Throughout the 20th century the science fiction genre has grown increasingly popular and developed into a tool which enables authors to explore many of the issues that concern and affect our world. Two of the issues which I have found frighteningly relevant to modern society are the dangers of censorship and the loss of what makes us human, both of which are present within George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’. It is through these issues that the authors invite the reader to consider two of the main themes of the novels; social isolation and rebellion. This is achieved by presenting the reader with terrifying dystopian societies where censorship leads to ignorance amongst the masses and through this ignorance the loss of the qualities essential to making us human. Indeed, both novels were written in the wake of WW2 and the influence of the Nazi regime has clearly been reflected by both authors, particularly in the use of propaganda in ‘1984’ and the burning of books in ‘Fahrenheit 451’. In 1949 Philip Rahr said in reference to Orwell’s ‘1984’ that:
“If it inspires dread above all, that is precisely because its materials are taken from the real world as we know it.”
Undeniably, the ideas presented within both novels have grown more relevant over time – such as Bradbury’s successful prediction of Seashells within people’s ears, which cut them off from each other, something which clearly resonates with today’s society and certain uses of technology. But on a more frightening level both novels have foretold the decreasing relevance of history and literature and enable the authors to emphasise that they provide something of value and are essential within any society. This illuminates the fact that without history and literature; there would be no exploration of ideas and imagination, something which directly leads to the impoverishment of humanity. In each instance both narrators also use highly evocative language throughout and this acts as another way of emphasising to the reader that language matters in society. Therefore by examining the dangers of censorship and the loss of what makes the individual human Orwell and Bradbury illustrate to the reader how these issues cause social isolation and rebellion and through this provide an eloquent warning in order to prevent such an ominous future.`
The negative impacts of censorship coupled with the loss of what makes the individual human lead to the social isolation of the protagonists – Winston Smith and Guy Montag. It is through these characters that the authors explore what causes social isolation, enabling the reader to see that censorship damages relationships, which leads to psychological implications for the individual. This is illustrated in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ where censorship is seen as the key to happiness; the reader is presented with a utilitarian world where individuals thrive on trivial information and where dangerous ideas such as those found within literature are oppressed through the burning of books. According to Captain Beatty the governing body aims to:
“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of “facts” they feel stuffed, but absolutely “brilliant” with information.”
Montag’s chance meeting with Clarisse is crucial to his isolation from society and she influences him with her poetic outlook upon life and it here that he begins to feel different from those around him, with a similar detachment existing for Winston. It is this is utter alienation from society that prompts rebellion, yet the impulse is different for each character, either coming from within or from a wider issue. Although both characters rebel for similar reasons they do so in different ways and each rebellion is met by different repercussions. As a consequence of this Orwell and Bradbury emphasise the futile nature of rebellion as both characters are pushed into even more isolated positions. However Guy is not completely destroyed at the end of the novel and has achieved minor success, in comparison to Winston who has undergone a gruesome ordeal which destroys him both physically and psychologically.
From the outset, both texts serve as powerful warnings about the dangers of censorship as certain uses of propaganda and technology separate and destroy human connections. Ultimately, the negative effects of censorship lie at the root of each characters isolation and Winston recognises this from the beginning of the novel, as seen with the telescreen which he is aware of as always watching him for signs of unorthodox behaviour. On the other hand, Montag does not see the negative impacts of censorship at the start of the novel, nor does he recognise his isolation – he revels in his job of fireman and is part of censorship himself. It is only after he meets Clarisse, that the negative impacts of censorship and his own isolation become fully apparent to him. Indeed, throughout both novels it becomes increasingly apparent that it is easy to use technology to damage what is human and both authors establish a clear, inextricable link between society and the media and this is emphasised by the Party’s slogan in ‘1984’:
“Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”
In this case, Winston’s alienation and uncertainty are developed through this lack of history, which at points causes him to question the validity of his own memory. This is notably apparent when he starts his diary and cannot contextualise the time, guessing that the year is ‘1984’. It is here that we see the derivative impacts of technology, particularly in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ where the living room walls have an almost life-like quality and are the preferred form of entertainment rather than physically communicating. This is exaggerated further by Bradbury’s paradoxical uses of language as he refers to the seashells in Mildred’s ears as:
“the thimble radios tamped right, and an electronic ocean of sound coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.”
