12 October 2009

Fahrenheit 451

Knowledge vs. Ignorance

Knowledge versus ignorance – which would you choose? Throughout history this has been a predominate idea in literature, movies, television and philosophy. Is ignorance really bliss? Would you sacrifice your happiness for the light and wisdom that knowledge brings? In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece, Guy Montag risks it all and takes the red pill.
Knowledge . . . ignorance – they are personified so clearly in Clarisse and Mildred. Clarisse is a light in the dark, bookless world Montag lives in. A kind of Athena she shows him the path to wisdom and knowledge. It is she who opens his eyes. With the taste of her knowledge still lingering on his palette he desires more, more – more! This is why he begins stealing books. He believes that they will teach him, that he will learn from them, that they will show him the light, and help him to taste again that alluring seductress knowledge.
Mildred represents ignorance. Cut off from reality she is trapped in a matrix of her own design. Blissfully ignorant of the death hurtling towards her she is lost in her delightful fantasy. She is a sheep, blindly following the dictates of her ignorant government, not thinking for herself – and she loves her ignorance. She loves the parlor (which represents ignorance) and hates those loathsome books (the shining light of reason.)
Knowledge and ignorance are shown through the books “reason” and the parlors “bliss”. They are the antithesis of each other. The Fire Chief likens books to “pores in a face”. Books show the flaws of the universe – of humanity. Though if taken at face value this is a bad thing, it is actually a great marvel. Through books we see that we are not perfect, and yet we see heroes striving for greatness. The great Heracles was of a surety not perfect, and yet he ascended to Mount Olympus because of his epic struggle to be more than his fate allotted to him.
The parlors (or “families”) in contrast make the world out to be all hunky-dory, beautiful – perfect. This is great if all you desire is peace of mind, but it is not true. True peace only comes through truth and sooner of later this fake peace will turn into what it is – rubbish. If everything is perfect, all nice and orderly, there is nothing to live for. There is no way that you, a simple human being, can make a difference in an already perfect world. You cannot change it for the better or the worse, you can simply be – this is a sad and horrible misconception.
The third metaphor for knowledge and ignorance in Fahrenheit 451 is the society, or government and the scholars “book covers”. The government set out to create a world without controversy. They banned books, seeing that all they did was “cause trouble”. This was an ignorant and misinformed decision. Instead of creating a perfect world, they created a society where the common man could not think for himself!
On the other hand they pushed the scholars into absolute abandon. Now instead of thinking quietly and causing no harm these professors spend their days memorizing books, turning themselves into outlaws, criminals against this ignorant people. These “book covers” know that after the dust settles humanity will need the knowledge they have stored up to begin anew. They know that it is they who will – in the end – be witness to the greatest rebirth the world has ever seen.
In conclusion, Fahrenheit 451 is a warning. A warning to beware we do not let ignorance conquer us. A warning to swallow the “knowledge” pill, however bitter it be – and a warning to look to the future and protect it, to live in the present – and to always remember the past.


The Militant Pacifist said...

I want knowledge...give me that apple!

Enchanted Etymologist said...

I am certain it was a nectarine!