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Ray Bradbury has employed the theme of conflicts extensively in his bestselling science fiction novel "Fahrenheit 451". Using the life of the protagonist Guy Montag and his interaction with others we can observe different types of conflicts such as personal, societal, national, and governmental. Bradbury novel is dystopian where there seems to be nothing good in his fictional world as people are detached from one another, and the government has censored its citizens to the point of determining what is suitable for them. Through the story, we can learn that books and literature are essential in the opening peoples' minds and help them make decisions for themselves. Bradbury's world is full of violence and conflicts and enlightenment of the population through literature and books is the only way to save this society.
Bradbury developed various characters in his story who had personal conflicts through their actions that seemed to contradict each other. Montag, the protagonist, manifested personal strife through his behaviors while interacting with other characters. When Montag first met Clarisse, she asked him if he is happy and felt irritated as he kept a fake smile on his face but moments later he admits to himself that he is not happy. Montag personal conflict manifests itself in the sense that he wants to force that he is happy while at the same time his conscience believes otherwise. It is also through Clarisse that we can observe another personal conflict when it comes to matters of the heart. Clarisse told Montag "you're not in love with anyone" (19). As before Montag does not believe it but later questions his relationship with Mildred "Who are these people... Are they husband and wife, are they divorced, engaged, what? Good God, nothing's connected up" (43). At the last part of the novel, Montag confesses to Granger that even if her wife dies, he will not feel sad only for him to worry about Mildred after she lost her when the city is under attack that he even remembered how they met. This incident shows that Montag did not know whether he loved his wife or not resulting in a personal conflict. All this incidence are indications that for Montag to realize that he was not happy and in love, he had to be enlightened by someone such as Clarisse for him to fully understand his situation.
The other personal conflict displayed by Montag is through his career. In the opening parts of the novel, Clarisse enquired form Montag if it was true that "long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them" (6)? This revelation haunts Montag later on as he starts to question his role as a firefighter. With his new insight, it is surprising that Montag seeks help to those whom he had planned to prosecute as seen when he was looking for Faber's contact that was labeled "FUTURE INVESTIGATIONS” (71)? Montag loved burning books "it was a pleasure to burn" (1), and later he resented the practice and also his collaboration with people he had wished to indict is an indication of personal conflict between his new and old self. All this change was because of enlightenment that had made Montag realize that what he was doing earlier was wrong and as a result, he changed his ways and started protecting books instead of burning books.
Montag is not the only character who had portrayed a personal conflict in Bradbury's novel. Others include individuals such as Faber. The professor was in love with books and knowledge, but because of fear for his life he was forced only to memorize books and avoided having physical copies. He is even adamant about helping Montag and admits that he could have done something when the people started to avoid books. He said that "I'm one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the guilty, but I did not speak"(78). Montag threatens him by tearing the bible that's when Faber agrees with Montag cause which he believes is the right call, but he does nothing about it. It is clear that Faber has internal conflicts as he is torn between doing what he loves which is reading and protect books and at the same time his cowardice makes him value his life more. It took Montag's effort to enlighten Faber even though he knew nothing about books. It can also be posited that Captain Beatty portrayed personal conflicts as he had so much knowledge about books and he could quote them yet he had dedicated his life to destroying them.
Bradbury also reveals the causes of societal conflict in his fictional world. Through Clarisse, we can learn that the society regards people who are thrilled by knowledge, love to engage in conversations and are self-thinkers as anti-social. To them being social is having leisure without questioning anything or talking to each other. Their definition of conflict contradicts that of the world as we know it. Technology is making the characters in Bradbury fictional world to be antisocial as noted by Montag and his wife Mildred who always has Seashell in her ears. The same can be said of today’s world as many youths are addicted to their smartphones and computers limiting their interaction with people and the most probable solution will be through enlightenment using education by teaching the masses about positive and moral ways of using the internet (Ma, Hing Keung).
Bradbury’s story has portrayed different cases of societal conflict in his classic novel. Despite the fact that Montag and others who share his opinion what to save the society, it does not want salvation as people are comfortable with the way things are. Evidence from the text reveals that people were not forced to stop reading but did that on their own accord. Beatty noted that “there was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship…” (55). The same sentiments are echoed by Faber who said: "The public itself stopped reading of its own accord" (83). The people themselves decided not to enroll in schools and ignored the books and the government seized the opportunity and started censoring people on matters of books, and people did not consider how they will be affected. Therefore the societal conflict is as a result of Montag trying to save a group that is comfortable with their lives and the only hope for their salvation would be to remind them of the importance of knowledge.