Here Bradbury demonstrates that she is physically in the room yet her thoughts are elsewhere, further stressing technology’s negative effects. At this point Montag recognises that she should be spending time with him. Indeed, in both novels it is this disconnection which comes through censorship and the reduction of language that contributes to both character’s recognition that they are on their own and prompts them to realise that this is an isolation which is wrong. This alienation from the worlds around them is central to both characters and emphasises how these citizens are losing what makes them human – there are no emotions, free thoughts or choice. All human connections have been broken and it becomes apparent that it is only when people fully connect that they are able to live, rather than to simply exist. Therefore by presenting such oppressed worlds Orwell and Bradbury emphasise that without these connections human existence becomes desperately impoverished.
The censorship which exists in ‘1984’ reflects Orwell’s disapproval at the way in which we use language and this is evident in the censorship not only involving the erasing of the past but also the reduction of language to create what is known as ‘Newspeak’. Winston’s alienation from those around him is developed through this literary technique and he becomes even more disconnected through language. He doesn’t use ‘Newspeak’ and to an extent Winston finds comfort in not using this reduced form of language as it connects him to the past, but it is also one of the factors which makes him feel isolated from those around him. The purpose of ‘Newspeak’ is that without a large vocabulary the Party believes people will not have the ability to express any unorthodox thoughts or ideas. However, W.F Bolton challenges this issue by stating that:
“language and thought do not have a 1:1 relationship.”
‘Newspeak’ enables Orwell to distort language in a unique way; as seen in the Party slogan which reads the words “WAR IS PEACE, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY” . Indeed, throughout both novels contradictory uses of language are particularly prominent such as firemen, who start fires rather than the words traditional definition of extinguishing them. On the surface there appear to be many superficial similarities between both protagonists; however Winston recognises the power of language in a way which Guy doesn’t. Winston understands that the destruction of words has negative effect on society, whereas Guy seems to be less co-ordinated in his search for answers. He knows that books hold something of value, yet he struggles to identify exactly what this is. Throughout ‘1984’ Orwell communicates to the reader that language is a key part of humanity as it allows individuals to be properly connected with each other, something which is achieved through words. Ultimately, both authors use language to allow the reader to recognise the character feeling isolated, even though this is achieved in contrasting ways.
The negative effects of censorship are also used to damage relationships within both novels. This is illuminated by Winston and Guy’s recognition that the relationships which they both have with their wife’s are wrong and that true relationships should be based on love and affection. According James Schellenberg in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ “There is deep loneliness in this book, the lonely of heart and the lonely of mind.” This idea is furthered in ‘1984’ by the stoic characteristics of members of the Party and this is revealed through Winston’s wife, Katharine who refers to the sexual act as “our duty to the party” . This is a complete distortion of what it should represent, there is no passion within her and Winston uses strong images to describe being close to her, which to him was like:
“embracing a jointed wooden image”
This once again emphasises to the reader how isolated he is, but it is also interesting to note that he wouldn’t have these thoughts at the end of the novel; he is a more vibrant character at the beginning, which allows the reader to consider that once these characters recognise the injustice of the worlds in which they live they are more alive than when they live in ignorance. Winston is alone in a world where individuals no longer connect and because of this have lost the qualities which make them human and this is reflected in him describing them all as ‘ugly’. This contributes to his growing sense of alienation which he recognises through other people. A similar uniformity exists for the firemen of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ who all possess “black hair, black brows, a fiery face” and parallel also exists between the estranged relationship of Guy and Mildred, the image:
“on a winter island separated by an empty sea”
Is used to reflect the distant relationship which they have and much like Katharine, Mildred is equally emotionally impotent, with her outward adoration of the four walls reflecting her inner ignorant state. Indeed, both protagonists’ wives operate in a very simple way and this emphasises the notion that when creativity and imagination are killed off it causes an impoverishment of humanity. Both authors also establish a symbolic contrast between these cold characters and the female characters who oppose everything they stand for – Julia and Clarisse. It is with Julia, that Winston attempts to form a connection and through this restore a part of his humanity which the Party has destroyed. Julia is described by Winston as “a rebel from the waist downwards”, yet these words allow the reader to see that her rebellion is purely sexual, even she isn’t thinking. Perhaps part of his attraction to her lies in the unequivocal differences between her and his wife. However, although they are both rebels and isolated they are in many ways different. Julia cares only for her personal rebellion and not for society as a whole. This is seen when Winston reads parts of Goldstein’s book and Orwell uses her disinterest to reflect her ignorance. In many ways the differences between them contribute to Winston’s isolation, he is alone, even with a fellow rebel at his side. In comparison Clarisse is very much a dreamer, who is symbolic of all that literature represents and opens things up for Guy. As a consequence of this she acts as the catalyst which causes him to question the nature of his profession and through this recognise the isolation which exists between him and society.
