Parallels between Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”
that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 draws similar parallels to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” through the roles the characters play in each written piece. Thereare three main parts to the “Allegory of the Cave:” inside the cave, the release form the cave, and the return to the cave, each having a relation to specific characters where “immediate source of reason and truth [is] in the intellection” (Plato). Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 presents the ideas of the allegory within Montag, Clarisse, and Beatty.
Inside the Cave, the prisoners represent the main population of society within Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 because the people are “like gray animals peering from electronic caves, faces with gray colorless eyes…tongues, and…thoughts looking out through the numb flesh of the face” (Bradbury 139). The gray nature of the people in the novel signifies their inherent lack of aesthetic and intellectual dimension because the people are connected between ‘electronic caves.” Much like the “Allegory of the Cave,” the “electronic caves” cast shadows of real objects and echoes of real sounds with technology where Bradbury’s characters and the prisoners are “never allowed to move their heads” (Plato). Because the prisoners are not allowed to move their “heads,” their society dictates them with shadows and false representations of reality, which creates the absence of intellectualism. Bradbury defines the chains clearly as electronic caves and the use of technology as false representations and the absence of books defines the absence of intellectualism.
Guy Montag, his wife Mildred, and all the people they knew and saw on a day-to-day basis (i.e. Beatty and Mildred’s friends) are the prisoners bound in the cave of electronics. However, Montag, as the main character, is the representation of the escaped prisoner who undergoes a change in through which stands for the prisoner being “dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he’s forced into the presence of the sun himself… he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections…he will see him in his own proper place…and he will contemplate him as he is” (Plato). For the main character to be able to contemplate who is and his own proper place within the world is important because then he understands what the realities of the upper world are not and not the illusions of shadows and echoes that he is used to within the cave. However, Montag could not be pulled from the caves and left alone and had to be “dragged…and held fast” which is where Clarisse McClellan comes into the novel as the personification of the sun. The sun creates intellectual illumination within Montag causing him to no longer be a prisoner within the cave.
After the release from the cave there is the return to the cave where the escaped prisoner (Montag) would “felicitate himself on the change, and pity them” (Plato). This change is the realization and intellectual illumination and “them” would be the prisoners still in the cave. The dissimilation between the “Allegory of the Cave” and Fahrenheit 451 start to appear here because although Plato states that the main character would be happy for his change, Montag does not appear to feel happy in any way: “We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing” (Bradbury 82). Montag is blindly confused and often angry with Mildred and her friends when they do not listen to him. Because he is confused and angry, Montag came back from the sunlight too soon and does not understand the upper world or his newfound intellectualism completely as he should like in the “Allegory of the Cave.” Since Montag does not understand this, he is the object of much oppression and ridicule from others such as Beatty because “his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time…needed to acquire this…sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous?” (Plato). Plato’s Allegory recognizes that the escaped prisoner is not ready because he is used to the darkness of the cave, hence being blinded by the light. However, he does not encompass the emotions that would come from being ridiculous as explicated by Montag in his anger and confusion.
It is not only Montag’s inability to completely understand intellectualism but also because of Beatty’s role as one of the prisoners. Plato does not clearly define a character in the Allegory that has reached the light, come back to the cave, and rejected the light. He touches on the wicked state of man if “there [is] anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner,” which Beatty does, urging Montag on to total rage resulting in his death as if “Beatty wanted to die” (Plato, Bradbury 122). Yet Plato uses the evil state of man to define the escaped prisoner becoming forceful in his ideas “to fight in courts of law [and] is endeavoring to meet the conceptions of thus who have never yet seen” the light of the sun (Plato). Beatty does not fight or endeavor to show others around him the upper world, which he has been brought to see. However, he fights those who have seen the light of the sun aka, intellectualism, creating a massive dissimilarity to the ideas that Plato has created in the Allegory. Although Beatty’s desire to die does generate a possibility that he wished to escape the false reality of the electronic caves that he had been brought to live in, he might have felt that he could not escape the shadows and thus created within Montag the ability to do what he could not: to spread intellectualism in hopes that others would follow by “joking [and] needling” (Bradbury 122). Beatty had to ensure that Montag would be willing to die fro the choices he made while nevertheless, also be able to escape the consequences of the cave’s “reality” and its prisoners by allowing Montag to hold onto the books he acquired longer than he should have.
Bradbury presents Plato’s idea to “catch the offender and…put him to death” with the use of the Fireman’s job; to burn books and those whom possess books illegally (Plato). Bradbury portrays the offender as Montag and the society’s way of living, but also allows Beatty’s plan to follow through by letting Montag escape outside the bonds of the shadows of the cave. Because Bradbury uses the oppression of intellectualism through his characters and their desires, he is able to present the ideas of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”
WORKS CITEDBradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey Books, 1991.
Plato. “Allegory of the Cave.” 2000. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html>.