Fahrenheit 451: How a Novel From the 50s Warned Us About Our Technology Today


One of classic literature’s most iconic first lines: “It was a pleasure to burn.” A six-word, twenty-lettered sentence that holds so much weight and significance in the novel.

How would you feel if America’s future was where burning houses is a common form of control in society?  Shame, scorn, and exclusion from society all for embracing a taboo: owning books. In a world where firemen burn rather than tame fire, Ray Bradbury uses Fahrenheit 451 to warn society about the dangers of censorship and making poor lifestyle choices, especially with the use of technology. Bradbury accurately predicts the future of America’s relationship with such technology.

The novel takes place in the dystopian future of America and focuses on Guy Montag, one of many firefighters who burn houses that have books. This is known as censorship, a suppression of content, commonly used for population control. Montag breaks off from the unethical doctrine that has been normalized for years with the help of young and old friends, ultimately heading face to face with Captain Beatty, an odious man and Montag’s boss. However, he risks his job and wife, Mildred, who is warped into the societal norms of distancing oneself through technology and substances.

In the exposition of the novel, Guy Montag meets Clarisse McClellan, a character that plays a crucial role in his development.

“‘They want to know what I do with all my time. I tell them that sometimes I just sit and think. But I won’t tell them what. I’ve got them running. And sometimes, I tell them, I like to put my head back, like this, and let the rain fall into my mouth. It tastes just like wine. Have you ever tried it?’” (Bradbury 20).

The cover of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Clarisse is constantly connected to nature and inspires Montag to do the same. She is youthful, full of life, and curious while the citizens of the dystopian world of Fahrenheit 451 are forced to suppress their thinking. Clarisse’s frequent outdoor activities make her a foil character for Mildred Montag, Guy Montag’s wife. Foils are two characters that strikingly contrast each other; similar to that of aluminum paper: one character is dull, making the other shine. This makes Clarisse a more likable character, one that is more appealing to readers.

Mildred Montag, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of Clarisse. Mildred throughout the novel is caught doing drugs and drowning herself in content that immerses her in an illusion. She rarely seeks out new adventures and falls into cycles, her only sources of dopamine being television walls and her Seashells. She connects to her friends, Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles, through TV shows rather than heartfelt moments in the world. This is where Bradbury’s predictions eerily apply to our current society.

Firstly, the TV walls repeatedly captivate Mildred. In the exposition of the novel, there is a scene where Mildred is trying to persuade Montag into buying a fourth TV wall so she can fully enjoy her family show. This form of interactive TV isn’t all that new to us; for instance, kid shows like Dora the Explorer constantly break the fourth wall to interact with the audience. However, Fahrenheit 451’s form of this content is otherworldly. Imagine content of that caliber but covering the four walls of your room, surrounding you. That’s what Mildred is pushing to have in her living room, associating herself with characters behind a screen that don’t know her but she’s indulged in. It’s terrifying to see these things come to life in our world right now. 

“I think the novel has become even more relevant in 2023, especially considering Samsung’s new production of The Wall TV,” English teacher Mrs. Milos said. “Did Samsung copy Ray Brabury’s idea of the wall TV? Or is it something that Bradbury predicted and came true?”

Secondly, the seashells that Mildred is caught using throughout the majority of the novel are reflective of our society’s in-ear Bluetooth headphones, such as Apple AirPods. A scene that’s disturbingly prevalent in our world today is Mildred’s nonchalant reference to tragic news and then slowly putting her headphones back in. She doesn’t care much for the outside world but her TV and makes sure she’s isolated with the use of headphones blaring music in her ears. Similarly, headphones of our current society isolate background noise through noise cancellation. Furthermore, with Apple’s recent announcement of VisionPro, an augmented reality headset used to immerse oneself in an environment completely different from that of the real world, who knows what can be of our society 20, 30, or 50 years down the line? 

While these leaps in technology may seem intimidating, maybe this is the right direction. Technology connects people from all over the world and has improved the quality of life for so many of us. Years ago, the library was the database you referenced to help you with your homework, not Google.com. Several decades ago, handwritten letters were the main medium of communication, not quick messages. As a result, technology has helped us save time and be with the people we need most. Matter of fact, at the time of typing this article, I’m on a Zoom call with my class. 

Analyzing the historical context of Fahrenheit 451, the novel was published in 1953, a time when the future of America was unclear in the midst of war. 

“Certainly because of the time period when the novel was written, I think that Ray Bradbury incorporated this scary notion of society,” Mrs. Milos said. “Such as Hitler’s Germany and Nazis burning books, and so it’s this idea of censorship where a government could remove the information and start a new trend or new ideas.”

Additionally, Bradbury’s expertly crafted book teaches teenagers the importance of identity and self-assurance.

“I feel like in the tenth grade, there are a lot of decisions to be made and sometimes when we are living our lives as an illusion, we’ll make decisions based on the illusion and not true to who we are,” Mrs. Milos said. “That could be a mistake; getting on the wrong train and continuing in that direction can be disastrous to adulthood.” 

Fahrenheit 451 ultimately teaches us the core values of humanity. The importance of making the right choices, connecting to the world around us, self-identity, and most importantly balance. Bradbury’s novel conveys to us how we shouldn’t end up like Mildred and get too comfortable with wires, electronics, and immersion.

“I certainly don’t think Bradbury was against technology, especially as a science fiction writer, but I think the warning is that there has to be a balance between technology and nature,” Mrs. Milos said. “When there’s too much of one or the other, then it can make someone feel depressed or lonely.”