Conformity and Individuality in Fahrenheit 451

Categories: Dystopia

Being an enforcer of law in the novel, the position of Guy Montag is outlined and symbolized as the “force of repression who completes orders from McCarthy supporters and the conservative United States government(Bloom, 5).” The narrative of Montag is presented from a third-person omniscient perspective and the reader is able to understand the character through the narrator’s access to the character’s feelings and thoughts: the reader witnesses his metamorphosis from being a book-burning fireman to a critical individual who is ultimately rejected by society.

Throughout the novel, the reader can easily fathom Montag’s change from a man of conformity to individuality by Bradbury's apparent descriptions.

Montag has an occupation of a fireman but sets objects on fire instead of putting out fires. the reader’s first encounter with Montag is aberrant with his thought of the nature of his job, “it was a pleasure to burn (Bradbury, 11).” The acceptance of his unnatural job explains his ignorance of the government’s resolute determination to eliminate free will and thoughts, thereby foreshadowing the censorship of books and abolishment of libraries in Montag’s society.

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When Montag started burning books, their destruction is metaphorically described as “flapping, pigeon-winged books died”, as pigeons represent freedom, this metaphor effectively transforms mere objects into lively, spirited birds, thereby intensifying the remorseless and callous attitudes of people in Montag’s society. The metaphor also implies that books are invaluable and should be appreciated as one would treasure beautiful living creatures, but instead, Montag finds fulfillment in the destruction of literature as he would “shove a marshmallow on a stick”.

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This highlights that Montag’s society perceives books to be worthless and is condescendingly eradicated for the mass to be addicted to the only entertainment - screens on walls. In comparison, Montag’s appreciation of his job and his enjoyment of burning shows how he conforms to the abnormal culture which lacks traits of independent thoughts.

After the influence of several individuals, namely Clarisse McClellan and Faber, Montag’s incremental changes to becoming a character with individual thoughts are demonstrated by his dialogues and actions. His development began when he witnessed his wife Mildred overdosing sleeping-pills in his house full of technology. When the indifferent operators who cleanse her body mechanically, Montag becomes highly disturbed as he needs to shout “stop it (Montag,22)!” as he now evokes sensitivity and consciousness. This scene ultimately leads to Montag’s reflection of his society when he says to himself, “there are too many of us” (Bradbury, 23), and the commencement of questioning the world, thereby disconnecting from the social norm of lacking thoughts.

Montag’s awakening from being a conformist prevents him to be molded to one standard and acts the same way (burning-books, 2019). After his coincidence with Clarisse, he attains the ability to think and his unswerving commitment to separating himself from society foreshadows his ultimate success in gaining freedom by escaping this “conformist hell” (Amis, 2019). By understanding that people in his society lacks happiness, he begins a series of thoughts which is rare and this realization demonstrates the absence of ideas while ignorance is prioritized and focused.

Citizens in the novel are compelled to live in rooms with screens on walls where they interact with fictional and virtual characters on screens. Even though the vast majority blindly follow this trend, Montag remains reflective and challenges society. People are not allowed to read under any circumstances, their only medium of entertainment would be to endlessly interact with characters on the wall and listen to “seashells” for radio. The interactions between Montag and “relatives” of his wife, Mildred, create a clearer idea of individuality as he willingly engages in questioning and discussions, relinquishing the orthodox mindset in his society. His urge of reading a poem fearlessly reveals his sense of individuality while characters with identical opinions on the wall see no value within books (Mussey, 2019). By taking the risk to read out loud, Montag openly challenges society instead of conforming to the wills of government like “puppets for the state (Schulze, 2019).” After Montag acknowledges that Mildred’s friends are all apathetic towards realistic reality, he exploded and told them to “go home and think of your first husband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet (Bradbury, 109), ” and in addition to reciting a poem in front of them, Montag hopes to induce thinking and emotional responses from these products of society. However, Montag compares the futility of his attempt to “putting out fires with water pistols (Bradbury, 118),” as they are irritated with Montag’s act. Not only this is another instance that reveals the fear of noncompliance in Montag’s society, also surprises the reader by his development. Montag now embraces and gains satisfaction for going against the social expectations which again shows his transformation to an individual with thoughts even though this opposes society’s expectation.

