Censorship and Independent Thought in Society
Censorship and independent thought are major themes throughout Ray Bradburys novel Fahrenheit 451 and are also important concepts in our society. These two ideals are constantly at odds against each other. The balance of these two concepts often determines the success or failure of a society. Uncontrolled censorship in society never works to the advantage of society.
In Fahrenheit 451, the government used extreme censorship to keep the citizens blissfully happy. The battle between independent thought and censorship made a new job for the firemen. The firemen burn any and all books rather than putting out fires as they were initially assigned to do. The government feels that books cause independent thought, which confuses people and makes people unhappy. As an effect, the firemen become, custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior: official censors, judges, and executors (59). The firemens job is to fight the independent thought in books and the people, like the old woman, that owned them. Independent thought prevails despite all the oppression through people such as Clarisse McClellan and Professor Faber. These people are continuously curious and constantly question the world around them. Montag comes to realize that the government can never completely rid the world of independent thought. This realization occurs first as a small inkling after meeting Clarisse McClellan, the young girl who makes him question the world around him, then it progresses to complete awareness after the condemnation of an old woman to death who loves her books so much that she willfully dies with them. This causes him to begin to notice a lack of purpose in their society because of the lack of independent thought. Montag then begins his mission to fight it. Montag finally comes to realize how truly terrible extreme censorship can be and he discovers that there are people throughout the world that still maintain independent thought despite all the obstacles, such as the threat of prison and death. The extreme censorship ruins them in the end. The vaguely implied war began because their country was hated by the other nations of the world, although the general population was blind to this. Montag said:
Ive heard rumors; the world is starving, but were well fed. Is it true? The world works hard and we play? Is that why were hated so much? Ive heard humors about hate, too, once in a long while, over the years. Do you know why? I dont, thats sure! Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They might just stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes! (74).
If the population had actually known about the conditions of the world, it might have saved them all from complete destruction. The war and the destruction of their society could have possibly been avoided if they knew this onslaught was approaching. International relations could possibly have been mended, but instead the government was more worried about the peoples happiness than the safety of their lives.
Although, censorship does come into play more in schools than anywhere else in society, it is not a major concern as it once was. Recently, organizations have been formed to combat censorship, for example in 1976 the Committee on Bias and Censorship in the Elementary School was formed to attempt to keep censorship out of schools. Also, the censoring of American school material is much less extensive than the censorship of other societies. Successful societies, for example America and ancient Greece and Rome, have always allowed for independent thought, although they still used a certain amount of censorship to maintain the peace. The unsuccessful ones, such as Nazi Germany, used tremendous amounts of censorship and brainwashing. The Nazi Propaganda Ministry took control of all forms of communication in Germany: newspapers, magazines, books, public meetings, and rallies, art, music, movies, and radio. Viewpoints in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media. Nazis burned long lists of books they thought should not be read by Germans. Schools also censored books as well as wrote new books to teach students blind obedience to the party, love for Hitler, and anti-Semitism. This is the perfect example of how censorship can be taken to the extreme. In general, American censorship is nothing like the Nazi censorship. Censorship in America can even be considered very minute. Ray Bradbury states it best when he answered a question on censorship in our country. He responded, There are none in our country. We have too many groups for censorship to be possiblewere all watching each other, so theres no chance for censorship (184).
Censorship and independent thought are relevant to AP 11 because this class is supposed to cultivate our independent thought. Censorship hinders our learning progression by taking out important parts. Nazis controlled the knowledge of the German public by censoring school material and media. If our class material was censored as much as it was in the novel, Fahrenheit 451, we could never learn to think independently and we could never develop our own personalities. Censorship does not belong in AP 11. We can never get the full effect of the message of the book if the parts with the strongest passion are removed.