Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 Technology and Modernization

By Ray Bradbury

Technology and Modernization

Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander

"All of those chemical balances and percentages on all of us here in the house are recorded in the master file downstairs. It would be easy for someone to set up a partial combination on the Hound's ‘memory,’ a touch of amino acids, perhaps. That would account for what the animal did just now. Reacted toward me." (1.230)

Technology is so fierce in this novel that it is given even the power of human emotion.

"Will you turn the parlour off?" he asked.

"That's my family." (1.493-4)

As a term of any meaning and significance, "family" has gone by the wayside in this world. Montag has already admitted that he might not cry if his wife died, and Mildred’s girlfriends later say the same of their husbands. By this definition of family – as a relationship without emotion or love – the TV characters actually do fit the bill.

Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand

"Christ is one of the ‘family’ now. I often wonder it God recognizes His own son the way we've dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He's a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn't making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshipper absolutely needs." (2.124)

Nothing is spared modernization in this novel. Bradbury instills in his reader a fear of technology as a nearly leveling force, a weapon of insipidness.

"Thank God for that. You can shut them, say, ‘Hold on a moment.’ You play God to it. But who has ever torn himself from the claw that encloses you when you drop a seed in a TV parlour? It grows you any shape it wishes! It is an environment as real as the world. It becomes and is the truth. Books can be beaten down with reason. But with all my knowledge and scepticism, I have never been able to argue with a one-hundred-piece symphony orchestra, full colour, three dimensions, and I being in and part of those incredible parlours." (2.138)

The TV parlours overwhelm because they have no substance. They rely on the senses because they can not touch the mind.

Professor Faber

"And something more! It listens! If you put it in your ear, Montag, I can sit comfortably home, warming my frightened bones, and hear and analyse the firemen's world, find its weaknesses, without danger. I'm the Queen Bee, safe in the hive. You will be the drone, the travelling ear. Eventually, I could put out ears into all parts of the city, with various men, listening and evaluating. If the drones die, I'm still safe at home, tending my fright with a maximum of comfort and a minimum of chance." (2.218)

Though we have so far seen it only as a tool of the government, we now see that technology can be used for rebellion, too.

Part Three: Burning Bright

Then the lights switched back to the land, the helicopters swerved over the city again, as if they had picked up another trail. They were gone. The Hound was gone. Now there was only the cold river and Montag floating in a sudden peacefulness, away from the city and the lights and the chase, away from everything. (3.226)

Reaching the river means Montag is safe from the Mechanical Hound. In symbolic terms, nature trumps technology.

With an effort, Montag reminded himself again that this was no fictional episode to be watched on his run to the river; it was in actuality his own chess game he was witnessing, move by move. (3.202)

Part of Montag's transformative epiphany has to do with finally accepting reality. He is forced to face the world as it truly exists –not as it is presented in television. That’s what happens here in this chase scene.

And there at the bottom of the hayloft stair, waiting for him, would be the incredible thing. He would step carefully down, in the pink light of early morning, so fully aware of the world that he would be afraid, and stand over the small miracle and at last bend to touch it.

A cool glass of fresh milk, and a few apples and pears laid at the foot of the steps.

This was all he wanted now. Some sign that the immense world would accept him and give him the long time needed to think all the things that must be thought.

A glass of milk, an apple, a pear. (3.242-5)

Having lived in, and now rejected, a scientific, technological world, it’s fitting that Montag’s desired haven is one of natural elements.

He took Montag quickly into the bedroom and lifted a picture frame aside, revealing a television screen the size of a postal card. "I always wanted something very small, something I could talk to, something I could blot out with the palm of my hand, if necessary, nothing that could shout me down, nothing monstrous big." (3.164)

Faber recognizes the danger of technology – its ability to take over. He trumps this danger physically, by keeping the threat literally small.

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