Which Literary Works Are Referred to in Fahrenheit 451 and Why?
Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a novel which reveals the severe impact of consumer culture on humanity. The author promotes the idea that it has deprived people of their affections and left them no room for self-expression. The literary works which are referred to in the text serve to confirm the idea that the value of the written word can be physically destroyed, but it is implicitly present in the minds of people. What is more, people are not a lost cause but are blinded by the artificiality of comfortable and easy living. Bradbury remains optimistic when observing the future of the world. He believes that the decline of intellectualism will be substituted with the epoch opposite to it in the values which it promotes. Fahrenheit 451 refers to literary works to state the immortality of the most valuable accomplishments of humanity.
One of the essential ideas of Bradbury’s novel is the world living according to repeatable life cycles. Fahrenheit 451 describes the epoch of the decline of people’s intellectual abilities. It is corresponding to a figure from Greek mythology, that is, the magic phoenix. McDonald claims that the bird has the ability to be reborn after death: “When [its life] period drew to a close, the bird built a pyre, on which it deposited itself and yielded up its life. From the ashes, a new phoenix arose” (187). The never-ending life cycle of a bird is being re-interpreted by Bradbury. Particularly, his understanding of the mythological idea is mostly optimistic. He hopes that when the period of people’s insensitivity and inability to perform a critical perception of the world comes to an end, the epoch of prosperity will substitute the so-called “Dark Era.” He states the following: “And when the war’s over, some day, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know and we’ll set it up in type until another Dark Age…” (Bradbury 71).
It is also corresponding with the idea represented in McDonald: the newborn phoenix always remains similar to its parent. Bradbury says that people already have all the good qualities and the ability to be happy, but they have forgotten it. The symbolic meaning of fire, which is one of the most significant attributes of the phoenix, can be interpreted as the inability of it to destroy a book, as it is a concentration of humanity’s knowledge, which can never be wiped out. Presumably, Bradbury understands the work of a fireman in the novel as the one which is oriented on the destruction of an object, but not on something the object represents. Seed also states that “by depicting a regime where all books are banned, however, Bradbury implicates the reader from the very start in illegality, in oppositional relation to the regime” (238).
The positive attitude of Bradbury toward the future of humanity is reflected in his novel. He makes a value of a person essential for any epoch and sees the authoritarian political regime as a temporary concept.
Bradbury also incorporates in his text a citation from Matthew Arnold, which Guy reads when his and Mildred’s house is filled with visitors who do not approve of the fact that he carries a book with him. In the quotation, there is the story of two lovers who are trapped in an unfair and unrighteous world, but they are still feeling the joy from being in love. Bradbury’s quotation of Arnold goes as follows: “And we are here, as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/ Where ignorant armies clash by night” (Bradbury 47).
According to Sisario, this particular poem can be understood as the one that “shows two lovers looking at what appears to be a happy world, but recognizing the essential emptiness that exists” (204). Bradbury includes this particular allusion to stress Guy’s psychological state or even the dichotomy of his character, which is represented by the fact that his wife still follows the rules of the unfair world, where one has no place for self-expression. It is the moment in the novel where not only Guy but the others also are sensing that the world has undoubtedly gone mad, and they have a hard time expressing their feelings. One of Mildred’s and Guy’s attendants, a woman named Mrs. Phelps, starts to cry when Guy is reading. In the novel, her reaction is expressed as follows: “don’t know, don’t know, I just don’t know, oh-oh…” (Bradbury 47). It reveals one of the primary categories in which the culture of Fahrenheit 451 is defined: the necessity to hide feelings. One can further develop this thought and state, which Bradbury has alluded to as modern society, which has robbed people of time and left no room for sentiment. Guy, as the character who shows that he is not completely deprived of it, is not understood by society, interestingly, not only because he reads, which is forbidden and frowned upon, but because he has sensitivity, which is something unfamiliar for Bradbury’s world of the future. Arnold’s poem is significant for defining it, as the fact that he even mentions that there is the possibility of love is extraordinary, and it manages to evoke feelings in Mrs. Phelps, and leaves society with the hope for the better.
Bradbury’s novel can be interpreted as a criticism of consumerism. Zipes claims that the author “wants to get at the roots of American conformity and immediately points the finger at the complicity of state and industry for using technology to produce television programs, gambling sports games, amusement parks…” (Bloom 6). Literary works from which the author quotes reflect the opposite values to consumer culture, which deprives people of feelings and affection. For instance, he refers to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: “It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break eggs at the smaller end” (Bradbury 32). Bradbury sees the consumer culture not as something that helps people to survive, but as a nearly ideological concept, which shapes society to the necessary form. The quotation refers to the image of a monarch, or to the idea of a dictatorship in general, which influences people’s minds and devalues their significance. For Bradbury, consumer culture substituted monarchism, as it has become an object of worship. Additionally, it has made it impossible to escape, as for the sake of comfortable living, people have forgotten that they can experience happiness from the simpler things.
All the literary works which are referred to in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 are supporting the author’s idea concerning the necessity to experience happiness as an essential characteristic of a human. The mentioning of the world living according to the cycles corresponds with the mythological character of the phoenix, who can be reborn and continually return to primary form. Bradbury uses the symbolic meaning of fire to state that one cannot destroy the human’s willingness to live a happy life. The author also refers to the poem of Arnold, which represents the image of love as something which can help to overcome war, uncertainty, and unfairness by having affections. Finally, to argue the advantages of consumer culture, he quotes Swift and makes it clear that consumerism is similar to a monarchy, which does not imply having the freedom of choice. Bradbury optimistically predicts that the era of the decline of intellectuality will soon be over and that humanity implicitly has the potential to experience affections and acknowledge the value of happiness. The author sees consumer culture as something that has substituted it with comfortable living and fake pleasures.
Bloom, Harold. Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451: New Edition. Blooms Literary Criticism, 2008.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/fahrenheit-451.pdf.
Mcdonald, Mary Francis. “Phoenix Redivivus.” Phoenix, vol. 14, no. 4, 1960, p. 187., doi:10.2307/1085860.
Seed, David. “The Flight from the Good Life: Fahrenheit 451 in the Context of Postwar American Dystopias.” Journal of American Studies, vol. 28, no. 02, 1994, p. 225., doi:10.1017/s0021875800025470.
Sisario, Peter. “A Study of the Allusions in Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’.” The English Journal, vol. 59, no. 2, 1970, p. 201., doi:10.2307/811827.
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The problem of human beings is an unconscious desire to destroy everything in their path. Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” tells the readers about the importance of reconsidering their lives. Like a phoenix reborn from the ashes, the mind of each person on this planet has to be reformed. We can see how the novel published on October 19, 1953 is relevant for modern society and echoes with the global climate crisis.
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