The Dead and the Living

The importance of knowledge and truth is sometimes not fully comprehended until it no longer exists in the lives of many people. Authors often use realistic ideas to prove a point to their readers. These ideas can come from a simple figure of speech, such as a paradox. The paradox of being both dead and alive is seen in the lives of both people and machines throughout the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Mildred, the emotionless wife of main character Montag, displays the qualities of being both dead and alive. From the very beginning of the story, Mildred showed no signs of life within her.
When we are first introduced to her, she is laying motionless in a dark room, having overdosed on sleeping tablets. Bradbury describes Mildred’s face as being “a snow-covered island upon which rain might fall, but it felt no rain; over which clouds might pass their moving shadows, but she felt no shadow” (13). Even with Mildred’s faint breathing, the room was still “empty”. Like a corpse, Mildred shares no emotion for those around her. When Montag is sick, Mildred doubts him and refuses to believe he needs her help. Further on in the book, Mrs. Phelps, Mildred’s friend, begins to sob after Montag reads aloud a poem.
In response to her friend’s sudden outburst, Mildred cries “You’re all right, Clara, now, Clara, snap out of it! Clara, what’s wrong? ” (100). These instances allow the reader to see the full effect that society has had on Mildred and how technology has numbed her ability to have real human interactions. As Montag himself begins to change, he realizes just how braindead his wife really is. While talking with Faber, he exclaims, “No… My wife’s dying” (81). Montag already knows that Mildred is mentally dead, but finally he accepts that after years of overdosing and staying home, his wife’s physical body is also shutting down.

The effects that society has had on Mildred are evident throughout the book as she is described as being both dead and alive. The life-like machines that have replaced humans in Montag’s society are described by Bradbury as being both dead and alive. Throughout the novel, the machines that dominate Montag’s world represent the majority of the half-dead, half-living people that he comes in contact with. The very first machine that is seen is the “Snake” that is used to clean the poisons that Mildred has put in her body. The snake “fed in silence with an occasional sound of inner suffocation and blind searching.
It had an Eye” (14). Though it is a machine, this snake is described as having human-like qualities such as an “eye” and performing human-like tasks such as “drinking up” the green matter that was inside of Mildred. The hound that lives in the firehouse is another major example of a machine possessing humanoid qualities. This hound “slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live” (24). The Mechanical Hound possesses the power to paralyze, wound, and even kill its victims with the release of poison from a needle inside his nose.
By having an incredible ability unlike any other living animal, the hound represents the human-like attributes of the machines in this society. The tv parlor that takes up so much of Mildred’s life also serves as a symbol of something being both dead and alive in this novel. Mildred refers to the people on the tv programs that she watches as her “family” and even has a speaking part in the episodes. Like the other machines, these characters are only on a screen, but they are such a large part of so many people’s lives that they almost seem alive.
Like the people in Montag’s society that are “empty”, the machines also possess the qualities of being half-living, half-dead. Clarisse, a minor character in the story, represents the alive and alert qualities that are lacking from the society. Clarisse represents what the people in Montag’s world have lost over the course of many years. Unlike the other teenagers around her, she finds enjoyment in doing things the rest of society would find abnormal such as sitting on the porch and talking with her family and going on hikes. Even Clarisse’s appearance is more alive than most of the “dead” people around her.
When Montag first meets the seventeen year old, he describes her face as being like “the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle” (7). Montag was initially intrigued by Clarisse because of her innocence and curiosity which is lacking from everyone else in his life. Though she dies early on in the novel, Clarisse is more alive after her death than most of the people in the society that are “living”. Clarisse is the catalyst of change in Montag’s life because she possesses the liveliness and compassion that the rest of the world is missing.
The comparison of being dead and alive is exemplified in the characters and human-life machines that live in the society described in Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury uses the paradox of being both dead and alive to highlight the lack of knowledge and understanding in Montag’s world. Except for a select few, the people that Montag comes in contact with have lost their ability to think and communicate because they have depended upon technology to entertain them. Though we have not reached the extremities that are present in Bradbury’s society, the effects of this technology dependence is already present in the world we live in today.

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