George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 Essay
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Imagine this, a perfect world of complete harmony and justice. There is no wrong, and there is no right. There is only utopia. It might be the perfect place where people want to live, or the place that people dream about. It might even be the picture of the future. However, this Utopian world is revealed to have flaws. It lacks many of the qualities of life that exist today. Thus the Utopian world isn’t so Utopian anymore. And the more that is revealed about the world, the more horrible it becomes.
Soon, it becomes a nightmare, a world of illusions, of lies. That is the dystopic world that authors such as Bradbury and George Orwell pictures in their books, a world that exists under the image of utopia, and yet to the reader seems like a foreign, inhumane residence dominated by an all-powerful government.
George Orwell’s 1984, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 depicts two different dystopic worlds. The settings of both books are different and the characters are unique; however, both of these books are also very similar. 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 are similar dystopic literatures by a common theme of censorship in which the government withholds or censors information, by a similar thread of a totalitarian government running the dystopic world, and by a common knowledge of the truth that the protagonist and the antagonist both hold.
Censorship is a remarkable simple concept: the ability of the government to withhold or change information that passes into the public. All governments have some form of censorship, and some governments have less censorship than others. Yet censorship can also become a difficult concept to grasp, for censorship allows the government to influence how people think. The less censorship there is, the more people begin to think, which according to standards today, is a good thing. However, totalitarian governments such as the ones in Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 do not want people to think. They want people to just do, and thus it becomes a perfect seemingly Utopian world that the reader interprets as a piece of dystopic literature. In Fahrenheit 451, Beatty explains, ” Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it.
White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it” (pp.59). Beatty is declaring that there are many minorities as well as distinct groups of people. A perfect world must satisfy all of them, so if a book comes up that someone doesn’t like, burn it. However, burning is a permanent process. A burned book cannot be recovered. Thus, as more books are burned, more history, information is being erased. People’s minds begin to dull from lack of reading and in the end; people accept the fact that the government controls them and their actions. Similarly, a quote from 1984 explains, “The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or…rectify…It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech…” (38, 39).
In this quote, Winston works in the Ministry of Truth to change the information that reaches the public. This is also censorship in order to keep the proles, the majority of the population, ignorant. By changing the information, there is no proof that people have against the validity of the government, and therefore people are sedated. In a similar way to Fahrenheit 451, the people come to gradually accepting the censored documents that reach them. They could take one fact one day, and the completely opposite fact another. Thus when the two books of dystopic literature are compared, the similar motif of censorship can be seen to play a huge part in the way the world runs. The government utilizes censorship while the common people accept it. When the reader sees this, it imparts a sense of horror in the seemingly Utopian world, and thus makes the two pieces of literature dystopic.
Another aspect that connects the two pieces of literature together is the idea of a totalitarian government ruling the people. In both works, the government creates the sense of a utopian world. The idea is that the government rules every aspect of the people’s lives, and that is the only way for a utopia to exist. This way of thinking is also twisted in a sense, because totalitarian governments do not care for the well being of its people. The people who rule only want power. That is why the reader realizes that the piece of literature is dystopic. In Fahrenheit 451, the totalitarian government controls the police, mechanical hounds, and the firemen.
The firemen act under the wishes of the government to burn people’s books. An explanation of the firemen is revealed in Beatty’s quote, ” …there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of out peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior: official censors, judges, and executors. That’s you, Montag, and that’s me” (58, 59). Beatty is explaining the reason that governments created firemen to burn books. The government can censor information that the public receives with the creation of the firemen, and it is the job to the people and the firemen to do their duties without question. That illustrates the totalitarian government in the society of Fahrenheit 451.
In 1984, the totalitarian government is led by a figure, Big Brother. The Inner Party and the Outer Party are also part of the totalitarian government, only consisting of 15% of the population of Oceania. These people in the Inner and Outer Parties, with the exception to Winston, are devoted to Big Brother. Big Brother is the figure that holds the party and utopian society together, and the propaganda and demonstrations center around the totalitarian form of government. What is really scary about the totalitarian society is that when someone goes against protocol, like Winston did, he/she was not executed immediately. Instead, they are made to love the totalitarian society and show devotion towards it. Then they are killed. This is illustrated in the quote, ” He looked up again at the portrait of Big Brother…the final, indispensable, healing change had never happened, until this moment…
The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain… He loved Big Brother” (297). Winston was tortured at the Ministry of Love in order to love Big Brother. The government never killed him, and finally at the end, Winston loved Big Brother and was finally in bliss. This shows the horrors of the government. The government has total control over the people, and no one can escape from committing a crime against the government. The government will always and forever be. That is one of the reasons why the piece of literature is considered dystopic. It is also a reason why 1984 is a powerful book and serves as a warning to the readers. In conclusion, a similar aspect of both dystopic literatures is the totalitarian form of government in both. That type of government holds the Utopian society together, and it is precisely that aspect that horrifies the reader and makes both pieces of literature dystopic.
