Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury
Main Ideas

Themes

Main Ideas Themes

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 Fahrenheit 451, the ever-present threat of atomic war maintains an atmosphere of anxiety.

Dissatisfaction

In Fahrenheit 451, the theme of dissatisfaction has close connections to the themes of technology and censorship. The dystopian society Bradbury represents in the novel arose in its present form because of technological innovation. Technological innovation led to the ascendency of television, which in turn led to the devaluing and, eventually, the censoring of books. As Captain Beatty explains to Montag, the social history that led to the present state of affairs had everything to do with ensuring people’s peace of mind by keeping them entertained. As long as everyone remains entertained, they’ll be happy. 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.