Why Reading is Important: A Thematic Analysis of Fahrenheit 451

The novel Fahrenheit 451 describes a dystopian society in which the government places strict regulations on its citizens, in the hope of creating an ideal world. The government believe that reading literature can contribute to conflicting thoughts, which will eventually lead to disputes between citizens. Thus, they want to prohibit everyone from reading any type of literature and enforcing the restrictions through any means necessary. As a result of this restriction, citizens are deprived of outside knowledge and are limited when it comes to learning new ideas. The government puts this regulation in place because they believe. In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury argues that reading and knowledge is vital to society because it ensures that basic humanitarian values are upheld and prevents tyrannical government systems from brainwashing their citizens. 

When individuals within a society are not educated through literature, they start to become more simple-minded, losing a sense of basic ethics and values. This idea is first demonstrated when Clarisse outlines the problems of the educational system to be the fact that teachers, “run answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us just sitting for four more hours of film-teacher”, and then states, “ ‘I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other.“(Bradbury, 27). Teachers being prevented from incorporating literature into their lesson plans, and having to use film-lectures, is making children in this dystopian society increasingly dumber. Due to this, children are adopting more of a cave-man mindset, meaning that they are losing all sense of their morals, and simply care about their selfish motives. This is extremely dangerous, because if the majority of society starts to adopt a similar mindset, it will be complete chaos, and will likely lead to mass destruction of some kind. On the flip side, if students were able to gain outside knowledge, through works of literature, they would maintain their ethics, preventing these horrible things from occurring. Another example of this concept would be when Montag is nearly killed, and then he realizes that, “They would have killed me, thought Montag, swaying… For no reason in the world they would have killed me”(Bradbury, 122). The fact that these random citizens were willing to kill Montag for no rhyme or reason, shows that the model of this dystopian society has severely minimized the value of human life, to the ordinary citizen. To specify, the government removing the ability to read literature has made them so disconnected with the outside world, that they don’t understand that something such a murder, is extremely severe, and is looked down upon in almost every other societal structure. If citizens were able to read books, they would almost immediately discover how crazy their ideologies truly are, allowing them to reevaluate their method of thinking and change for the better. Without doing so, however, citizens will continue to engage in these sorts of ruthless practices, as their morals will continue to reduce and reduce, until the point in which they have completely devolved.

If citizens in a society are not able to read literature and are refrained from seeking outside knowledge, they make themselves vulnerable to be fooled by corrupt governmental systems. To illustrate, after Montag starts reading outside literature, and starts to formulate his ideas he exclaims, ““ ‘Why doesn’t someone want to talk about it! We’ve started and won two atomic wars since 2022! Is it because we’re having so much fun at home we’ve forgotten the world? ‘”(Bradbury,69).  Montag concluding that the government has been hiding secretive information from the citizens, is a direct result of him being able to educate himself through reading books. Most of the other individuals that are part of this society will never be able to come to this conclusion because the government is doing everything they can to prevent them from finding out. Building on this idea, without citizens being able to identify the problems that exist within the governmental structure, they will never be compelled to rebel, leading to society staying stagnant. Although this is not always a problem, in many cases, a stagnant society can allow corrupt leaders to keep pushing forward corrupt practices, which will eventually lead to the overall detriment of the entire society. Another occurrence of this happening would be when Montag reevaluated his job in society, “I can’t do it, he thought. How can I go at this new assignment? How can I go on burning things? I can’t go to this place?”(Bradbury,106). Due to the citizens not being able to read literature, the governmental leaders were able to convince the general public that this has been the role of firemen forever, and that they should be celebrated for burning books. It is only after Montag discovers that firemen used to save houses rather than burn them, that he realizes how he has been committing sins his entire life, and then makes the proactive decision to stop. This demonstrates how due to a lack of knowledge within society, the dystopian governmental system can coerce its citizens into thinking whatever they want, even if it is for the worse. Furthermore, it shows how people can only change for the better and can only ask more from their government if they possess the knowledge that comes from reading literature.

Bradbury’s main message in Fahrenheit 451, is that reading and knowledge is essential to society because it ensures that people maintain their basic sense of values, and prevents governmental systems from tricking their citizens into following harmful practices. This idea is very much applicable in our current society because people are starting to lose interest in books, and in some cases literature altogether. Adding on, they are becoming less willing to dive deep into topics, which is resulting in them being undereducated, allowing politicians to become vastly more informed. Although the scenarios in the novels are slightly exaggerated, society will also get to that point if we don’t start to appreciate and comprehend literature at a point that we once were. Due to this, my call to action is simply setting aside 15 minutes every single day, to read whatever form of literature that you desire. Even though this seems like an extremely small amount of time, as you start to read day after day, you will develop a passion for it, which will allow you to read for a multitude of hours, without feeling bored. Once you are at this point, reading will almost seem like a superpower, because you will be able to grasp vast amounts of knowledge, and feel more informed than ever before.