The authorities were successful in their oppression of those who possessed reading material. Those who were intelligent were either driven out of town, like Clarisse, the woman Montag befriended on the monorail, or killed, like the woman who chose to be burned with her books. This ensured that the authorities would not be overtaken. The authorities, right up until the end of the film, controlled the city. Around the middle of the story, Montag, once a leader in the fire department and up for a promotion, began to read.
After starting his reading, he began to realize that the police and the fire department were depriving citizens of a wonderful experience. Montag decided to quit the fire department, hoping that the fire chief would not find out his reason for quitting his job. However, the fire chief did find out. The books in Montag’s house were burned, but Montag managed to save one. A scuffle ensued when the fire chief found the books Montag was trying to save. Upset and frightened by the gun the fire chief pulled on him, Montag, holding a fire torch with which he had burned his own books, set the fire chief ablaze.
Now on the run for his life, Montag escaped to the countryside, where individuals known as “book people” lived. These people memorized entire books, hoping that one day, the stories they memorized could be written on paper again. Montag’s enlightenment is when the theme of the individual versus society began to show itself. Montag realized that depriving the citizens of reading material was wrong. Alone, Montag faced the authorities when the entire city was against him.
For example, when Montag was trying to get to the countryside, the authorities went through the town in a car with a bullhorn on top, telling the citizens to watch out for Montag, that he was a murderer and needed to be caught. The city turned on a man who was once a respected citizen. When Montag began reading, society simultaneously began to turn on him. For example, after Montag was up late reading, the next day he was not able to go up the fireman’s pole like he had been able to before. Also, because Montag began reading, the door to his home would no longer open automatically.
At first, these changes were subtle, and although they were inconveniences, the changes were not alarming. However, this is when Montag’s life began its downward spiral. Montag’s circumstances because of reading became worse and worse until he had to give up his entire way of life. A minor theme of the film, the individual versus society showed how one person can make a difference. Montag did not make a difference in his community, but he made a change for himself. He gave up his house, his wife, and his career for what he thought was right.
In essence, he gave up his entire way of life. Rarely do people do this for their beliefs today. Americans today are more interested in happiness and success to bother with doing what is right. Had more people in the film acted as Montag had, a major change in the society would have been made. The individual versus society is an issue in today’s American society. People now look out only for themselves, and largely ignore the rest of society. American life today is about one’s own happiness and success, not the happiness and success of his neighbor.
People are always trying to “one up” their neighbors, competing to see who has the bigger house, the fancier car, or the happiest family. However, unlike in Fahrenheit 451, where society was against specific individuals, in today’s American society, individuals seem to be against society. Although Francois Truffaut clung to the original story written by Ray Bradbury, Truffaut’s film had a decidedly anti-censorship message, whereas Bradbury’s story focused on technology destroying literature.
Censorship permeated every aspect of the film, sending the viewer the message that if society keeps censoring excessively, its people will lose many valuable aspects of life. This story is particularly relevant in American society. The government censors television content, and some libraries will not carry certain books, such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It is certainly ironic that a story that speaks out so well about anti-censorship and details the horrors of banning books is itself banned in some libraries.
The themes of censorship, the individual versus society, and knowledge versus ignorance are prevalent throughout the film. These issues have plagued American society from the time the story was written and can even be seen in American society today. Truffaut followed Ray Bradbury’s story closely, but gave the tale an anti-censorship message. Truffaut created a film that has withstood the test of time; he created a film to which viewers today can relate. – Truffaut, Francois (Director). (1966). Fahrenheit 451 [Film]. Los Angeles: Universal Pictures.