Analysis of Major Characters
Appropriately named after a paper-manufacturing company, Montag is the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451. He is by no means a perfect hero, however. The reader can sympathize with Montag’s mission, but the steps he takes toward his goal often seem clumsy and misguided. Montag’s faith in his profession and his society begins to decline almost immediately after the novel’s opening passage. Faced with the enormity and complexity of books for the first time, he is often confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed. As a result, he has difficulty deciding what to do independently of Beatty, Mildred, or Faber. Likewise, he is often rash, inarticulate, self-obsessed, and too easily swayed. At times he is not even aware of why he does things, feeling that his hands are acting by themselves. These subconscious actions can be quite horrific, such as when he finds himself setting his supervisor on fire, but they also represent his deepest desires to rebel against the status quo and find a meaningful way to live.
In his desperate quest to define and comprehend his own life and purpose by means of books, he blunders blindly and stupidly as often as he thinks and acts lucidly. His attempts to reclaim his own humanity range from the compassionate and sensitive, as in his conversations with Clarisse, to the grotesque and irresponsible, as in his murder of Beatty and his half-baked scheme to overthrow the firemen.
Mildred is the one major character in the book who seems to have no hope of resolving the conflicts within herself. Her suicide attempt suggests that she is in great pain and that her obsession with television is a means to avoid confronting her life. But her true feelings are buried very deep within her. She even appears to be unaware of her own suicide attempt. She is a frightening character, because the reader would expect to know the protagonist’s wife very intimately, but she is completely cold, distant, and unreadable. Her betrayal of Montag is far more severe than Beatty’s, since she is, after all, his wife. Bradbury portrays Mildred as a shell of a human being, devoid of any sincere emotional, intellectual, or spiritual substance. Her only attachment is to the “family” in the soap opera she watches.
Beatty is a complex character, full of contradictions. He is a book burner with a vast knowledge of literature, someone who obviously cared passionately about books at some point. It is important to note that Beatty’s entire speech to Montag describing the history of the firemen is strangely ambivalent, containing tones of irony, sarcasm, passion, and regret, all at once. Beatty calls books treacherous weapons, yet he uses his own book learning to manipulate Montag mercilessly.
In one of his most sympathetic moments, Beatty says he’s tried to understand the universe and knows firsthand its melancholy tendency to make people feel bestial and lonely. He is quick to stress that he prefers his life of instant pleasure, but it is easy to get the impression that his vehemence serves to deny his true feelings. His role as a character is complicated by the fact that Bradbury uses him to do so much explication of the novel’s background. In his shrewd observations of the world around him and his lack of any attempt to prevent his own death, he becomes too sympathetic to function as a pure villain.
Named after a famous publisher, Faber competes with Beatty in the struggle for Montag’s mind. His control over Montag may not be as complete and menacing as Beatty’s, but he does manipulate Montag via his two-way radio to accomplish the things his cowardice has prevented him from doing himself, acting as the brain directing Montag’s body. Faber’s role and motivations are complex: at times he tries to help Montag think independently and at other times he tries to dominate him. Similarly, he can be cowardly and heroic by turns. Neither Faber nor Beatty can articulate his beliefs in a completely convincing way, despite the fact that their pupil is naïve and credulous.
by curthis_h, December 13, 2012
seems alot like we are now
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