Fahrenheit 451 tells a story of how censorship of knowledge and the advent of entertainment technology are taking a toll on our lives. Censorship through the burning of books by firemen represents an effort to equate the society intellectually as television and radio has taken the place of books. It also serves to tell that books have lost their position and value in our lives. Fahrenheit 451 indicates how attitudes of individuals in today’s fast-paced world have been warped by technology. Through such entertainment mediums such as television, radio, and the internet, Ray Bradbury showed the technology as the major factor which has changed the reading culture and paved the way for ignorance.
“So it was the hand that started it all… His hands had been infected, and soon it would be his arms… His hands were ravenous” (Bradbury 1953). Books should not have been burned, as they constitute the cultural and historical heritage of people at a particular time. Annihilating books is equal to blotting out the wisdom. The wisdom that is vital for people to make a transformational change at all levels of the society. The fact that Montag went to the old woman’s house and stole her books is insanity of the highest order. Montag explains his deeds by the reflex action asserting that it was not premeditated. He also goes as far as to blame his hands for being the cause of his involuntary behavior of stealing the books from Mildred’s house. This intersects with what was called bowdlerizing. Bowdlerizing is the process of removing parts from the newspapers, books, periodical which are considered inappropriate for the target audience. The term “bowdlerizing” was coined by Thomas Bowdler, who practiced to censor Shakespeare by omitting passages which were unsuitable for family reading.
“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal… A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.” (Bradbury 1953). The ambiguous Captain Beatty uttered these words to hypocritically advocate for equality. He claims that books create an unequal individual under the Constitution, and yet he ironically and hypocritically reads the same books he is against. Captain Beatty represents the government’s enforcement agency. His jurisdiction is to oversee the censorship of the books. Another twist of the irony is that the government has shifted its responsibility of enforcement to the theater management and parents. This is evident from when before broadcasting any program, the parental guidance which includes ratings is always displayed before the viewing commences.
“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores” (Bradbury 1953). In The Sieve and the Sand, Faber explains to Montag that the content of the book is what makes the difference, other than the book itself. Faber succinctly demonstrates his obscure attitude towards books when he vehemently says that books have pores, which actually explains the title of the passage, The Sieve and the Sand. Faber goes further and tells Guy Montag how reading a book is alike to filling a leaking basket as the words slip drop by drop before one digests meaningful information from the book. As long as censorship is allowed to destroy literature by its bigoted delinquency, it will go overboard and wipe out mind-nourishing materials in the name of “censorship”.
“It’s perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did… It’s a mystery… Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences… clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical… Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn them to ashes, then burn the ashes. That’s our official slogan.” (Bradbury 1-9). In the passage Burning Bright, Captain Beatty symbolizes the burning of the books outside Guy Montag’s home right before he is blazed to death with the flamethrower. Captain Beatty intensified the symbolism of the fire’s fierce power by accentuating its ability to reduce to ashes the consequences, outcomes, and responsibilities of the torched books. Unlike Guy Montag, Captain Beatty had strong belief in his job of destroying books and “equating” the society according to the Constitution. Technology changed the alignment of forces on the war against censorship. Technology transformed the censorship landscape. As long as an enormous amount of books evolved from print versions to numerous copies accessible for download, the government changed tactics and had resorted to confiscating hard drives and other computer peripherals, but now this is a thing of the past as well. Satellite technology underwent tremendous transformation since it has been very complex for government to apply.
According to Bradbury, people think that an enhanced outlook can be achieved without reevaluating the culture. They suppose that life will be improved since they have TVs and radios. It is easier to watch TV and listen to the radio, then try to understand books. It is implied that people are deeply convinced that they will be able to acquire independent knowledge and wisdom by watching TVs and listening to radios.
Technology has made censorship more difficult for governments to monitor. Modern forms of censorship are not as widespread and far-reaching as they used to be. Censorship is a good measure employed by responsible governments to safeguard its citizen against harmful or sensitive information, which may cause tension as a result of spreading of the provocative materials. On the other hand, it should be done responsibly without violation of citizens’ constitutional rights as long as the materials, whether print or on the internet, obey the law.