The scene where Montag tries to recite a part of the Bible while advertisements are blasting from the wall loudly has a significant place in the novel, as Bradbury establishes the effects of distraction by mass media during the rise of television and the spread of advertisements (Bloom, 4) as well as his distaste for televisions (, 2019). While Montag hopes to read and comprehend the content of the Bible, speakers of the train blasted “Denham's dentifrice” and passengers would “tap their feet to the rhythm” and “twitch the words Dentifrice Dentifrice (Bradbury, 87),” the use of visual imagery powerfully demonstrates the difference between a conscious individual in comparison to people who are numbly accustomed to the mass media. Repetition of “Dentifrice” emphasizes the unimaginable degree of successful brainwashing on all citizens and even though it is unattainably loud and bothersome, none of the passengers has the urge to escape from this, since they are “pounded into submission; they did not run” (Bradbury, 79). Montag’s reaction of “a plea so terrible that Montag found himself on his feet” creates a striking and powerful contrast with the submissive passengers. Being an individual who has yet to be brainwashed from mass media, Montag’s strong sense denial amplifies the fact that citizens of the novel render themselves to mind control of the government and lack of individuality in this society.

The thorough change of the protagonist, from a law-obeying fireman to one who actively challenges the law, gives the reader an insight into understanding the effects of mass media and government control on the mindset of its citizens. By becoming an individualist, he is finally able to admire the true beauty of the world after escaping this society where freedom of thought is strictly deprived.

Conformity and individuality

Clarisse (and her family)

Dialogue, description of her appearance

Represents individuality, innocence
Herself: ponder and pursue interests
Family: arrested for not driving the speed the government wants (slowed down to view the world), sit and walk and discuss which is against the social norm


Living habits, dialogue
Represents conformity
Surrounded by walls, lack of thoughts, unable to express thoughts of discontent
- Choice of going with sleeping pills
- chasing the fourth walls for her entire life

Guy Montag

Description of his thoughts and emotions,
His change at the beginning of the novel vs at the end
Ordinary people who are yet to be brainwashed by technology in this world
Bradbury aims to present the importance of books and thoughts in one’s life (kmj23, 2019)

Although Guy Montag is often regarded as the highlight of the novel, his wife Mildred is portrayed as an end-product of Montag’s society, standing along with the vast majority of people on the end of the spectrum of conformity. The illustration of Mildred’s conformity gives the reader an understanding of how technology manipulates people’s mindset and highlights its consequences to the reader which is the degradation of human interactions, followed by the emptiness of life. By consuming recreational technology mindlessly at all times, her loss of individuality and distinctive feature of a conformist can be strengthened with the use of characterization, visual imagery, and actions.
As aforementioned, when the handymen, a group of people who revives Mildred who is unconscious after her attempt of committing suicide, thoughtlessly said “we get these cases nine or ten a night” (Bradbury, 23), this revolting and powerful introduction of Mildred not only intensifies the grim atmosphere but also implies the unimaginable frequency and number of suicidal acts in society.

After taking 30 sleeping-pills, Mildred’s face becomes “a snow-covered island” (Bradbury, 21), by metaphorically comparing her face to an island, Mildred’s loneliness and disconnected life is vividly presented. Being a typical individual who lacks independent thoughts, Mildred spends most of her time on “mindless entertainment” to meet society’s expectations, leading to an empty and dissatisfied life(Clark, 2019). The deaths of people are also simply referred to as “cases”, which highlights that they are too common to be taken seriously, allowing the reader to question whether being alive in this society holds any value. The appalling act of committing suicide remarks the lack of response for the discontent conditions of extreme conformists like Mildred, leaving them taking pills as the only solution.

It becomes clearer that Mildred’s bleak yet homogenized living habits firmly linked to the technology available in the novel, monitored by a tyrannical regime and taking advantage of mass media to control the public. From Montag’s perspective, Mildred and her friends all “buy into society’s brainwashing distractive entertainment (Campbell, 2019) who also acts and thinks the same way. These conformists possess a shallow mindset and distorted values when they judge politicians based on their appearance “don’t go running a little short man against a tall man” (Bradbury, 105), arising from the complete change in one’s values after an entire lifetime spent watching screens, leaving them no opportunity nor desire to think independently. Bradbury extends the idea of conformity within these individuals by illustrating their repulsion to Montag’s unorthodox act of reading literature. Right after Montag read a poem, Mrs Bowles said “you see? … Poetry and tears, poetry and suicide...”. Her agitated denial to Montag’s action gives the reader a clear yet powerful idea of the distorted mindset of people in society, especially their strong belief to adhere to standard of society as well as their fear of changing. Through the third chapter, there is an abrupt change of atmosphere when Montag shockingly finds out Mildred reported his misconduct of storing literature. Such resolute action again illustrates the degree of obedience of Mildred with her incomparable acceptance to society’s expectations, yet it is not surprising that given the superficiality of Montag and Mildred’s marriage: none recalls any memory and the inability to confess their feelings to each other.

