Mildred Montag is the prime example of a conformist in the dystopian society portrayed in Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451. She thinks in the simplistic manner that people like her are conditioned to, and she’s married to a fireman, who plays the largely important role of burning books in this society. She spends her days watching the television screens in the parlor and her nights with Seashell Radios buzzing in her ears. At first glance, her life of all play and no work might seem relaxing and blissful.
However, it eventually comes to mind that all of her bliss is derived from her use of technology in order to escape from reality. Even then, it will become apparent that Mildred is not actually blind to reality and that her happy disposition is fabricated. Mildred’s behavior, considered to be normal in her society, is no different from that of a self-destructive addict in ours. Her favorite pastime is to sit in the parlor and spend time with what she claims to be her ‘family’, but is really just a bunch of characters from the programs she watches.
A description of what was shown on the screen during one of the programs was as follows: “Abruptly the room took off on a rocket flight into the clouds, it plunged into a lime-green sea where blue fish ate red and yellow fish. ” (pg. 94). Such colorful and spontaneous effects are much like what many people in our society claim to experience under the influence of hallucinogens, which coincidentally are the types of drugs that are notorious for having the ability to make a person lose all sense of reality.
Mildred exhibits a sign of addiction when Guy, while he is sick in bed, asks her to lower the volume in the parlor, and she responds by leaving the room, “[doing] nothing to the parlor and [coming] back. ” (pg. 49). This shows that she cares more about a piece of technology than about the welfare of her own husband. Likewise, in modern-day society, addictions tend to practically take over the entire lives of people who suffer from them, thus driving the addicts to sacrifice connections with their friends and families in order to satisfy their cravings for whatever it is that they are addicted to.
It is also mentioned that Mildred occasionally likes to drive around at night, at dangerously high speeds just to feel a rush or a temporary “high”. Generally, people are believed to resort to such methods of addictive behavior when they feel that they are unable to enjoy a normal life. Reasonably enough, the reality that Mildred tries to escape is indeed dull, empty, and unenjoyable. She depends upon her addictions to help her fill up the void, as is depicted literally when she receives the endoscopic treatment after her overdose at the beginning of the book.
As it says, “Go on, anyway, shove the bore down, slush up the emptiness, if such a thing could be brought out in the throb of the suction snake. ” (pgs. 14-15). In this situation, the drugs serve as the technology she utilizes in an attempt to make a physical escape from the life she leads, and once the operators extract those drugs from her body, there is nothing left inside, save perhaps emptiness. The line mentioned could either be stating the fact that emptiness is intangible and cannot be taken out, or hinting that emptiness itself wasn’t even there to be removed in the first place.
On a similar note, Mildred overindulges in technology because her life would be utterly meaningless without it. As if it weren’t significant enough, the very fact that Mildred attempts suicide is a solid sign that she does not have anything she feels is worth living for. That being said, just from the knowledge that Mildred makes an effort to escape from reality, one can derive that she has to have a certain level of awareness as to the existence of what it is she tries so hard to separate herself from.
She believes that by not acknowledging this awareness, she will be able to fully convince herself that her means of escape is her reality. For instance, when Guy tries to convince her that books may add meaning to their lives, she argues that “books aren’t people” and that her “‘family’ is people. ” (pg. 73). However, when Guy asks her if her ‘family’ loves her with “all their heart and soul,” (pg. 77) she is at a loss for words. Much like what happens when Clarisse asks Guy whether or not he is happy, this question forces Mildred to think strictly about what is real.
It reminds her that deep down, she knows that her ‘family’ consists of fictional characters who cannot harbor real emotions and thus, cannot requite her love for them. This is part of the awareness that she refuses to acknowledge, and she is stunned when Guy’s question catches her in her disguise. Unfortunately, she does not accept that she has a problem and proceeds to change the subject in response to his question. Towards the end of the book, when Mildred leaves the house as the firemen arrive to burn it, it can be inferred that technology does not have the effect on her that she desires, and that it cannot save her from her reality.
One can recall that earlier in the story, an old woman chooses to stay in her house and burn along with her books, causing Guy to realize that books can help people to find in their lives a meaning that does not exist in his or Mildred’s. Mildred does not stay to burn with the parlor that she makes such a big deal out of throughout the course of the book. In this way, she inadvertently proves that the parlor and the other forms of technology she attaches herself to, do not provide her life with any real meaning.
Mildred is initially unhappy because she subconsciously wants her life to be meaningful, and it is not. She may not be aware of that specific problem, but there is no denying her awareness that something about her life makes her feel unsatisfied. Instead of acknowledging her problems and facing them head-on the way her husband deals with his, she tries to smother her negative emotions by resorting to physically and mentally unhealthy behavior in a futile attempt to run away from the reality which contains her problems.
As her actions can only allow her to reach temporary highs and reality is something that will never disintegrate, it is impossible for her to achieve what she desires by means of the methods she uses. These problems merge to spiral her into a constant routine of highs and crashes; all the while, her initial problem never gets taken care of. As a result, she feels even more trapped in this seemingly endless cycle, and her efforts to make herself blind to reality only prolong her agony and make her even more unhappy in the long run.