The isolation presented in both novels has a variety of psychological effects and these are highlighted through the use of third person narration, which enables the reader to be sympathetic towards not only their isolation but also their rebellion. This is seen through the deprivation of factors necessary to be human. For example, in ‘1984’ it is freedom of thought makes the individual human, whereas in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ it is the immense power of literature. In ‘1984’ however Winston is aware of what he is deprived of living in such a society; Montag is less aware and doesn’t experience the same psychological frustration as Winston. However once Montag becomes aware of these flaws, it becomes psychologically draining for him and this is emphasised by the powerful imagery used throughout:
“Nobody knows anyone, Strangers come and violate you. Strangers come and cut your heart out. Strangers come and take your blood”
Here the alliteration of the word ‘strangers’ demonstrates Montag’s isolation, as well as establishing the breakdown of human connections. What is more is that these thoughts for Montag come rapidly after he meets Clarisse, illustrating the magnitude of the change which she has brought about within him which leads him to question his own logic. Did firemen always start fires? There seem to be many unanswered questions for Montag and part of his rebellion involves locating these answers. He is searching for the truth in a world of lies and distortion. Chris Przybyzewski states in his review that “it offers a story about a man seeking a truth” . Before he met Clarisse, Guy was sure of who he was and loved his job. Now he only superficially fits in to society and is more isolated than ever before. A similar ‘fitting in’ appears to be the case with Winston, who works hard at his job and appears to obey all of the Party’s rules, despite his growing hatred of all it stands for. Indeed, once alienated, it could be argued that these characters can no longer fit into the worlds around them, even if they desired to, as they now see the injustices of such an oppressed society. Fundamentally, these important glimpses into each characters minds enable the reader’s sympathy to be increased and one quote from ‘1984’ which I found to be frighteningly powerful in its simplicity is:
“If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles.”
At this point Orwell presents a potential solution but does not develop it suggesting that there is no obvious way forward for this society. John Atkins comments by saying that the proles “alone were granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect.” This emphasises the ironic observation that the Party members regard the proles as less than human when in reality they have retained the qualities essential to being human, they have free thoughts. However they lack the intelligence to channel them into any kind of rebellion; something which Winston realises and this contributes further to his isolation. They are alienated from their societies, from those they love and it is this state which causes their angst. Ultimately, both characters feel psychologically drained as a result of their isolation, particularly as they recognise that any efforts they may make to change their worlds are futile, however they each have an element of hope which in both cases acts as the driving force of their rebellion.
