I feel I’ve forgotten most of what school has taught. That whatever I’ve learned is just kind of there, instead of something that continues to affect me in some capability.


Only after leaving high school did I have a vague idea of what I wanted to do in life. But I didn’t get that through school. I had to stumble about, trying to find something that clicked because I had to learn to think for myself. Guy Montag is, in a way, also a victim of societal conditioning. This is most evident in the differing methods to bring about change. Granger and the organization choose to live in the shadows of society, rather than start a violent revolution. An act that is much more peaceful and effective because, in Granger’s words, “...if we are destroyed, the knowledge is dead, perhaps for good” (Bradbury, 152). Their perseveration tactic guarantees the book and the ideas they hold will survive.


By contrast, despite Guy Montag’s attempts to save books, his efforts end in violence. Because, in some ways, that is all he’s known, unintentional or not. Ten years of living false lies, of burning homes to maintain false ideals. His marriage, dead like how Mildred appeared when she overdosed, “...uncovered and cold, like a body displayed on the lid of a tomb, her eyes fixed to the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable” (Bradbury 12). A lost soul in a society that has long killed the spirit of individual thoughts and ideas. That “everyone must be the same”, as Captain Beatty explained, to maintain the semblance of pleasantness.


Unfortunately, Montag’s efforts for redemption culminate in tragedy.






Montag is forced to burn his house after his wife and friends report him. Montag is forced to kill Captain Beatty to prevent him from tracking Faber. Montag also plants a book in a fireman’s home and reports it, knowing what entails. Even then, the latter action, in particular, he pushed for in an attempt to dismantle the system. And yet, I cannot fault him.


The protagonist no longer wants to live under these lies, to pretend his life could go back to the way it was before.



But without proper guidance, he’s left stumbling about, not thinking about the consequences of his actions. Montag antagonizes Captain Beatty with his suspicious questioning of the system. Montag interrupted one of Mildred’s friendly gathering sessions by reading Dover Beach, upsetting Mrs. Phelps. Montag attempted to coerce Faber into a desperate plan by tearing a rare copy of the Bible. His desperation to see change affects his judgment, thus culminating in his fugitive status.


Yet, as bleak as the ending is, there is hope within the dust that follows. Montag and the other outcasts survive the bombing attack that decimated the city, thus free to pursue their goals without fear of retribution. A new beginning for a man who died and was re-born with a renewed purpose. In some ways, this parallels the current state of society. Instead of learning how to think for themselves, we delegate personal responsibility to something else. Quick to give up or lash out at the slightest inconvenience or differing opinion. We only want easy-to-digest answers to simple problems to avoid complicating our undisturbed lives. Free from the ugly side of society, distant from the pain and suffering we are indirectly complicit to.


As Faber explained, books break the illusion that Everything’s Fine, for they “show the powers in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless” (Bradbury 83). Yet, in the face of apathy, there lies compassion.

The desire to persevere and resist the status quo, to survive to see another day. To be the change Montag wants to be, not as a mindless follower but as a symbol of hope. And, in the process, he regains control over his life.


As someone who suffers from anxiety, I lived my life like Montag did, detached from reality. I succumbed to Internet addiction and my grades suffered for that. But because I could not bear the thought of personal responsibility, I ignored everything, drowning myself in a bubble of self-preservation. For a few years, I spiraled hard and I hated myself for that, wasting my potential and what could have been my prime years. Yet, the anxious coward told me to look away and not think about that because the world terrified me. I knew little to nothing about adulthood, yet I was stuck in this weird limbo. An adult by legal standards, yes, but certainly not by societal standards. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then. Much like how his chance encounter with Clarisse opened his eyes, I’ve found my muse, too. I reconnected with my art with a rebrand that’s become my signature art style. That confidence, in turn, pushed me to apply for various opportunities to showcase my skills. I haven’t looked back since.\


 I mention all of this because I saw a little of myself in Montag while re-reading this recently. His character progression from a book-burning perpetrator to a resistance fighter was not without conflicting feelings.


Having to come to terms with how his life has turned out, soulless and deprived of meaning, was a sad yet pivotal point in his heel-turn. Something that I, too, had to force myself to acknowledge five years ago. I couldn’t continue to rot away in my pity parties.

I couldn’t continue to pretend like everything was fine. I couldn’t continue to act the way I did and not see things through. No, this was unacceptable. So, one day, this little girl decided to grow up.


No more hiding. As Granger said, “We’ve used to that. We all made the right kind of mistakes, or we wouldn’t be here” (Bradbury 150). While I don’t believe that entirely, at the same time so much of my life has detracted far off the initial path. I went from considering journalism to nursing to graphic design and now publishing. Though I’d like to say I found my true calling, life can change at any given moment. Like Montag, I wouldn’t have thought I’d end up in my current situation. But we are both content, in some ways, with our decisions. And really, isn’t that enough?


I understand if Fahrenheit 451 isn’t the story for everyone. Though I loved the story and memories of reading this in middle school, I dislike dystopias in general. I find them a bit tedious and unpleasant to read with their particular themes and messages. Of course, societal oppression isn’t supposed to be lighthearted and wholesome, but I find these types of stories a little insufferable all the same. So I suppose it’s quite ironic for me to say all of this, given that Fahrenheit 451 criticizes people who insist on willfully ignoring things that challenge their comfort zone. But what makes Fahrenheit 451 different for me is-. Well, I don’t know how to answer that. I’d like to say it’s because the author is especially good at characterization or plot development or whatever.


In reality, I know it was because it came into my life at the right time, taught by the right teacher. She spent a lot of time drilling us on every aspect of Fahrenheit, rewarding us with treats for every analysis shared. And because of that, I have a far more intimate understanding of this story than perhaps any other story schools forced me to learn. Sans The Call of the Wild maybe, which my English teacher also taught. But even without these biases, I found the conversations these characters have to resonate with me. In particular, Montag’s conversations with Faber and Granger felt comforting. That, even at your lowest, there are people who can see the good in you. That, while change is scary, it also means acknowledging your capability to grow.


Even while the world is burning at Fahrenheit 451 degrees.


ABOUT THE BLOGGER


MORGANA FAYE

Morgana Faye is a short story writer and poet. From thoughts to words, she weaves into a cohesive body of work. Writing allows Morgana time to slow down, collect her thoughts, and present them on paper. To catch those words before they slip from her grasp, forever lost during translation. Though recent, her blossoming interest in the publishing industry marks a pivotal change. Fall 2019 saw her poem “Closer” published in King’s River Review. However, it was not until 2024 that she would consider publishing a viable career path. Even so, Morgana seeks to showcase her skills to the world.

Comments


bottom of page