The tone of Fahrenheit 451 is intense and gloomy. The most obviously intense aspect of the novel is the apocalyptic atmosphere that hangs over the city, constantly threatening nuclear war. Equally intense are the totalitarian policies that police Montag’s society. As Montag witnesses repeatedly in the novel, anyone who breaks the law in this future can expect a punishment characterized by extreme force and fiery intensity. Furthermore, entertainment in Montag’s society always takes intense forms. When people crave a thrill, they simply get in the car and drive a hundred miles per hour, threatening to hit and kill unsuspecting pedestrians. Television programs also feature intense violence, as evidenced by the program Mildred and her friends watch that depicts cartoon clowns ripping each other apart. When the firemen send the Mechanical Hound after Montag, the chase gets broadcast on live television, concluding with the dramatic capture and execution of an innocent lookalike. These and other examples of intensity in the novel emphasize the dystopian nature of Bradbury’s imagined future, and they implicitly urge the reader to contemplate the importance of preventing that future from coming to pass.
Though frequently intense, the tone of Bradbury’s novel occasionally dips into gloom. Gloom appears most obviously in Montag’s moments of despair at the dire state of society. This sense of gloom enters the novel after Montag’s first encounter with Clarisse, when he realizes, in the darkness of his bedroom, that he’s unhappy. Later in the novel, the narrator frequently employs repetitive language to emphasize Montag’s despair at the spiritual hollowness of his peers. For example:
The emptiness made an even emptier whistle, a senseless scream. He tried to think about the vacuum upon which the nothingnesses had performed, but he could not. He held his breath so the vacuum could not get into his lungs. He cut off its terrible emptiness.
In this passage, the narrator’s repeated use of the closely related terms “emptiness,” “vacuum,” and “nothingness” underscores Montag’s feelings of despondency in the face of his dystopian society. Throughout the novel, Montag’s gloom functions in contrast with—and as a negative response to—the sheer, violent intensity of the world around him.