Farenheit 451: Ignorance Isn’t Really Blissful

There are a lot of connections between Fahrenheit 451 and the Cold War. The novel of Fahrenheit 451 reflects the period it was made in. Its themes of information, censorship, and ignorance are reflective of the ideas from the Cold War itself. The war causes thoughts about the future of the country—some of those thoughts being as follows: what would happen if fighting broke out, xenophobia, and loyalty to one’s country. The way that Fahrenheit 451 uses these themes is complementary to the ideas brought up by the Cold War, at the time of the novel being drafted. These thoughts and themes shared in the Cold war and Fahrenheit 451 are integral to understanding the novel

The first area of the story to explore is the setting and the historical background of the novel itself. The novel was written during the Cold War and Red Scare. It was a time in the United States where everyone had fears of foreign invaders masquerading as a fellow man, spying on them, or even infiltrating the government. This fear seeped deeply into the society of the United States.

This fear even seeped into literature with Fahrenheit 451 being an example. The reason for this fear is talked about in Clercq’s writing, “In Fahrenheit 451, censorship is taken to the extreme, since it concerns all books, no matter what they are, more than just content, it is a media, a means of expression—the very thing that symbolizes the culture and development of humanity” ( Clercq 10). The novel does not hide its analogies to the Cold War and McCarthyism at all. For example, Clarisse’s talks with Guy in the beginning of the novel show the fear of conformity that came with the Cold War. The government reaction to the Cold War was to silence potential threats. As a result, harsher security measures were permitted.

The novel takes an exaggerated look at what enforced conformity could lead to. A reflection of the thoughts of the time would be, “such government-supported conformism amounted to censorship and ultimately led to the fostering of what William F. Touponce labels ‘mass culture’ (46) and what Kingsley Amis calls ‘conformist hell’” (Hoskinson 2). These thoughts are clearly reflected with the people of Fahrenheit 451’s world. The people are always bound to certain rules and are gleeful to follow them blindly, no questions asked. Guy’s first action in the book is even being happy with burning books. “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed” (Bradbury 1). What can be made from its Cold war connections is that the novel shows what could happen if all the fear and conformism of the cold war was to evolve. The result—a nation of ignorance without any source of knowledge to learn about the world or any way be different from others around you.

The Cold War analogies in the novel are also heavily acknowledged in the themes and characters of Fahrenheit 451. The constant themes of knowledge and ignorance serves as a placeholder for two types of people. The ones with knowledge—being those who want to retain books: Guy and Farbr, and the ones without knowledge: most of the character in the novel. This highlights the expectations and fear from the Cold War.

The ignorant people are representative of what people thought government enforced conformity would do to others. Those with knowledge, like Guy and Faber, represent the desire to go against censorship and retain their knowledge and individuality. Also, Clarisse’s quote in the beginning of the novel, is used to give readers an idea of what the government in Fahrenheit 451 is like: “It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not” (Bradbury 27). The quote shows how the world in the novel sees to censor and control its people.

The people are given information by the government (the water poured down) and the people are told what it is but do not have the ability to think about what it is. This shows a fear people had about government censorship during the Cold War. Fahrenheit 451 uses its themes in service to communicate an attitude towards the government during the0 cold war and the censorship that came with it.

The people of the novel have are like what people feared from the Cold War. The populace of the novel lack in-depth thinking or a view on perspective. The people have little to no thinking skills beyond the surface level. This is shown when Guy shows one of his wife’s friends some poetry. Her reaction: “I knew it would happen! I’ve always said, poetry and tears, poetry and suicide and crying and awful feelings, poetry and sickness” (Bradbury 97). Her terrible reaction is one of ignorance. This ignorance exists because of the government’s censorship.

The Cold War gave people fears of this type of thinking. The type of thinking with a lack of critical thinking skills. Clercq states an idea of what the novel was trying to emulate with this part, “The reader is presented with a criticism of the society of his time, of our society today and of what we risk doing in the future” (Clercq 1). Considering the quote, it is highly likely that the author knows what he is doing with his writing. Her reaction is one to parallel with fears from the Cold War.

A counter argument to the Cold War’s importance to Fahrenheit 451 would be that: the novel does do not need an understanding of the cold war to be understood. However, the Cold war background should be known, as it is complementary to the novel fully. For example, the author himself acknowledges that his writing was motivated by the thoughts of the Cold War. In “Fahrenheit 451: Audio Introduction,” it is stated by Bradbury “So suddenly here I am writing an angry short novel because I lived, that particular year, in 1950…when politics in the US were going through a very difficult period, when we had Joseph McCarthy” (Bradbury 197).

Also, Jonathan Eller’s “The story of Fahrenheit 451” tells about Bradbury’s writing influences. In the text it is stated, “Bradbury was initially inspired by Arthur Koestler’s riveting expose of Stalin’s political terrors and finally motivated to write by the emerging climate of fear during the early years of the Cold War” (Eller 187). The author admitting his writing is politically influenced is a sure sign that an understanding of history will be needed to better understand the novel. Also, Without the historical context of the novel, the book would lose its intertextual message. The historical context of the novel adds depth to the actions and setting in the novel. Without the context, the novel would just come off as another science-fiction dystopia novel instead of novel that serves as a cautionary tale to the ways of the government censorship, during the time period.

The novel was a novel of its time. Fahrenheit 451’s Cold War background provides an intertextual reference that serves to enrich the novel thematically. Themes of censorship, knowledge, and ignorance all function to communicate the fear that came from the Cold War. Without these elements of the story, Fahrenheit 451 would not be the same novel. These themes and fears give a background to Fahrenheit 451.

Works Cited

  1. Bradbury, Ray, “Fahrenheit 451: Audio Introduction.” Fahrenheit 451, 60th Anniversary Edition, Simon and Schuster, pp. 192-197
  2. Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. 1953. Simon and Schuster, 2013
  3. Clercq, Anne-Sophie de, et al. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Book Analysis): Detailed Summary, Analysis and Reading Guide. BrightSummaries.com, 2015. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=nlebk&AN=1236984&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  4. Eller, Jonathan. “The Story of Fahrenheit 451.” Fahrenheit 451, 60th Anniversary Edition, Simon and Schuster, pp. 167-180.
  5. Hoskinson, Kevin. “The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury’s Cold War Novels.” Extrapolation (Kent State University Press), vol. 36, no. 4, Winter 1995, pp. 345–359. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3828/extr.1995.36.4.345.