In this society, people are distanced from each other and their families. Some of the characters admit that it is important to have a family yet they find it difficult to have children in the case of Mrs. Bowles who said "the world must reproduce, you know, the race must go on. Besides, they sometimes look just like you, and that's nice" (92). The irony is that the same parents are avoiding spending time with their children as noted in Mrs. Bowles case. "I plunk the children in school nine days out of ten. I put up with them when they come home three days a month…" (93). Montag is also disturbed by the fact that people have all they need to be happy yet they are not pushing him to the conclusion that maybe books could contain the answers to the cause of their unhappiness which is in agreement with my thesis.
There are also cases of national conflicts in Bradbury's novel which manifest itself when the government seems to be against the public and what's to control it at all cost. This government does not what people who interact with each other or have time to read, think or question anything as they fear they will be empowered. The government what its citizens to be docile and destroyed books using firefighter to deny them with knowledge as explained by Faber. "The Government, seeing how advantageous it was to have people reading only about passionate lips and the fist in the stomach, circled the situation with your fire-eaters" (85). Clarisse also described how his uncle was prosecuted for driving slowly as this could enable him to view and understand what was going on around him. The government labels anyone who is against its views as their enemy and will do anything in and outside the books to eliminate the threat. "The search is over, Montag is dead; a crime against society has been avenged" (142). Such statement after killing an innocent person reveals that this is a government that propagates propaganda to protect its image and silences its critics. The same conclusion can be reached when you analyzed Beatty statement when he said: "any man's insane who thinks he can fool the Government and us" (31). The conflict between the nation and its citizen can be averted if the masses are enlightened and revolt against the government for violation of their rights.
There is a global conflict in this world, and it is seen with the revelation that countries are on the brink of engaging each other in a nuclear war. Beatty reveals the tension among countries by warning against provoking the "Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico" (54). People are worried by the sounds made by jet fighters as seen in Montag reactions in various scenes in the novel. The narrator wonders how it came to be that the country has amassed so many bombers reminding us that his country had started and won two nuclear wars in the past that resulted in the whole world hating America. His sentiments are echoed by Hollander Paul who reveals that America faces criticism both at home and abroad because of the foreign policies and their involvement in major world wars. The global conflicts could be averted if countries are enlightened and advised to cease the development and stockpiling nuclear and other dangerous weapons.
As seen from the examples provided in this essay lack of knowledge is the principal cause of conflicts. Some of the conflicts observed in the novel have led to violence and loss of lives such as that between Beatty and Montag. The bombing of the American city lead to the destruction of the place, and many lives were lost. Clarisse observed how youths were killing each other when she revealed that "six of my friends have been shot… Ten of them died in car wrecks" (27). The conflicts between government and citizen have led to the death of innocent people.
We have seen from the text how books and literature can reduce conflicts as they contain knowledge that can make one think and question their actions the way it opened the eyes of Montag. Freedom of speech and open discussion help with sharing ideas that promote peace and reduce conflicts. Bradbury showed how speech could be used to enlighten people effectively where Clarisse got inspiration from her uncle, Granger from his grandfather and Montag was illuminated by conversing with Clarisse, Faber, and Granger. Montag had many personal conflicts was enlightened books and knowledge while the only hope to reduce societal disputes is through educating the mass on the importance of learning. Montag is the perfect example of how learning can transform an individual as he evolves from being a book destroyer to a defender of books even at the cost of his life. Montag is warned about the risks of getting books by Faber, and his response was "That's the good part of dying; when you've nothing to lose, you run any risk you want" (81). In conclusion, it is evident from the examples provided that books and knowledge are the only hope of salvation for Bradbury's fictional world.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. World Editions, Inc., 1951.
Hollander, Paul. Anti-Americanism: Critiques at home and abroad, 1965-1990. Oxford
University Press, USA, 1992.
Ma, Hing Keung. "Internet Addiction And Antisocial Internet Behavior Of Adolescents". The
Scientific World JOURNAL, vol 11, 2011, pp. 2187-2196. Hindawi Limited, doi:10.1100/2011/308631.
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