THE POWER OF BOOKS ESSAY Guy Montag’s “crime against society”, was that he understood the power of books. Fahrenheit 451 (1953), written by Ray Bradbury depicts a dystopian society which, due to the absence of books, discourages intellect and punishes free-will. As receptacles of knowledge, books give human beings a unique power, as they encourage and nurture intellect and understanding. The intellectual metamorphosis that Montag undergoes renders him aware of this fact, making him an incredibly dangerous figure in the society of Fahrenheit 451.
Despite Montag’s understanding of the power of books, he only recognises his true purpose in life once all elements from his former society had been destroyed. The power of books has always been their ability to contain knowledge. Physically, man is a comparatively weak animal. He cannot naturally run like the horse, nor fly like the birds. He is no match in strength for the elephant, the lion or the bear, and has no natural weapons.
Yet, through knowledge, human beings now stand at the apex of society. In the Medieval era, only the upper-class, or those aligned with a religion could read, and it was this caste which held power over the common people. Today, in first-world countries such as Australia and America, the advancement of education among the population has brought power to the people and thus, they are no longer under the dominion of priests and kings.
Therefore, books, with their capacity to allow readers to rationalise, analyse and ponder have proved to be man’s greatest tool: ‘The pen is mightier than the sword. ’ In the dystopian society of Fahrenheit 451 however, the government has attained absolute power over the common people. This state of power is brought about by the absence of books, and the overreliance on television as entertainment.
In the Afterword of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury clearly expresses his views on television, and its effect on people to create ‘…non-readers, non-learners, non-knowers. ’ Bradbury goes on to state that if the world were to be seduced by the machine over the haptic companionship of the physical book, then there be no need for ‘…Beattys to ignite the kerosene or hunt the reader…’ as books would then become irrelevant. With this in mind, due to the abolishment of books, there s a distinct lack of knowledge amongst the citizens of Fahrenheit 451 and their ignorance has led to the government gaining power, as the people are helpless without an understanding of their situation: ‘If the Government is inefficient…and tax-mad better it be all those than have people worry about it…’ This quote highlights that, due to the manipulation of the minds of the population, the people are rendered powerless to comprehend their oppression and subjugation at the hands of the government.
As Montag undergoes his transformation throughout the novel, he begins to understand that he has been under the control of the government his entire life. In the society of Fahrenheit 451, this awareness makes Montag an extremely dangerous figure, as he directly opposes the government with his attainment of knowledge; to keep their power, the government must keep the populace ignorant, thus supressing any rebellious thoughts or ideas. This draws a parallel with the Nazi Fascist regime and their censoring of knowledge, represented by the infamous book-burning of 1933.
In Fanning the Flames of Intolerance, Jon Henley states that the worth of a book is greater than mere ink and paper, as they are the materialisation of the beliefs of a person (or in some cases an entire nation or religion). Understanding this, the Nazis and the government of Fahrenheit 451 sought to destroy all the books that contradicted their rule, thus denying the people access to thought-provoking material. Therefore, through books, Montag becomes conscious of the monotony of his previous life, and now rebels against the very foundations of his society.
Due to this intellectual illumination, Montag begins to acknowledge the details of the world around him, details he had once ignored: ‘”Bet I know something else you don’t. There’s dew on the grass this morning. ”’As enlightenment dawns on Montag, he finally begins to realise the power within books (i. e. they hold the key to power through knowledge) and this is his ‘crime’ against society: ‘There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house… Despite his newfound interest, Montag is still struggling to understand the concept of literature. Once again however, Montag is pushed in the right direction by Professor Faber. Under Faber’s guidance, Montag recognises that ‘There is nothing magical about [books] at all. The magic is only with what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment. ’ This quote exemplifies the fact that although books are the combination of mere ink and paper, it is the beliefs and the knowledge within a book that are so incredibly powerful.
In a conformist society however, Montag still has no outlet for his intellect, and thus finds himself without a purpose: ‘I am lost without it. ’ This quote shows that Montag is extremely confused about his place in society, as he now realises that his previous purpose (i. e. that of burning books) has now been denied him because of his attainment of knowledge. Due to his exposure to several key individuals however, (i. e. Clarisse, Faber and finally Granger) Montag finally breaks free from the chains of his dysfunctional society and becomes a radical bent on the reinstatement of books as vessels of knowledge.
Therefore, through the final destruction of his society and abolishment of the authority of an oppressive government, Montag gained the power and free-reign to use his knowledge for a cause that he believes in, thus finding his true purpose as a contributor to the founding of a new culture i. e. ‘…the healing of nations. ’ Previously, with the government in power, the outcast intellectuals did not have the strength to oppose the ignorance of their previous society, and thus remained helpless in the outskirts of the city. R.
C Lewontin, in Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA states that “Intellectuals…say that knowledge is power, but the truth is that knowledge further empowers only those who have …the power to use it. ” This ideal most definitely applies to Montag and the other intellectuals. With the chance to ‘rise from the ashes’ of his previous life, Montag no longer faces persecution at the hands of the government, and thus he has the freedom to use his knowledge. With this in mind, it is clear that Montag and the other forgotten academics are the final hope for the last fragments of their society.
As beings of thought and understanding, this once powerless group possesses the power of knowledge, and thus they have the ability to lead humanity into a new age of free-thought and intellectualism. With this in mind, it was Faber who gave Montag a visible goal which led him away from the restraints of his own society to achieve a purpose that would set him apart from the dwindling, uneducated masses. Through their knowledge given to them by books, it is Montag and the other intellectuals that will lead the remnants of a destroyed society into the future.
In light of the evidence presented it is clear that the power of books has always been their ability to contain knowledge. Through comprehension of this fact, the government of Fahrenheit 451 sought to strip the people of thought and understanding, thus rendering them powerless by their ignorance. Therefore, Montag, rebelling against the ideals of his society, committed the ‘crime’ of attainment of knowledge, which made him aware of the oppression that he faced at the hands of the government.
Despite his initial confusion at these new concepts, Montag, through the guidance of the many catalysts of the narrative, as well as the destruction of his former society, discovers that he, and the other intellectuals will lead the humanity into the future, away from the ignorance that had plagued the previous civilisation. Bibliography: Fahrenheit 451, Author: Ray Bradbury, pub. 1953 Fanning the Flames of Intolerance, Author: Jon Henley, pub. 24th September 2010 http://scienceblogs. com/oscillator/2010/03/diybio_and_the_gentleman_scien. php http://www. fireandknowledge. rg/archives/2007/04/15/the-importance-of-books-lamott/ ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Richelieu Act II-Scene II, Edward Bulwer-Lytton [ 2 ]. Fahrenheit 451 Afterword, Ray Bradbury [ 3 ]. Fahrenheit 451 Afterword, Ray Bradbury [ 4 ]. Fahrenheit 451 pp. 80, Ray Bradbury [ 5 ]. Fahrenheit 451 pp. 16, Ray Bradbury [ 6 ]. Fahrenheit 451 pp. 68, Ray Bradbury [ 7 ]. Fahrenheit 451 pp. 107-108, Ray Bradbury [ 8 ]. Fahrenheit 451 pp. 101, Ray Bradbury [ 9 ]. Fahrenheit 451 pp. 211, Ray Bradbury [ 10 ]. Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA, R. C Lewontin