Sunday, 6 March 2011

A Precis of Peter Sisario's "A Study of the Allusions in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451,"

the following is a summery of the aforementioned article.

            Fahrenheit 451 is more than a simple story of a dystopian future but also a carefully developed story that through the use of allusions by using various quotes has another level of depth and therefor another level with which to learn. The quotes and references speak of an intellectual cycle in human society, at which when at its low knowledge is feared as a threat to the status quo. It can generate considerable amounts of classroom discussion about the dangers of a material and mass culture.

the story takes place in a dystopian future society where, through the elimination of controversy by destroying all literature and those who think freely the media and government expect to create a status quo of freedom and happiness, when in reality they have only made society into an ignorant mass. On one level the novel is a commentary on our contemporary society which shows us that the media throughout time has limited our tastes, diluting all intellectual thought and questioning, sending us toward intellectual stagnation, o but n a second more symbolic level, the quotes and biblical allusions made through direct references, show the emptiness of the 21st century and how we are in an intellectual dark age, part of a cycle in which we are at the low point.

In the book a major underlying theme is that Intelligence is a cycle, we hit low points and high points, at the beginning of the book intellectual stagnation is in place, and end of the book the cycle is on the move. The novels main theme is rebirth as alluded to by the symbol of the Phoenix, The character of captain Beatty, the Protagonist Guy Montag’s superior,  relays the information about the decline of the intellectual world, through the degradation people were not taught to think and question but rather just learned facts. All questioners and thinkers were eliminated through time and illegitimacy, and thus blissful ignorance ensued. Beatty is known to represent the phoenix symbol as its imagery is used on his person, his great knowledge of the past is ironic as he does not know how to use it and treats it as a simple curiosity, caring only to keep the status quo of the unlearned world. Beatty speaks that books are too indefinite and are there for dangerous to the status quo, thus the firemen were brought into action, to do the opposite of the job they were first intended. When Beatty meets his ironic end by fire, he still imparts the same symbolism as it represents the rebirth of a new intellectual Montag as he has broken his ties with the ignorant world of materialism.

Bradbury, through irony uses books to express the idea of a bookless world, as exemplified from many quotes throughout the novel the first of which is a quote from Gulliver’s Travels,

“It is computed, that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end.”

 At which point in the book a tradition in which people follow unreasonably, we believe Bradbury is trying to compare that to the long unreasonable tie to the status quo. In context this quote embodies the dangers of being unreasonable as t shows a absurd situation taken to gross exaggeration.

A quote from Life of Johnson is also used to compare the relationship between Montag and the curious Character Clarisse,

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.”

 Is compared directly to the relationship between the characters Clarisse McClellan and Guy Montag as the first drop in their friendship was to make Montag begin to question the status quo, questions which began to build and build until Montag rebels. Montag’s wife Mildred does not understand the quote as she is inwardly thinking, reflecting on self interest in society. The final exemplified quote is brought about when Montag discusses poetry with two of Mildred’s friends as he is frustrated by the shallowness of the people who are products of an empty culture, he reads Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” to offset them and the following is quoted.
             “Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for
And we are here, as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle
And flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

The quote makes reference to the emptiness of the perfect world, a near direct comparison to the situation in the plot. Not only do quotes support the premise of the book but a historical reference as well. Early in the book, Montag has a traumatic experience in which he must burn a woman with her books as she will not leave, her last words “master Ridley” are a reference to the Bishop Nicholas Ridley who was charged with heresy because he allowed free speech.  She also says “We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." Recalling the phoenix theme earlier, this also represents how thinkers and intellectuals like the phoenix are indestructible.

There are also biblical allusions in the book, all of which support the before mentioned cycle, Bradbury uses these to show that things can and will improve in the world with patience. The first reference is to (Matthew 6:28) it preaches that god takes care of all things and that we need not worry, this reference occurs when Montag is trying to memorise his first book, it shows that he must submit to faith yet the situation juxtaposes it to the material world as an advertisement catches Montag’s attention at the same time. The second is a brief mention of “the Book of Job” by the Character Faber, telling Montag to have faith through the hardships of his journey. The third reference comes at the end of the novel, when Montag is told to memorise the book of Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a season” further supporting the cycle theory.  A fourth reference is made to the book of revelations

“And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bore twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of nations (22:2).”

The quote is stating that we must struggle to enjoy the fruits of victory, and that the world will heal with the rebirth of intellect, once again alluding to the phoenix. The final reference worth mentioning is Beatty’s dream of a verbal dual between him and Montag , all of the quotes mentioned showed Bradbury’s insight into the world of great ideas as most of the quotes were from famous writers and speakers like Shakespeare, John Donne, and Robert Burton. The study of the various references and quotations in the novel can teach more than the simple study of allusions, it can teach the difference between a good plot and a carefully structured piece of literature.

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