Distraction And Happiness In Oryx And Crake And Fahrenheit 451

Happiness can be defined in many terms. It could be friendship, love, or religion. However, a begging question is, can distractions equate to happiness. Does distraction lead to happiness? In a world where we are so engrossed in technology, many people would agree that distraction and happiness walk hand in hand. We constantly are texting people, scrolling through social media, or are watching videos to find happiness. The box office is flooding with money because people want to spend their hours being entertained. With so much sadness in the world, people find happiness in being distracted from struggles, however two dystopian novels warn us against distractions. In the novels Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, the authors warn readers of the dangers of confusing distractions with happiness.

Fahrenheit 451 is about a fireman named Guy Montag who instead of putting out fires starts them. Due to new laws, it is a capital offense to possess or read books. With no fire to be put out, due to fireproof housing, a fireman’s new responsibility is to burn and destroy all books. Montag lives in a technologically advanced society where people spend their time living for pleasure and not for knowledge. People can’t read, don’t think independently, or have deep conversations. All they do is watch television or listen to the radio. One day on his way back from work, Montag meets a girl named Clarisse who through her prying questions, opens Montag’s eyes to see that he really is not happy with his life. Over the next couple of days, he experiences a series of unfortunate events. His wife tried to commit suicide, a woman decides to be burned alive with her books, and he learns Clarisse was killed by a speeding car. Montag tries to find answers to his problems in his stolen books. When he doesn’t show up to work, Beatty comes to his house and informs him why books were banned and tells him he has twenty-four hours to get rid of any books he has. With such little time to go through his books, he asks his wife for help but, she quickly loses interest preferring to watch television. He seeks an English professor named Faber who agrees to help him with reading and printing copies of books. Faber gives him an earpiece for their communication so he can help him with Beatty. Montag returns to work and hands in one of his books. The firemen are sent on a new assignment to Montag’s house. Beatty tells him to burn his house down because he was reported by his wife. Montag obeys but when Beatty threaten to find Faber, he kills him. Montag is forced to flee the city before he is found and killed by the mechanical hound. Once he is out of the city, he finds a community of people who dedicate their lives to memorizing books in hope that in the future the ban on books will be lifted. Enemy jets bomb the city and Montag takes his new community to search for survivors.

Oryx and Crake is told through the perspective of a character named Snowman who is thought to be the only living human after a super virus wiped out the entire population. Snowman faces challenges day to day from trying keep himself alive to taking care of the mysterious Crakers. We learn that Snowman’s real name is Jimmy, and years prior, he came from a privileged family. His father worked for a company named OrganInc where they manufactured pigoons to harvest human organs. His mother was a depressed woman who originally worked for OrganInc but quit because she believed animals should not be treated that way. Jimmy did not have a good relationship with either of his parents. His father was so steeped in work he couldn’t even remember his son’s birthday and his mother was so disassociated with the world around her that she payed him no mind. After feeling imprisoned in the OrganInc compounds, his mother illegally flees and becomes a wanted rebel. Before his mother’s departure Jimmy meets Crake who eventually becomes his best friend. They spend their time playing video games, watching porn, and watching executions. He watches child pornography of a young Oryx, who he is associated with in the future, and keeps a picture of her. After graduating from a run-down college, Jimmy is employed by AnooYoo were he creates slogans for their antiaging products. After several years the CorpSeCorps show him a video of his mother being executed. He falls into a deep depression and Crake saves him by offering him a job at his company to create a campaign for his antiaging pill. Crake also shows Jimmy his humanoid experiment for perfect humans. The Crakers are a created species who look like humans but have genes from other animals for adaptability. Oryx oversees teaching them and markets the antiaging pill. She soon realizes that a deadly virus breaks out at every city she marketed the pill at. To protect himself, Jimmy locked himself in the compound with the Crakers. When Crake returns, he slits Oryx’s throat and Jimmy shoots Crake. Jimmy stays in the compound for as long as possible and then leaves with the Crakers towards the seashore. He then starts his life as Snowman and explains Oryx and Crake to the Crakers as deities. Flash forward to present time. Snowman must find food and goes on an expedition to the Compounds. When he returns the Crakers inform him three humans passed by their camp. The next morning Snowman sets out to find them.

Starting with Bradbury, in his novel, he argues that the distractions of technology does not lead to happiness, but dissatisfaction and harm. For example, Montag was very contempt with his life in the beginning of the story. He was a product of his society. He loved his job and was partaking in the same distractions everyone else was. However, Clarisse challenged his lifestyle with numerous questions. One question really opened his eyes. She asked, “Are you happy?”. This question bothered him so much that “He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself like a tallow skin [...] Darkness. He was not happy”. He realized that for the past thirty years of his life he mistook happiness for distraction. Bradbury uses Clarisse to ignore “his authority by openly questioning whether he can even think” and to easily see through his ‘“mask” of happiness and into his deeper discontent”. Montag’s wife is another prime example of someone who tries to find happiness in her technology. She spends hours of her day watching her “family” on television and listening to the seashell radio. However, when Montag comes home one night, he finds the crystal bottle that was filled with sleeping pills now laying “uncapped and empty in the light of the tiny flare”. His wife was laying there in the dark overdosing. Mildred believes she is content with life, but the distraction of technology blinded her of her true dissatisfaction and almost lead her to her demise. Bradbury wants readers to see that “something has happened to everybody, that under the 'mask of happiness' lies a great emptiness”. In Fahrenheit 451 it is clearly depicted that distractions do not equate happiness.

Similarly, in Oryx and Crake, Atwood urges readers to not to not equate distractions with happiness because individuals will continually be dissatisfied with life. For example, Jimmy came from a privileged family who lived in the Compounds. The purpose of the compounds was to “maintain a secure, unthreatened way of life by keeping visible suffering such as poverty and violence outside their walls”. The people living in the compounds have the best of everything but are living a false life. The only way they can see the outside hardships is “accessible only through media outlets as distant objects, products made available for consumption”. When they do see the chaos happening in the outside world, it is just another form of distraction because they view it as entertainment and not an actual issue. We see this when Crake and Jimmy would hang out after school. They would spend their time surfing the internet and watching execution videos, child pornography, the Noodie News, and so many other uncensored sites just for fun. Crake would use his “Uncle Pete’s private code” in order to have access to the more “disgusting and forbidden sites and bills everything to his Uncle’s account. However, even though Jimmy’s mother has a seemingly perfect life, she shows us that the distractions embedded in the compounds did not bring her happiness. She was often a very depressed lady. Jimmy often found it hard to even get a reaction out of her because she was so detached from everything. He found himself even just trying to make her angry because “Anything was better than the flat voice, the blank eyes, the tired staring out the window”. She decides to leave the compounds for the Pleeblands because she can “no longer participate in a lifestyle that is meaningless in itself”. Atwood uses the example of Jimmy’s mother to show readers that even with a privileged life, the distractions caused her to be dissatisfied with life.

In conclusion, Ray Bradbury and Margret Atwood in their books Fahrenheit 451 and Oryx and Crake show readers that happiness is not equated with distractions. Ray Bradbury shows his readers that the distraction of technology in Fahrenheit 451 does not bring happiness but dissatisfaction and harm. Margret Atwood similarly urges readers in her book to not equate happiness with distractions because individuals with continually be dissatisfied with life. So, in a present world where technology and distractions are constantly present, can we really say that we are happy?  

16 December 2021
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