Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953 and carries a heavy message that holds true in today’s society. Happiness requires sacrifice. In the novel, Guy Montag is living a good generic life that’s surface deep. Yet Montag is looking for more or perhaps just something else. Bradbury uses Clarisse as a key character that further cracks Montag’s safe world. He thinks he’s happy yet he knows he’s been secretly hoarding books in his home. This is a dangerous game that opens up Montag’s mind to ideas and thinking in a society against such freedoms.
He begins to question his happiness, “Happy! Of all the nonsense,” and suddenly acknowledges that he’s not happy (Bradbury 10). One peek in a book during a raid leads to Montag quoting “once upon a time” that results in dramatic life change all the way down to the cellular level. Montag’s quest for information is almost blind and initially an unconscious desire.
Bradbury hints to something hiding behind a vent but the Montag doesn’t consciously acknowledge his illegal collection right away. He is so obsessed with the books simply because he doesn’t know why they are hunted and burned.
Beatty seems to notice certain changes in Montag and tries to win back Montag using pointed quotes from literature. This attempt fails and Beatty says Montag is, “a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean quick sure, nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical (Bradbury 115)”. Beatty ultimately forces Montag to burn his house down after Montag’s wife betrays him and runs away. This moment seems to provide an excuse for Montag to kill Beatty. Montag suddenly turns on Beatty with the flame thrower and Beatty tempts him, “Go ahead now, you second hand litterateur, pull the trigger. (Bradbury 119)
Beatty is a mirror of that cynic inner voice. When Guy hears that sentence he has a choice to doubt himself or blast through that voice on his continued trajectory. Guy took the chance many people daydream about. The opportunity to face that inner critical voice and blast its searing words with a flamethrower and to let that critic feel the fire. He has sacrificed so much, everything, and now that he’s lost it all, ultimately, he’s free to do anything. This revelation proves deadly for Beatty. On the subway Guy was trying to memorize an entire book of the bible, he even begins to regret seeking greener pastures.
The numbness will go away…give me back the old face and the old hands the way they were. Even the smile…the old burnt-in smile, that’s gone” (Bradbury 78). Montag can’t even fathom who he used to be. Montag has burned away everything that created his life and his apparent happiness. He did this for books. He was forbidden to possess them and read them yet he still wanted to know why. This questioning led him to give up everything and start over. He did not know that this decision would ultimately save his life. He just wanted to be able to formulate his own ideas and this could help him define himself.
Montag’s quest for happiness in the novel really begins at the end of the story. Montag lost everything, yet had himself truly for the first time. He and his friends approach the bombed city to begin a new city and a new life, filled with freethinking and ideas. His whole concept of happiness has been redefined and is no longer tied to materials, like television. Bradbury wrote this story over fifty years ago but the message is still important. For anyone that seeks happiness, there is no straight line and that losing or winning is based on the perception of the individual.