Social Sensitivity

Fahrenheit 451 is very clearly a defense of literacy and the free use of the imagination as central human virtues. Bradbury emphasizes this theme when Montag’s superior officer states: You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally “bright” …. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and torture after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.

Bradbury is reacting here to a central paradox of American culture, the enormous and conflicting emphasis that is placed on being both rugged, strong-willed individualists and right-thinking members of a team. Though Americans extol the free spirits of their history, from Davy Crockett to Henry David Thoreau, they also mistrust them and want to bring them into line.

Fahrenheit 451 argues that human beings must be given the right to think and to explore freely the world of ideas, regardless of whether or not some of those ideas might offend others, and it depicts the written word as the key to all such exploration.