Under these isolated circumstances the very nature of humanity has been damaged and Orwell and Bradbury use this to demonstrate that when people no longer connect, it results in an isolation which completely cuts individuals off from each other. This is seen though the lack of value placed upon the fragility of the human condition, the individual is irrelevant and both protagonists recognise this. Moreover, both authors use the theme of isolation to explore the qualities that make us fulfilled humans and suggest that we must have a complex web of human connections achieved through literature, language and history. In addition to this we must also have the time to freely consider these links with other people, which when broken lead to social isolation and rebellion. This illuminates the fact that history is of vital importance in society and that the airbrushing of the past which exists in these worlds can not take place, as the past is only of value if the sources are unaltered. Therefore by presenting such oppressed worlds Orwell and Bradbury emphasise their messages in a frightening way, which is highlighted by the damage done. In ‘Fahrenheit 451’, for example, Montag reads out a poem to Mrs Phelps (Mildred’s friend) and she is deeply moved by it:
“Mrs Phelps was crying. The others in the middle of the desert watched her crying grow very loud as her face squeezed itself out of shape. They sat, not touching her, bewildered by her display.”
By using such an overwhelming torrent of emotion Bradbury demonstrates the immense power of literature, as well as using it to contribute to Montag’s alienation. This stresses to the reader that books provide more than just words, but are essential to the exploration of ideas and imagination, things which are particular human privileges. Yet in spite of this the others in the room take her reaction as additional evidence that books are evil. Montag however realises that the poem enables her to see the injustice of her own life. This event also emphasises the irony that in this societies search for happiness they are impoverishing human existence. This idea is supported by James Schellenberg who believes that one of the best arguments presented in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is “in favour of the book as a keystone to intellectual freedom”.
It is this isolation from those around them which acts as the seed of rebellion for both Winston and Guy. Once isolated these characters have two options, they either accept the world as it is or they rebel in an attempt to change it. They recognise that something is wrong with society; however their stimuli are different, for Winston it is his own personal frustration whereas for Guy it is Clarisse enabling him to see the injustice of his world. This is emphasised by Winston consciously setting out against society, initially rebelling by thinking unorthodox thoughts, before consciously rebelling by writing these thoughts down. Eventually his rebellion leads to adultery with Julia and them both attempting to join ‘The Brotherhood’ which aims to overthrow the Party. Meanwhile, in Montag’s case he initially isn’t conscious of his rebellion and is merely looking for answers something which prompts him to steal a book. It is only once he has located some of these answers that Montag is unable to accept the systematic destroyal of literature and it becomes one of the determining factors in the development of his rebellion. Montag subsequently embarks on a journey to destroy society and hopes to achieve this by concealing books in the homes of firemen in the hope of causing public outrage. However a series of events then take place which result in Guy becoming a member of a group of men who memorise books in the hope that in the future they can be rewritten. It is here that the reader sees how important language is in the reformation of relationships as these men recognise that language is necessary in order to be fully alive. On the other hand, the significant female characters rebellions symbolically contrast that of the males. Clarisse is a dreamer; she goes against society without realising it. Julia, however knowingly goes against society and according to John Atkins:
“The Party members underwent an elaborate mental training which left few loopholes for rebellion or the idea of rebellion”
Which emphasises how unusual Winston’s and Julia’s rebellion is. Indeed, the rapid development of each characters rebellion is further emphasised through the structure of both novels, from the initial acts of Montag questioning his profession and Winston writing down on paper “Down with Big Brother” to the drastic attempts which both make to destroy the worlds in which they live. According to Brian Baker “there is no way to remake the system from within: flight or escape is the only alternative to oppression.” Ultimately, the only potential way that this society could be destroyed would be through many people, connected by a common desire for change. In both texts, once the protagonists have rebelled they are destroyed either physically or in other ways and Winston recognises that the only way to beat the Party is to stay human:
“If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.”
Yet in spite of Winston’s noble attempts to undermine society, he is caught as he suspected he would be. The authorities then subject Winston and Julia to a monstrous ordeal to make them betray each other. This is done using the simplest human fears within ‘room 101’. In which lies worst thing in the world for that individual and in many ways this is more frightening than any torture technique, purely because it is personal to the individual and plays on their greatest human fear. At this point Winston’s failure is seen through his thoughts becoming frighteningly simple and the omniscient narrator is reflected in his choice of language when he says “Do it to Julia!” – A childlike phrase that emphasises his swamp of emotional feeling. Meanwhile Montag is forced to burn all of the books which he has illegally kept in his home, before running away, narrowly avoiding the authorities and becoming an outcast from society, which in comparison to Winston’s repercussions is not so great a price to pay.
