The book is about a society that is highly opposed to enlightenment and modernity, and believes that reading different ideas by authors leads to conflicts. To promote happiness for all, the government has employed individuals who burn any books that contain alien ideas. The people do not only hate reading books, but they also dislike thinking about their lives. Instead of self-reflection and independent thinking, the society prefers to watch television on big screens. The community also does not value conservation as they do not find beauty in nature. To get through the hard times in life, the individuals drive fast, without any concern about causing accidents. Through the novel, Bradbury communicates to the society about the need to think beyond the current life and the need for personal development. When Montag, the main character, starts reading the books, his way of perceiving the word changes and he becomes more aware of how sad his life is. He is unable to confirm with the traditions as books open his eyes. The novel indicates the positive impacts of reading on the development of the society through the transformation of main the characters. The following discussion highlights the development of Montag from a fireman who destroyed books to a leader who helps the survivors of war. It also discusses the important life lessons that Montag learn in his stages of life.
Development of Montag’s character
In the beginning of the novel, Montag is presented as a committed, yet ignorant fireman. His character is the opposite of what is expected because instead of helping put off fires, he lights the fire to burn books. Ignorance is the main hindrance to his happiness as he believes in the popular notion held by the leaders in the society that different ideas expressed in books cause conflicts. Everyone in the society except Clarisse is happy with their lives and they enjoy living without the influence of reading. Montag’s early life may be described as hypocritical, and so is everyone else’s in the society. When he meets with Clarisse, he realizes that his life has been a lie all the time. The ignorance that Montag has about life is very high as indicated by the dialogue between him and the teenage neighbor, Clarisse. He admits that he does not know his life history, which explains the actions that he takes to burn books without questioning. When he is informed that the role of firemen in the society was to save the people from fire, he is surprised to learn that he has been doing the wrong duty all along. He is also shocked to learn that in the past, people used to talk to one another. In the current society, individual do not hold meaningful conversations and they rarely know each. Montag realizes that he knows very little about his own wife, as each of them is absorbed in their daily routines.
The conversation that Montag has with Clarisse ignites curiosity in him, and he is eager to pursue the happiness that he has been lacking for years. He is ready to change the society and enlighten everybody about the reality of life. He starts by questioning the ability of the mechanical hound to think, and asks Beatty, his superior to explain. Sensing Montag’s curiosity, Beatty replies, “doesn’t think anything we don’t want it to think” (Bradbury 32) The reply is meant to discourage Montag from further questioning. However, it is evident that Montag is not convinced and his curiosity continues. He is greatly determined to change the society and is unmoved by Beatty’s attitude. Later when Montag feigns illness and stays at home, Beatty takes the opportunity to convince him that anything he might have read from the books is unbelievable, but this also does not change his mentality.
The journey towards changing the mentality of the society that books are unlawful is not an easy one for Montag. The author explains that he cannot even make his own wife understand the intrinsic value of reading as she is committed to conform to the law. When she discovers that Montag has a small library of stolen books, she tells Beatty about it as it is regarded as a criminal act. His enlightenment after reading books changes him completely and he is ready to leave the society to a better country where people are more civilized. The intellectual ability he develops from reading and interacting with like-minded individuals makes him a great leader who helps rebuild a city that s destroyed by war.
Lessons that Montag learns about himself
In every phase of his life, Montag learns new lessons about his abilities that keep him going. The first phase of the journey is characterized by high level of ignorance that adversely affects the welfare of Montag. He realizes that he is an unhappy man, despite the conviction that the society was happy that they did not care about ideas written by others in the society. The conversation he has with Clarisse makes him change his perception about himself. He acknowledges that Clarisse has an influence in his life when he states, “How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know who refracted your own light to you?” (Bradbury 38). The realization that he leads a false and an unhappy life motives Montag to dig deeper into the philosophies of the society. The second phase of Montag’s journey occurs when he takes active action to search for answers. After reading some of the stolen books, he is convinced that his profession of destroying books is detrimental to social development of the society. At this stage, he learns about his determination to succeed in life as he is ready to quit the job of a fireman as it promotes mediocrity. He is unhappy with his job and fakes happiness as indicated by the phrase, “fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles” , implying that he smiles on the phase but he is unhappy (Bradbury 46). The final phase is when he walks away from the society and fits in another country where he is free to use his intellect and is not forbidden to read. In his new life, he discovers that he has deep love for humanity, as well as strong leadership skills. It hurts him to watch the society fall apart due to mediocrity and ignorance and he is determined to change it. Further, he unites the people and influences them positively to take part in re-building the new nation after destruction by war. This shows that he strongly believes in his leadership skills.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Simon and Schuster, 1967. 1-47