Fahrenheit 451, Illustrating the Status Quo and the Future
imminent threat of a centralized government. The government gains control over people by making people think only what it wants them to think. For example, Mildred always has “Seashells” in her ears that she cannot hear Montag when he calls her. The government uses Seashells as a way to prevent people from listening to others’ opinions.
As the Seashells shut off all routes to different opinions, other than that of the government, people gradually get brainwashed. Since people never have the opportunity to hear different opinions, people do not know how to have tolerance toward them. Consequently, people mistake ‘different’ as being ‘wrong’, and begin to isolate those who think differently from what they hear from the Seashells. Afraid to become an outcast, even the people who do not listen to the Seashells become to think like the Seashells. What is worse is that people even lose the power to think for themselves.
With the seashells constantly babbling gossips into their ears, people simply do not have the time to think. This idea expands further on when Montag replies to Clarisse that he just “haven’t had time”. By keeping people busy and turning their interest onto meaningless gossips, the government takes away the two necessary elements to develop one’s depth of thinking: time and things to contemplate on. For people to ‘think’, they must face a difficulty. Think of people’s mind as a sieve and problems as huge rocks.
At first, the rocks cannot go through the sieve. They must be broken up into smaller and smaller pieces until they become the size of sand grains. Indeed, this process is very complicated. In order for the huge rocks at the upstream of a river to become small as sands, they must first become sediments of the floodplain at the midstream. To become those sediments, the rocks get eroded and weathered by rain and wind for countless years until they become small enough to roll down the steep hills or to get transferred by the river.
Either way, they get broken and scratched rolling down between crags or being swayed side by side and back and forth by the rapid current. Only then, can they reach the midstream. Yet, they still have to wait for another year or so for a flood big enough to transport them to the downstream breaking those into particles small as sand grains. This is how difficult and time-consuming one’s thinking process can be. People should grind the big rocks against their sieves until the rocks become small as sand grains.
But this is how people can develop their power to think. Like how the rocks get scratched due to the crags and the current, others might leave a dent in one’s heart by ignoring his/her opinions. Also, there will be a time when one cannot think further. But one should keep on thinking with perseverance like how the sediments of the floodplain patiently waits for a flood. As one keeps repeating this process, the sieve itself will wither away due to the friction with the rocks.
Then the holes in the sieves will get larger, which means that one does not have to grind the rocks down to the size of sand grains anymore. Bigger holes mean that bigger particles can go through the sieve with less effort. In other words, one’s capability of handling harder problems will grow. Ultimately, the sieve will be gone completely, and one will eventually reach a point where he/she can easily overcome any problems in life. In this sense, the sieve symbolizes the barriers to people’s mental development.
The only thing that can get rid of this barrier is facing the unpleasant truths of the society. Aware of this fact, the government only pours sand, such as celebrity gossip, into people’s sieves. The people, thus, do not feel the necessity of ‘thinking’ and developing their ‘power to think’. Unfortunately, people never had the opportunity to face the unpleasant truths, for the government cut all access to them. For example Captain Beatty says, “‘White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Burn it.'” One might ask, ‘Then how can people reflect back on themselves, realize what is wrong, and fix it?’ That does not matter. The government does not care about pursuing justice; they only care about maximizing their authority. Thus they do not want to let people get rid of their ‘sieves’. Otherwise, they would demand the government for justice.
And in the process of pursuing justice, disagreement is inevitable. Such disagreement leads to division of power, for some will be willing to support the government while the others may not. On the other hand, if the government only favors the majority and rules the minority with violence, it will be able to maximize its power. Therefore, the government, through TV parlors and Seashells, makes the majority to agree with them. Then the government can maximize their power and can pretend as if it were being fair by taking the side of the majority. The truth, however, is that the government is only ignoring the minority’s dignity of life.
Although it sounds ironic, the government also promotes violence among citizens to gain control over them. It is easier for the government to control people when they are violent and immoral. Then they have a justifiable reason for punishing them with violence, justifying their actions based on Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism, ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’, and the saying ‘an eye for an eye’. In contrast, if people are moral, it is harder for the government to control them. If these people demand for more rights, the government has to respond to them because, they have earned those rights by being moral citizens. In short, the prevailing violence in the world that Montag lives in is a result of a government that only seeks for authority.
George Orwell, an author who also writes about dystopian societies like the one in Fahrenheit 451, once said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. In the bleak, dystopian, future society in Fahrenheit 451, the government takes away the people’s ability to think by forbidding books. Unable to think, the people do not even know what they want to hear and what they do not want to hear, for they cannot form their own opinions. Thus in this world, no one can have liberty according to Orwell. This suggests that we should never let our society to reach the temperature of Fahrenheit 451, for Fahrenheit 451 is not only a temperature that burns books but also burns liberty.