It is these repercussions for Winston and Julia which strengthen Orwell’s message that there is no way out for this society. At the end of ‘1984’ Winston is completely broken and this is reflected in the poignant last line “He loved Big Brother”. These are terribly simple words which show to the reader that he has now lost his humanity. Meanwhile Guy is now part of some sort of community and his rebellion has enriched his life in many ways. He is now able to appreciate literature and this is seen through his thoughts becoming more eloquent toward the end of the novel:
“The river was very real; it held him comfortably and gave him the time at last, the leisure, to consider this month, this year, and a life-time of years.”
At the end of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ human connections have been reformed, something which strengthens their individual rebellions. Brian Baker effectively describes Montag crossing the river at the end of the novel into a more natural world as “a symbolic cleansing and baptism.” This accentuates the positive changes which have come from Montag’s rebellion. Meanwhile, Orwell’s views on the human condition are illuminated through Winston’s failure as he has made no change to society and this demonstrates how irrelevant the individual is. But this in turn seems to suggest that Orwell believes that happiness can only be achieved through conformity, rather than to question things and ending up completely broken. Ultimately, this utter destructiveness at the end of the novel involves the reader with Winston and emphasises that there is no way out for this society. In comparison Bradbury seems to hold a more hopeful view and this is reflected by the relative success of Montag. Even though he may not yet have made a significant change to society, he has improved his own life immeasurably.
Both texts serve as powerful and frightening visions of the future by taking a number of human fears and exposing them in their barest forms and this is exactly what makes them so terrifying. Through these novels Orwell and Bradbury provide a warning that this kind of society could arise if we are not careful with our use of censorship and lose the qualities that make us human. This could be interpreted as both a warning and a solution. The solution being to reform broken human connections and to have the complex power of words fully available to us as seen at the end of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ as the solution enabling humanity to recover. Indeed, this is a merely a suggestion, that reforming broken connections could be a way back, but this is not an easy way and will take a long time in order to enable humanity to recover. Although there is a positive ending to ‘Fahrenheit 451’ society is destroyed while there is hope for the individual. Yet in ‘1984’ the individual is destroyed and society thrives and this emphasises Orwell’s message that if this state arises there is no way back. Once there is social isolation, even rebellion is not a way out and as a result ‘1984’ is a more urgent warning than ‘Fahrenheit 451’. Moreover, both writers are clear that we need interconnections between people. As without history and literature we are stuck and the only way we can break through this isolation is by using history and literature in a truthful way. Although both novels take differing perspectives on their attitudes towards censorship, with Orwell focusing on the power of language and the destruction of words original meanings and Bradbury focusing on the power of literature and the way in which we use language. They share the common idea that excessive censorship and the exploitation of technology will destroy human connections, something which will lead to social isolation and rebellion.
In detailing the effects of censorship and the loss of what makes us human ‘1984’ and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ effectively convey disturbing warnings to future generations. However it is in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ that the ideas surrounding these issues are most explicit. This is seen in the last section of the novel where a clear solution to the recovery of humanity is presented, although it is a muted solution, it is there. There is lack of criticism available for ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in comparison to ‘1984’ something which mirrors the traditional views of these novels, yet in many ways ‘Fahrenheit 451’ deserves more recognition as it is stronger on ideas. Whereas in ‘1984’ Orwell presents a solution but does not develop it, something which makes it impossible for the reader to get away from the horror of the novel. Ultimately, both authors are determined to provide a warning about the dangers of censorship and the loss of the qualities that make us human. They use these ideas to illuminate other themes which emphasise the continued relevance of literature and history and it is through this that they achieve their greatest success as works of dystopian fiction.