A final point that both Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 have in common is that the protagonist as well as the antagonist who know the truth about the type of
society they live in. Unlike the common people, the protagonist realizes that the world they live in is not perfect. The majority of people are content with their society, but Winston, in 1984, and Montag, in Fahrenheit 451, realizes that there could be so much more in the world that they live in. Montag discovers the truth and knowledge that the burned books contain. Montag shows curiosity for books by saying, ” There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing” (51). Montag shows interest at books because he saw a woman voluntarily burn herself alongside her books.
Thus he reasoned that books must contain substance. It also illustrates that Montag is a flaw to the perfect Utopian society. Even his wife shows little care for books or the fact that a woman was burned with her books. However, Montag starts to glimpse the imperfect society he lives in. Winston is also unhappy with how the government is and especially because of how there is little or no privacy. He is driven with the dreams and hopes of a better place, a better government in which to live in. He demonstrates this by writing in a diary, which was against the rules of the government.
He also rebels in a sense by writing in the diary, ” DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” (20). Another connection that is shared by Montag and Winston is that both their wives illustrated the perfect form of beings in the society. Winston even stated that he hated his wife because she really didn’t have a mind of her own. This showed that there were only few people in the Utopian society that realized the society and government for what it was, and that the society was terrible.
The antagonists also know the truth of the world they live in. In Fahrenheit 451, the antagonist is Beatty, who has read many books himself. He is very knowledgeable and uses literature to confuse Montag. In the end, the reader gets a sense of Beatty wanting Montag to kill him in order to be free of the acts he is committing and the government he is in. Beatty provokes and pushes Montag to kill him by saying, ” Go ahead now, you second-hand litterateur, pull the trigger” (119). Although it doesn’t state clearly in the book that Beatty wanted Montag to kill him, it is one way of viewing this matter. In a similar way, O’Brien is the antagonist of 1984. During the part when he interrogated Winston, the reader learns that O’Brien is really with Big Brother, and he has accepted the fate and results of the current government a long time ago.
He even admits that he wants power and control. O’Brien proves both these facts by stating, “They got me a long time ago” (239), and, “The party seek power entirely for its own sake…It is exactly the opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined” (263, 267) O’Brien admits to siding with the current totalitarian government, but also admitting that the current society is flawed and grants power to a select few, at the cost of the other 85% of the population. Thus, the two pieces of literature also share the fact that the protagonists and antagonists know the whole, or part, truth. It is these connections that bring together these two books written about dystopic literature.
And to conclude, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 are both pieces of dystopic literature. Both have many aspects in common. Although the two books are unrelated to each other in the sense of characters and the setting, both illustrate a dystopic world and give similar reasons and ideas about such a world. Both books illustrate how censorship can be used to control the people under the influence of the government. The books also reveal the necessity for a totalitarian government in order for the world to be a utopia and yet to the reader, dystopic.
Finally, both pieces of literature show that there are flaws to this type of world to the protagonist as well as the antagonist in it. However, the way that the authors illustrate the outcome of the protagonist and antagonist is different. In George Orwell’s cruel dystopic world, the protagonist loses all hope and loves Big Brother at the end. In Bradbury’s dystopic world, Montag retains the hope that with his knowledge of books, humans can one day dispel the cruelty and censorship of the totalitarian government.
While Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 can be read and just taken as a fantasy, a book that illustrates what could have happened, but did not. However, the authors of these books did not intend them to be simply read and discarded. What the author wants to impart to the reader is a warning. The warning is that in the future, the world that humans live in might one day mirror the world created by Bradbury or Orwell. If there is one thing for certain, it is a threat that the current world will reflect a world in Fahrenheit 451 or 1984. After all, humankind is evolving with swiftness, and anything can happen. There are many televisions in the world. Only one more step to make them all interact with each other and transmit/receive images, and the telescreens in 1984 exist. Sound, which is a predominant part of the utopian world, is taking up people’s time and thoughts in the real world.
With all of the MP3’s and all of the other music tools that people constantly listen to, life indeed is starting to mirror the worlds of Orwell and Bradbury. Finally, people go at a quicker and faster pace now. Eventually, there will be a point where people have to stop and think about what is truly happening around them and to think about nature. If this does not happen, then indeed the world will be thrust into an unending cycle of chaos, and some may call it utopia when that happens. When a government arises to take power without the question or consent of the people, then is it utopia, or chaos and slavery?
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1953.
Orwell George. 1984. New American Library, NY, 1949.