- John Mavrick
Books are like lighthouses.
They are man-made tools that serve the purpose of navigating people through the unknown seas of knowledge.
However, in Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, even the most powerful lighthouses like the Bible are illegal in their society, leaving lost fish in the sea. This is due to the new role of firemen having to burn books and start fires instead of extinguishing them like they always have. The burning of books creates a society where knowledge is hard to come by, thus leading to ignorance. However, Guy Montag, one of the firemen, no longer wants to be ignorant and instead desires knowledge. Throughout Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, Montag discovers his true happiness and stops being ignorant like the rest of his society due to his interactions with Clarisse, Faber, and Mildred.
The presence of Clarisse in Montag’s life initially provokes change in Montag’s character. Clarisse is the first person that Montag meets who does not conform to society. She likes nature, asking questions, and likes to appreciate everything in life. Her personality brushes off onto Montag, which makes him start to question society and more importantly his happiness. “’Are you happy?’” (Bradbury 15). Even though Clarisse asks this to learn more about Montag, it ends up also making him realize that he is not truly happy, and now seeks to find out why he is not happy. Through this interaction, Montag starts to show less ignorance and begins to try and understand the world around him by asking questions. However, his lack of knowledge hinders him from trying to answer these questions, so he ends up contacting a former English professor he met before the novel begins.
Montag comes to Faber to in hopes of obtaining the knowledge required to understand what he reads in books. Faber helps Montag become aware of the state of the society he lives in and the true corruptness of fireman. He learns that the role of firemen in their society is to get rid of knowledge by burning the main source of them, books. He also helps Montag understand the true purpose of books, shown by the quote “’It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that were once in books’” (Bradbury 82). The things in books he is referring to is knowledge, which is what Montag is trying to use to find out why he is not completely happy. This also tells Montag that it is not books that are important, but it is the author and information contained in the books that are what Montag has been seeking in order to help him change.
Mildred’s disposition scares Montag and influences him to finally change. Montag uses Mildred as an example of what he will turn into if he keeps conforming to society. She resembles the dangers of ignorance, creating empty lives that have no individuality. She is so reliant on the television walls and her seashells to distract her from the boring life that she ends up overdosing on pills if she fails to do so. Montag notices this and confronts her saying “’Does your ‘family’ love you, love you very much, love you with all their heart and soul, Millie?’” (Bradbury 77). This quote shows how empty her life is due to ignorance since she calls some random people in a virtual reality as her family instead of her actual husband. She is too ignorant to realize the important her real life is compared to the parlor, which is why Montag fears to end up like her. He wants to have control over his own thoughts, he does not want to resort towards distractions to keep him occupied just like Mildred.
Overall, Clarisse, Faber, and Mildred all play a part in forming Montag into the free willed and knowledgeable person he is at the end of the book. First, Clarisse inspires Montag to start asking questions to try and understand the world for himself and makes him realize that his happiness he took pride in as a fireman was fake. Then, Montag meets Faber and he helps Montag answer his questions by providing insight from his previous experiences as a wise man and a former professor. Finally, Montag’s fear of ending up living a complacent life like Mildred gives him the determination to change. His transformation shows that it is possible to escape the grasp of a hopeless society and emerge from the ashes with the help of others.