In the last part of this discussion of the theme of Fahrenheit 451, I observed what appeared to me to be Ray Bradbury’s subtle critique of freedom. I proposed that his critique rested in the fact that the people in Fahrenheit 451 freely choose to, in essence, let the government take over. It’s a dark take on freedom. Here’s the final part in this examination.
On the flip side of that rather morbid approach to the concept of freedom, there was an examination of the good that freedom can do. Or at least, there seemed to be a hint of hope. If you think about it, the pursuit of freedom in the novel doesn’t actually bring about any changes that we see. At the end, the city has been destroyed, millions of people are dead, and the country, in essence, is in ruins. That’s not a terribly happy or optimistic ending.
So where does the novel leave the concept of freedom? It leaves us with a ruined country and a people who are free from their government. They are free from those who enslaved them, but there’s no answer given to the question of “what happens next?” Is a free society set up?
The main character, Montag, has pursued freedom for most of the book, and at the end he gets it. But given what the free choices of the people did in the past, is that really a good thing? The question at the end is not so much “is there freedom,” but rather “what do people do with the freedom they have?”
Oddly enough, I’m almost tempted to take the novel as having a pessimistic view on freedom. When I think about it, characters in the book praise the value of freedom, but we don’t actually see it giving anyone anything.
But perhaps that gives us the theme of the novel. We don’t see people doing good things with their freedom. We do see them doing plenty of bad. At the same time, however, there’s hopes and dreams that characters have of a free society in which people use their freedom properly.
So perhaps the theme of the novel isn’t censorship, or even freedom as a concept. Perhaps the theme of the novel is simply that freedom isn’t perfect. Freedom can lead to a dangerous totalitarian system, but also a safe, tranquil world. People aren’t perfect, and so they misuse and abuse their freedom. They can make bad choices and good choices; both freely.
I’ll have to think about it some more, but it seems like that could very well be the theme of this novel.
As to what I think of that theme, and whether I agree with that message or not, I won’t say. I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed Fahrenheit 451, and am eager to discuss the book and the theme with others.