Modern day America parallels often to the world constructed in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. Some may even argue that he predicted the future with this book. The characters in the story often times turned away from conflict and choices. They have instead turned to consumerism and factual knowledge. But not only does that compare to modern America, but it was also reflected in the society that Bradbury lived in.
Avoiding conflict is a habit that the people in Fahrenheit 451 and America both share. While it may not be good to constantly fight, there is also a need for diversity, which will always cause problems. The only way to make it so that people get along is to make them all the same and hold the same ideals, which is very strongly seen in this book, but it is also seen in America. Right now the people of America seem to endorse the idea of allowing everyone to do as they please as long as it doesn’t bother anyone else. In both cases the people slowly stop caring about anything other people do except when they can benefit from the other person. Other than that though, apathy serves almost the same purpose as fire does in Fahrenheit 451 in that it “destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it” (p. 115). Apathy and fire are both temporary fixes to problems that cannot really be cured. This has to do with self-censorship and how people in America will refuse to voice their opinions, or even develop an opinion because society doesn’t allow people to direct their passions toward something controversial. In the book, they stopped the developing of opinions all together, which is a plausible reality for America at the rate they are currently running.
Not only do people avoid conflict, but they also avoid choices altogether. In the book they show an extreme example of this, with people having hardly any choice at all. Beatty on page 61 pointed out that to make a man happy one shouldn’t “give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none”. With this, people end up being told who to vote for or what they should feel so that eventually they don’t care at all. Applying specifically to politics, in America there seems to be a growing disinterest in politics, especially by the younger generations. They may vote, but often times it’s because someone told them to vote, not because they really wanted to. They were also probably told what their opinion should be and don’t develop much of their own. It is much easier to listen and follow what others tell you to follow. At this point, people would be just as happy to not have a choice at all. This could provide a reason as to why currently Donald Trump is having so much success in presidential poles, because his voice is the loudest. People enjoy him telling them that he is the best for the job, even if he isn’t. The lines between choice and manipulation are blurred, leading a person to believe manipulation, is choice.
Once a person avoids conflict and choices it leaves them very susceptible to dangers, such as being convinced as to what really constitutes as knowledge. People have to believe that they are still smart when they don’t have opinions so it’s best to “cram them full of noncombustible data” (p. 61). When people know facts they can sound very smart and knowledgeable. In Bradbury’s novel, this knowledge came with knowing everything that was happening with their “family”. In America, knowledge comes with good grades in school. In both cases it is defined by the memorization of facts and coming up with false connections to make them sound more intelligent, but in reality their knowledge is only made up of facts. People often forget the true definition of knowledge, and it isn’t memorizing information. It often comes with conflict and choices, but because those are dangerous for people, it’s easier to just say they are smart when they can know names of the capitals to all the countries in the world. What’s even better is if everyone knows the name of the capitals to all the countries.
While the points Bradbury’s book parallel with modern America, he wasn’t necessarily predicting the future. Many of the issues in this book were also prevalent in the 1950’s; specifically, consumerism. People during the 1950’s were in the middle of the Cold War yet they were trying to pretend that it wasn’t by increasing spending and partaking in more leisurely past times. This obviously correlates to the mentality of the people in Fahrenheit 451 where they let other people “do all the worrying” (p. 94). They don’t need to worry because they are not directly involved. Instead they buy a new wall screen or, in the case of people in the 1950’s, they will go to a baseball game. They are distracting themselves from reality and that is something that Bradbury would have been influenced by when writing his book. It also, however, continues to apply to modern America. There may not be a threat of nuclear war, but there are other wars happening and other major issues in other countries (such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis and the threat of ISIS) that American people have unconcerned themselves with. They ignore immediate dangers because people think that it couldn’t ever directly affect them. America has not changed in this; the issues have only been changed and the distractions adjusted.
Fahrenheit 451 plays on the idea that the values of people are skewed, showing that people would rather value “noncombustible facts” and consumer products than allow for conflict and choice. He writes a world that reflects how both his society worked and, unknowingly, how modern America works today. It shows the mindset of the modern populace. In the show Mad Men, there is a great quote that summarizes this mind set by Donald Draper where he says, “People want to be told what to do so badly that they will listen to anyone.”
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey Book, 1953. Print.