How do the authors of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 use irony and character interactions to convey their theme of being true to yourself?
Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian literature novel written by Ray Bradbury is a novel that take place in the future that tells the story of Guy Montag; a firefighter who goes through many changes as he navigates through his interest in books. The society that he lives in has banned books and has called that all books to be burned. The novel 1984 is a dystopian literature novel as well; it set to be in the future in Oceania where the party has control over human behavior with the help of “Big Brother”. Going against many of the bans put in place, we see how Winston records in his journal how those things go and how he thinks about things as well as pursuing a relationship with Julia. How can both of this novel use irony to convey their themes? Both novels utilize verbal, situational, and dramatic irony within the works in order to help convey the theme that you don’t always have to follow what everyone else is told to be right or wrong and not to let anyone take away your natural right to think and do things freely.
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Fahrenheit 451 the title itself helps to foreshadow the instance is the temperature that a book burns. Begins with Montag whose character is a “firefighter” which is our first instance of verbal irony. “With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world…” (Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451). Normally if someone is a firefighter, they are the ones putting out the fires but in this novel, it is a person who starts them. Instead of their hoses spouting water they spout kerosene (helps start the fires ).Also a firefighter is responsible for bringing whoever is reading the books or even keeping the books in their possession are brought to “justice” because it is a crime for them to have the books. He is the character who experiences the most personal throughout the novel. His transition out of being a firefighter has a lot to do with the meaning of what it means to be a firefighter. The next instance of irony we see is in the form of dramatic irony. After mentioning what Montag does for a living we see that he mentions something being in the grill.
Montag staring at it as if it had some kind of importance then moves on from it without revealing what it was. Later on in the novel we find out that, the books were books. By revealing that it Montag was hiding books within his home Bradbury also reveals that even though Montag is a firefighter whose job is to destroy books is keeping books in his home.” Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores.” (Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451) Another instance of irony that pushed to reveal Montag’s interest would be when he was discussing with his fellow firemen about books and they have differences regarding books they end up going to Montag’s house in which he was hiding books. Montag’s knows that he would be punished if they were to find the books within his home but instead of trying to get rid of any traces of the books, he left them there with the possibility of them finding it. This shows that subliminally Montag knew what he believe in and in some way he would risk his life for it unknowingly.
As he worked, Bradbury found that the best way to increase the thematic impact of this quest was to concentrate on expanding Montag’s interactions with the other major characters: the young Clarisse McClellan, the secretive Professor Faber, and Fire Captain Beatty; the towering figure who represents Montag’s potential future, and his wife Mildred. Starting with Clarisse McClellan the seventeen-year-old teenager who was very mysterious and weird as Montag would often call her. Montag met her on the way home from work, even though he did not know much about her he was instantly interested in her because she was not like other people. As soon as they met, she questioned him about his job, his relationship with his wife, and his happiness. Montag has never really thought about those things in the depth that Clarisse has and he realizes that he does not really care for anyone really including his wife Mildred. She helps him become more in touch with his emotions because before he did not really care for the wellbeing of others. He concluded that he was living in a place full of selfish people including himself. Since the future was heavily reliant on technology actual genuine human interaction was limited for many and Montag was amongst the many, so for Clarisse to come along and give him that human contact that he subconsciously always wanted it sparked something in him to start caring more about others ,something he never really did before. We see this when he goes on a call, which ends up with the woman about to go into flames herself along with her books, and while all the other firemen didn’t think twice about leaving her Montag made an effort to try and get the woman to change her mind. Before he interacted with Clarisse he would have never done something like that but now he has a new found respect for others lives.
Other than Clarisse, Montag encountered other characters along the way that helped him with realizing who he was, one being Professor Faber. While Clarisse touched Montag on an emotional level the Professor helped to reach him on a more intellectual level, after all he was a retired English professor. When Montag wanted to take his interest in books seriously as well as wanting to no longer being a part of the firefighters and potentially wanting to take them out for good the Professor was the one that he turned to. Initially Faber was reluctant to helping Montag because he like many others were afraid of being caught and suffering the consequences at the hands of the firefighters. Then out of nowhere, he starts to tear the pages out of a book that so happened to be the Bible and Faber agreed to help him. Montag knew that books were important and that is why at some point he felt the need to no longer get rid of them but it was Faber that helped Montag realize that it is not just the book itself that important it has what the book contains that is important. While being a firefighter Montag was always told to believe that books always caused problems between people because of how they offended many groups of people , however Faber helps Montag to believe that books are paper embodiments of the human experience and we should explore it regardless if it positive or negative to certain people. This ideology that Faber has put into his mind helps push him towards his quest for knowledge. Also with the device that Faber creates for them to communicate, he helps Montag when he has difficult conversations with the Captain. Without his help, Montag probably would have fallen short to the Captains arguments and he would have been found out now. Montag would have never gained the respect and further curiosity of reading books nor would he have ever had the courage to say the things that he did to the Captain if it was not for his interactions with Faber.
