The theme of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit
451 can be viewed from several different angles. First and foremost, Bradbury's novel gives an
anti-censorship message. Bradbury understood censorship to be a natural outcropping of an overly
tolerant society. Once one group objects to something someone has written, that book is modified
and censorship begins. Soon, another minority group objects to something else in the book, and it is
again edited until eventually the book is banned altogether. In Bradbury's novel, society has
evolved to such an extreme that all literature is illegal to possess. No longer can books be read,
not only because they might offend someone, but because books raise questions that often lead to revolutions
and even anarchy. The intellectual thinking that arises from reading books can often be dangerous,
and the government doesn't want to put up with this danger. Yet this philosophy, according to
Bradbury, completely ignores the benefits of knowledge. Yes, knowledge can cause disharmony, but
in many ways, knowledge of the past, which is recorded in books, can prevent man from making similar
mistakes in the present and future.
The society envisioned by Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 is often compared
to Huxley's Brave New World. Though both works definitely have an anti-government theme, this
is not the core idea of Bradbury's novel. As Beatty explains in part one, government control of
people's lives was not a conspiracy of dictators or tyrants, but a consensus of everyday people. People
are weak-minded; they don't want to think for themselves and solve the troubling problems of the world.
It is far easier to live a life of seclusion and illusion-a life where the television is reality.
Yet more importantly, Fahrenheit 451 is an anti-apathy and anti-dependence and anti-television message.
People in the novel are afraid-afraid of themselves. They fear the thought of knowing, which leads
them to depend of others (government) to think for them. Since they aren't thinking, they need
something to occupy their time. This is where television comes in. A whole host of problems
arise from television: violence, depression and even suicide.
Thus, Bradbury advocates the idea
that men should think for themselves, not let the government or the television do their thinking for
them. The easiest way, Bradbury argues, to think for oneself is to expand one's knowledge of history
and politics and religion. This can only be achieved through the study of books. Though
this study may cause discomfort, all in all, it is necessary for any society that doesn't wish to repeat
the mistakes of the past.