The tragic truth that society lacks human interactions and relationships further enhances the impact of mass media, accelerating the degradation of human relationships. Furthermore, through her interactions with Montag throughout the novel, Bradbury is also able to emphasise on the dilapidation of relationships and contact between individuals as technology progresses. As the reader is introduced to “seashells” and “screens” that attracts people to submerge themselves into these devices the time, Bradbury offers a realistic picture of a society where mass media has the complete control of information and therefore independent thoughts are erased. The overreliance on technology is shown most prominent in Mildred, her desire for virtual entertainment outweighs her feelings for her husband as she insists on getting “the fourth wall” even though Montag expressed that it is “a third of his yearly pay (Bradbury, 28), suggesting her desperation to be isolated from reality and possibly Montag. This example illustrates addiction to technology and Mildred’s desire to meet society’s expectations of homogenous citizens who interact with characters, expressing Bradbury’s fear of exploitation of technological advancement and government control of mass media hindering meaningful human interaction, resulting in inexpressive individuals with alike mindset.

In addition, Mildred treats characters on screens as her “family”. It may not be explicit that the government uses technology to directly control the mass, but rather subtly influencing people’s mentality. By forcing individuals to engage in interacting with characters at all times, technology attracts people to continue attracted to consuming such virtual entertainment which in the end occupies the entity of their life. Human relationships are therefore neglected, causing Mildred to alienate her marriage with Montag which instead would be replaced by virtual connections with characters. the reader also experiences the mindless TV program Mildred loyally watches around the clock when the screens show “bluefish ate red and yellow fish (Bradbury, 102), and such dull content “would even bore ten years old (Stuva, 2019).” Mildred prioritizes virtual characters on the screen she calls “family” over Montag as they “give her world color (Stuva, 2019)” when he requests to turn down the volume, demonstrating the preference of virtual interactions over human relationships. Such a mindset constructed by society draws Mildred out of reality and the reader understands that the vast majority of people in society fall into the same trap by the phenomenon of the common suicidal act.

Conformists like Mildred has no idea of problems in her life such as emptiness from within but is conditioned to absorb any information fed to her. Entertainment provided by the government acts as a medium for the control of the mass which results in the vast quantity of conformists, and most would continue to surround themselves with technologies in order to be accepted in society, reducing the circulation of thoughts into “ash” (Gillespie, 2019).

Clarisse McClellan

The ephemeral existence of Clarisse McClellan in the novel is the most prominent section that portrays individuality in Montag’s society. Bradbury presents the unique character of Clarisse through Montag’s observations, who is greatly influenced and “enlightened (Bloom, 6)”, and the view of society on Clarisse as well as her opinions towards the education system in the novel. The revelation of individuality within Clarisse can be seen through descriptions of her appearance, dialogues, actions, and the symbolism of the mirror.

Clarisse represents life before the overreliance on technology and censorship of information. The reader first encounters Clarrise by descriptions of her appearance, shown through Montag’s perspective. To Montag, her face looks like “fragile milk crystal” (Bradbury, 15), this metaphor displays the purity and her innocence as a teenager, thereby highlighting her rarity and immaculate character which has yet to be polluted by the “exploitation of easy gratification” (Micgiveron, 1) in society. This draws an apparent comparison between other individuals such as Mildred with a “snow-covered island” (Bradbury, 21) face, the loneliness of people who have lost their ability to think is simply compared as islands with their disconnected life, enhancing the peculiar presence of Clarisse in Montag’s society. In addition, Clarisse’s face has “constant light in it” (Bradbury, 15), and repetitive use of imagery such as “electricity and candles” (Bradbury, 15) further evokes her rare and bright appearance. Clarisse’s unique image draws Montag’s attention long after their unexpected meeting as he “looked at a blank wall, the girl’s face was there” (Bradbury, 18), resulting in the creation of Montag with “emotional depth” (Bloom, 75). By demonstrating the lasting effects of Clarisse, Bradbury portrays her true nature of individuality which makes her stand out from the thoughtless, conforming society.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Conformity and Individuality in Fahrenheit 451. (2020, Sep 11). Retrieved from

Conformity and Individuality in Fahrenheit 451 essay
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