Though is interactions with Clarisse and the Professor were positive and helped him with his personal growth there was another character whose interactions were often negative but still prompted Montag’s changes. That person would be his boss Captain Beatty. Beatty was the person to always give Montag the things that their society never really did whether it be things to think about, information, and what he believed to be the truth of how they got to where they are now, an entire explanation of their society and its history, and the history of being a firefighter. He also provides Montag with his explanation of why books are banned, which tells how banning books caused them to lose their ability to think and in Beatty’s opinion, it is better that way. All of the information the Beatty shares with him really answers the many questions that he has and instead of being helpful, it just makes him even more discontent. He feels as though society is like how Beatty described and it should not be that way. This lead to him meeting Faber because Faber is more of a like mind , if it was not for him feeling so different from Beatty he would have never went on to find someone like Faber in the first place. Also after having a conversation with Beatty, he indirectly gives Montag permission to take a book home with him for 24 hours before he has to bring it back. Beatty also gives off the impression that he was in a similar situation as Montag regarding having questions about books and still being able to go to work burning books and be content with that. This gives him a little piece of mind from his recent “episode” he has and gives him a little more headspace to think. Ultimately Beatty gives Montag the option to take the book home and the comfort that he wasn’t alone was with the intention of helping him be more confident in his job and he would come back with no more questions, unfortunately that does not happen. Later on when Beatty is egging him on in the firehouse, it pushes Montag towards the rebellion and Beatty finally pushes him over the edge. By providing Montag with the history, with the little things to think about, with the pieces of information, with the head space to think, he helps Montag come to the realization that he has been very unhappy for some time, the society that he is living in is oppressive and miserable, and that he feels as though he cannot continue being the person that he has been for all these years. It was Beatty intent to help him become a stronger firefighter just like him but he ended up pushing Montag to become a supporter for the revolt against their society and all of its beliefs and rules.
Finally, the one last character who helped Montag grow as a person through his journey throughout the novel would be his wife Mildred. Mildred became to represent to Montag everything that is wrong with the people in their society. Like the many other people in their society, Mildred was heavily reliant on technology; preferably, the TV, she was so uninterested in what was actually going on in the world, and he relied on drugs. After interacting with a person like Clarisse, Montag sees that he and his wife do not even really know each other and she does not care. She makes him wonder how he became so empty and dull. He feels as though he is married to a stranger and there is no true love. Their marriage became the prime example of the life he did not want to life. The lack of love between them builds onto the emotional hunger that Montag has had already and makes it even harder to ignore.
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These instances of irony and interactions with other characters help to further Bradbury process of revealing of Montag realizing who he really is regardless of who he was in the past and who society said he should be. We see that it took characters who come from opposing occupations to show Montag the world he is really living in. You have Beatty and Faber, both older men who have been around longer than Montag, one chooses to succumb to the way society wants him to be and follows what he is supposed to and another who is somewhat cowardly still does not believe what he is told to believe and follow. Then you have Clarisse and Mildred, both females who are relatively you though one is younger than the other, one who is an open minded and free spirit who is in tune with their emotions and another who is so close minded, brainwashed by the technology she is in all day everyday who has no interest in anything serious and is emotionally detached from her own husband. They all show Montag that he has a choice to decide that lifestyle he wants to live and it shows the kind of people those choices makes.
