“Come on, Christina. Everybody’s doing it. It’s fine!” Christina knew that it was not right, but everyone was doing it. What’s the problem with it? This is a common issue that most everybody will be faced with. Do I give in or do I stand up for what I believe in? This is the same problem that Guy Montag faces. Does he read the books that he thinks will give him truth and knowledge, which is against the law, or does he not in fear that he would be caught? This common issue is conformity, or “a type of social influence involving change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group…in response to real (involving the physical presence of others) or imagined (involving the pressure of social norms/expectations) group pressure” (McLeod). Ray Bradbury develops the theme of “In a battle between doing what is right and conforming to society, both options cause actions that can have a negative result,” by having Montag go through a big decision about whether to commit to books.
In the beginning of the novel, the theme is introduced through Clarisse, who sparks the conflict in Montag in which he can choose books or society. We can immediately sense the pressure of conformity mounting upon Montag, as shown on page 21, where it says, “He felt his body divide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, a trembling and a not trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other” (Bradbury 21). He is wrestling with the pressures of being a member of society and being active in it, but at the same time, his gut instinct is telling him that something is messed up in the world that they live in (“Fahrenheit 451 Clarisse McClellan Quotes”). He must decide whether to lead a life with books, which is illegal and could get him arrested and his house burnt, or to just live as society tells him to (to conform).
The theme is refined by him wrestling with his options as the novel progresses. If he chooses to go along with society, he knows he will live an unhappy and unsatisfied life. In Part II, Montag tells Faber, “‘We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing’” (Bradbury 78). This shows how if he went back to society, then he, like everyone around him, wouldn’t be happy. He knows that his society is missing something, and he would later learn from Faber that it is the information contained in books. Also, if he went back, he would probably continue to have a stressed relationship with his wife.
The theme is fully developed by the end by Montag choosing the books over everything else and him feeling the effects of his decision. If Montag followed his heart and his books, then his house could be burned (it in fact is) and he could be arrested. He ultimately decides to follow this path, with the guidance of Faber. However, it still ends poorly for him as Mildred, his wife, calls an alarm on him. He is forced to burn his house, and he is arrested. He resists the arrest, and in a rage of fury he murders Beatty.
Montag now must go on the run as a fugitive, all because he wanted to save his books and deviate from the normal standard. Bradbury writes, “But he was still crying and that had to be finished…He hadn’t wanted to kill anyone, not even Beatty…I’m sorry, I’m sorry, oh God, sorry…” (116). It is hard to argue that being a fugitive and losing everything is a positive thing, and Montag has lost everything because he fought for what he believed in.
So, Christina, don’t feel like there is one perfect option. There are negatives to going with the flow and standing out, but there are also positives to both. While the effects of both might not be on the same scale as Montag’s, it is important to always weigh your options. There is nothing that is not all white or all black. Rather, it is a shade of grey.