Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The first group of factors includes the popularity of competing forms of entertainment such as television and radio. More broadly, Bradbury thinks that the presence of fast cars, loud music, and advertisements creates a lifestyle with too much stimulation in which no one has the time to concentrate. Also, the huge mass of published material is too overwhelming to think about, leading to a society that reads condensed books (which were very popular at the time Bradbury was writing) rather than the real thing.
The second group of factors, those that make people hostile toward books, involves envy. People don’t like to feel inferior to those who have read more than they have.
But the novel implies that the most important factor leading to censorship is the objections of special-interest groups and “minorities” to things in books that offend them. Bradbury is careful to refrain from referring specifically to racial minorities—Beatty mentions dog lovers and cat lovers, for instance. The reader can only try to infer which special-interest groups he really has in mind. As the Afterword to
Knowledge versus Ignorance
Montag, Faber, and Beatty’s struggle revolves around the tension between knowledge and ignorance. The fireman’s duty is to destroy knowledge and promote ignorance in order to equalize the population and promote sameness. Montag’s encounters with Clarisse, the old woman, and Faber ignite in him the spark of doubt about this approach. His resultant search for knowledge destroys the unquestioning ignorance he used to share with nearly everyone else, and he battles the basic beliefs of his society.
Technological innovation represents the central source of society’s problems in
In contrast to the anesthetizing effect of new media technologies, other forms of technology in Bradbury’s future have a more materially destructive force. For instance, the automobiles—or “beetles”—that appear everywhere in the city can easily reach top speeds of more than one hundred miles per hour. As such, they encourage fast, reckless driving and result in many fatal accidents. Mildred frequently lets off steam by driving fast, which particularly distresses Montag after he learns that a speeding beetle killed Clarisse. Another example of technology’s destructiveness appears in the Mechanical Hound, a metal contraption designed to track down and kill lawbreakers. Although the Hound must be specifically programmed with the biometrics of the person it’s meant to attack, early in the novel the Hound acts aggressively toward Montag, suggesting that Hound technology may be easy to manipulate to nefarious ends. However, the most destructive technology of all is the atomic bomb. Two nuclear wars occurred in the novel’s recent past, and the book ends with an atomic bomb falling on the city. Nuclear technology makes war both easier and more destructive, and in
However, Montag realizes early in the novel that constant entertainment has bred deep dissatisfaction. For instance, Mildred can’t live without entertainment. She’s always watching television in her “parlor” or listening to her in-ear radio. The only reason she steps away from these entertainments is to seek cathartic release while driving around in her beetle at top speeds. Mildred insists that she’s happy, yet her near-suicide at the beginning of the novel suggests otherwise. Dissatisfaction rages just beneath the surface, even for those who don’t consciously realize it.