In George Orwell’s 1984, he uses different instances of irony as well as character interactions. We first see a few instances of verbal irony within the text. “WAR IS PEACE / FREEDOM IS SLAVERY / IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” (Orwell) Orwell first introduces us to the ironic slogan that he calls to be a representation of the party’s slogan. War is peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength. This slogan is also an oxymoronic statement because looking at it at first it appears to be contradictory but it also contains some truth, which is why it is a good example of verbal irony. For people in the inner party it means that as long as Oceania is constantly at war, the people with be directing their hatred to the enemy and not at them; the inner party takes joy in having freedom while at the same time they enslave the people.; and as long as they are able to keep the truth away from the people the party will remain strong. This quote also plays into the thing that the party uses in order to control how people think which is double thinking. Double Thinking is the ability in which a person thinks two contradictory thoughts at the same time, believing both to be true. Orwell also introduces the different ministries in which the party find necessary to rule. Those Ministries being: The ministry of love which is ironic because it is the ministry responsible for law and order which often was something sinister and the opposite of love, the ministry of peace which was responsible for dealing with all things war related which was the opposite of being peaceful, The ministry of truth was responsible for filtering and facilitating all things media related which is ironic because their job is to see how they can keep the truth hidden. The things that he calls his “victory” items like his coffee, his gin, and cigarettes do not live up to the title of having a victory because Winston does take them at the best moments as well as them being poorly made items themselves. Orwell then gives us some examples of situational irony. An obvious example of situational irony is when Winston is secretly lusting after Julia while he despises her, also it is ironic that she is on the Junior Anti-sex league and when they go on the hikes, she finds places to take Winston, as he becomes her lover. “Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema.” (Orwell)The one act of irony in the book that no one thought would happen was when Winston became the a symbol of rebelling and protesting he is defeated by the same system in which he loathes and was fighting against. He was at last made to view the world as the slippery slope that the party describes it to be, we see the clear defeat when he admits that he loves Big Brother. We would expect that since Winston became a rebel he would be a part of something big that would be the end of Oceania but at last he was not all these instances of irony with the party are part of why Winston feels that the party will never let anyone be free because of their strong hold on people.
Though Winston ultimately fell to the party’s control there were people that he interacted with that helped push him out of being an ordinary citizen who followed all of the rules to being a rebel who hated the rules and the people who created them. The two people being Julia and O’Brien. When we see Julia we see that she is not a rebel who is going around breaking the rules, however she is more of a pathological rule breaker. Winston sees this and wants to break the rules just as how his lover does. The only difference is that Julia does not really care about what lays beyond breaking the rules; she ultimately just wants to have some fun that is risky, while Winston is moved and wants to actually change the system itself. By interacting with Julia and seeing her tiny rebellion with just wanting to have fun pushed the agenda that was subliminally already there of him being the person to change things. Other than Julia, we only see Winston interacting with O’Brien. While O’Brien never said such things Winston always believed that he was a leader of the fifth column in the party. Despite the fact that O’Brien maybe in the position to expose him and get him in trouble , Winston’s drive for wanting to start a revolution pushed him to make O’Brien involuntarily his confidant. Winston knows that people in Oceania do not expose who they really are and tell all of what they believe to be true but he chooses O’Brien to be the person that helps him break his mental training that he has had for many years to be able to speak freely; something he was not allowed to do. If it were not for O’Brien, Winston would have never built the mindset that he had secretly wanted for himself at that point.
As we look at both of these novels that depict dystopian societies with protagonist who undergo personal changes that affect how they see these societies, we see that even though they both use irony to help develop their themes it was not always the same kind of irony. Bradbury often used dramatic and situational irony while Orwell used verbal and situational. Nonetheless, the use of irony was key in both novels in order for them to further their characters journeys throughout their oppressive societies. Without the use of irony within these novels would not have developed to whereas the characters would have to face the truth that was already put in the story subliminally when they introduced the idea ironically. Other than implementing irony into the structure of their novels both authors made sure that their main characters didn’t go through the realization that the way society is set up isn’t the way they want it to be alone. Both authors place characters in the lives of the protagonist that they know if the character interacts with them it will play into them wanting to change even more. Despite the fact that in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 we see the fall of the society, which was contributed to by the protagonist and in, Orwell’s 1984 we see the society succeed in continuing in its rule while causing the protagonist to fall victim to its control.
- eNotes.com, Inc. Enotes . n.d. 2019.
- Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Simon and Schuster, 1953.
- —. Investing Dimes : Fahrenheit 451. 1982 .
- Broich, John. The Independent. 4 February 2017. 20 December 2018 .
- Mitchell, Adrian. 1984 and All That . Oxford University Student Publications,Ltd., 1954.
- Orwell, George. 1984 . 1949.
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