Role Of Fear In Ray Bradbury's Novel

Everybody is afraid of something. Fear, being an important part of the survival instinct, is one of the baser elements of humanity, and one of the things that has helped us stay alive for as long as we have. Be that as it may, fear is still to be taken in moderation, as one can be motivated by it to do terrible things. Fear is one of the strongest recurring themes in the book Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. This novel shows that fear breeds hatred and incites violence; if left unchecked, it can and will divide people and tear society to pieces from within. Firstly, hatred, intolerance and antagonism generally stem from irrational widespread fear of the unknown, or uncomprehended. Secondly, when that fear gets mixed with the hatred that it had creates, it leads people to commit violent acts, sometimes even to kill. Finally, when society finds itself overwhelmed with fear, hatred, and the violence that they result in, it crumbles. Instances of all three of these facts are shown in the novel Fahrenheit 451.

Firstly, hatred and intolerance stem almost exclusively from fear. In the novel Fahrenheit 451, there were two outstanding examples of this, the first being when the alarms were turned in for books to be burned, and the second being when Guy Montag, the protagonist of the novel, was being hunted by law enforcement. The people of the book society were afraid of mental superiority. Because of this, society arranged for books (which were believed to contain the knowledge from which said mental superiority originated) to be eliminated, in order to remove the “threat” that they posed. This is explained to the main character of the novel as such: “So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.” (Bradbury 56) This statement confirmed that books were seen publicly as a weapon, something used to harm people, and that they were to be feared. Later on in the novel, after the main character obtained the mental superiority that his society so feared, people turned on him in hatred and prejudice against the enlightened being that he had become. This hatred and prejudice stemmed, of course, from the aforementioned fear of those that were deemed "better than" the average and accepted standard. Once the main character begin to stray from that standard, the fear that pervaded society that had, till that point, been directionless, found its target in him.

Once hatred has established itself, it, together with the fear from whence it sprung, lead to violence. Examples of this also exist in the novel, such as the old woman who was burned alive with her books. The woman, who had never wanted anything more than to live quietly and read, ended up being killed for her simple wishes, like a falsely accused witch. She was burned at her proverbial stake for having received knowledge and clarity from the books in her possession. Ray Bradbury wrote: “On the front porch where she had come to weigh them quietly with her eyes, her quietness a condemnation, the woman stood motionless.” (Bradbury 37) In this phrase, Bradbury illustrates that she knows of the fear where the violence of the firemen’s actions came from, and she believes that the firemen know it too. With her “condemning quietness”, she is judging these men for doing what she suspects they already know is wrong, but are regardless compelled to do anyway by their fear. Another example of the fear and hatred of Bradbury’s society leading the people of it to violence was the murder of the neighbor and dear friend of the main character’s; Clarisse. Clarisse was exactly what this society was afraid of; she was naturally gifted with the ability to look, think, and ask questions. Not only that, but she was also raised in a family where these traits were nurtured, instead of crushed. Because of this, she soared far above anyone else in her environment, and she understood how wrong and frightening the actions of her peers were. She confirmed this; “Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I’m afraid of them and they don’t like me because I’m afraid.” (Bradbury 27) She feared her peers for the actions that they committed, which were, ironically, committed in the name of fear. Students her age looked at her, saw the absolute intellectual supremacy that she possessed and lived with so easily, and their fear of being lesser sparked resentment, which led to hatred, which led to a beautiful, brilliant young girl being thoughtlessly murdered.

Finally, any society, when overwhelmed with fear, hatred and violence, will inevitably crumble. It begins, usually, with internal tension, without any explicit conflicts to suggest that anything is going on on the surface. However, underneath, society churns like an ocean tide. The main character, with help from an ally, began to devise a plan to “take down the entire fireman structure,” as said ally put it, in order to begin anew. Later on, the leader of the human book group, Granger, tells Montag that he and his were simply waiting for the fall of society, in order to recreate their world for the better. He said; “Always the chance of discovery. Better to keep it in the old heads, where no one can see it or suspect it.” (Bradbury 145)

Granger and his group were clever; after witnessing and knowing of the fear- and hate-fuelled violence that is cast upon people like them, they hid their perilous difference, and waited for the end. They did not have to wait long; at the end of the book, every big city in their country was bombed. While this happened, the people that were literally in the process of being destroyed, didn't even notice what was happening, so focused were they on their own fear, their own hatred. This, I believe, is best illustrated by the way that the main character envisions his wife in the last few seconds; “Mildred, leaning anxiously nervously, as if to plunge, drop, fall into that swarming immensity of color to drown in its bright happiness.

The first bomb struck.” (Bradbury 152)

As previously stated, a deeply rooted fear can spread throughout the members of a society rather epidemically, and where it grows, hatred and violence will blossom as well. A society cannot function or sustain itself for long if terror and violence pervades every nook and cranny of it. Before long, that society will be overwhelmed and will fall. All three of these points were proven in Fahrenheit 451. Firstly, hatred for intellectuals was seen to grow because of the fear of their mental superiority, when people turned in alarms for books, and when they were hunting the main character. Secondly, violent acts were witnessed in the story, the basis of which were fear and hatred, when the old woman was burned, as well as in the deaths of Clarisse and her friends. Finally, the society at the center of Fahrenheit 451 fell as a result of the fear, hatred, and violence that pervaded it. These things also exist in the modern world; during world war two, for example, Canada and America imprisoned the Japanese, because they were afraid that they were spies for the Nazis. The government used propaganda that showcased the Japanese as terrifying monsters, so that the people would come to hate them, and in turn, imprison them. We can also see these things in the current political situation in America, with Trump; he argues that “Muslims are terrorists”, and this incites fear in those that listen to him. The islamophobia of his ideologies lead to hatred of muslim people, and multiple violent acts have been committed against muslims ever since Trump has been elected. Many sociologists are speculating that Trump’s actions, and the violent consequences thereof, will very soon lead the world into a Third World War. Certain opinions, however, say that fear falls away when faced with two elements; knowledge and love. Fear always leads to hatred, but as love wins out over hatred, love can thus conquer fear. Fear also usually reflects ignorance; as the age-old saying goes, ‘We fear what we don’t understand’. Knowledge provides understanding and in doing so, eradicates fear of the unknown.

10 September 2019
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