Aspects of cultural decay in Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

16 Pages, Grade: 2,5


List of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Terminology

3. Aspects of cultural decay in Fahrenheit 451
3.1 The fast-paced society and its distance from nature
3.2 The lack of communication and interpersonal relationships
3.3 The lack of independent thinking
3.4 The abolishment of books

4. Historical background and sources of inspiration

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

It has been recently discovered by the NASA that our civilisation is heading for collapse within a matter of decades. In their study, the scientists point out that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” (Nafeez Ahmed ) Despite the fact that all great civilisations made various intelligent inventions, underwent a rapid technological change, and preserved their vast knowledge for future generations, they inevitably collapsed and never were timeless.

There are mainly three reasons that account for the collapse of different civilisations and nations all over the world. First, some of them may be gradually absorbed and assimilated into another civilisation. Second, they were oppressed and forcefully conquered. Third, they finally collapsed after a slow degeneration due to various circumstances. But regardless of the reason, there was always one issue of great concern that all nations suffered from: cultural decay.

Since living together in large settlements, people have always had to deal with this problem. Therefore it is not unusual that this theme was taken up by various writers. They have dealt with this societal phenomenon in different literary works until the present day. Especially in the 20th century many authors chose this topic for their dystopian novels. George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury are best known for their descriptions of prospective future societies. The novel “Fahrenheit 451”, written by Bradbury nearly sixty years ago, is one of the best examples and still remains relevant in our society today.

In this term paper the novel will be examined in more detail with regard to aspects of “cultural decay”. Before discussing several text passages, the term will be specified in order to clarify why and when we talk about “cultural decay”. Following this, there are four aspects which will be analysed in more detail. The penultimate chapter will provide a historical background before giving a conclusion of the main points. The novel “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury is the major source of this term paper. Several websites were used in addition to that.

2. Terminology

This chapter will focus on the term “cultural decay”. Before starting any further discussion, it needs to be specified what the term stands for and in which context it is used. For a better explanation, the concepts of “culture” and “decay” will be considered separately first.

Many people have struggled to define the term “culture” due to such a variety of societal aspects. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, culture is “the customs and beliefs, art, way of life and social organization of a particular country or group.” So, defining culture in this way, the term describes all the means by which a specific society explains itself to its members. This, for example, includes literature, music, values or different works of art and gives all human beings a sense of meaning that embeds them within their society. However, there are sometimes traits that are not unique to the normative standards of the dominant culture. That implies that there are specific social groups which differ from the majority of the society. They are described as “subcultures”. That makes clear, that there is no standard culture because of regional and social differences. Nevertheless, all different cultures have established their own way of thinking, living and being. Whenever a culture is questioned by a large group of its population it results in a change of the established structures. Some of the changes are good, but history has shown that they often tend to be changes for the worst in the long run.

In this case, the term “decay” is used refer to this process. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, it means “the gradual destruction of a society, an institution, a system, etc.” Therefore, it can be said that the term “cultural decay” describes the loss of respect for tradition, a weakening of the cultural foundations, and a decrease in cultural diversity.

It is very important to consider the cultural identity of the individuals when talking about “cultural decay”. That means that their behaviours, customs and traditions might not be seen as normal by every other culture. Therefore, it always needs to be specified from which perspective someone passes judgement about another culture. Finally, it has to be said that “cultural decay” does not necessarily mean that there is a decline in every facet of the culture. While one part is in decline, some other parts might simultaneously be in expanding.

3. Aspects of cultural decay in Fahrenheit 451

In the novel there are four aspects which are considered to be indicators for a cultural decay in the society: “The fast-paced society and its distance from nature”, “The lack of communication and interpersonal relationships”, “The lack of independent thinking”, and “The abolishment of books”. Each chapter will give a short introduction with an explanation why these aspects should be considered as signs of cultural decay from a present-day perspective.

3.1 The fast-paced society and its distance from nature

Not all that long ago, human beings lived in harmony with nature. The life of Homo sapiens, who evolved during the recent Pleistocene era, was closely related to natural surroundings. Together with all the animals and plants on earth, the living was determined by natural cycles. Put simply, the time was marked by the rotation of the seasons, cycles of the moon and other celestial bodies. This is how we lived for millennia.

Then, there was a turning point in history and human relationship with time underwent a radical change. It was the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century which influenced almost every aspect of human life. Natural cycles were abandoned by mechanical processes and machines. From this point in time, and lasting until present, it is human nature to be better and faster. Our society is becoming more and more technologically advanced and human beings want everything readily available. Although the negative side effects of our fast-paced world can make us sick, they are often not noticed by the majority of the population. The demand for a faster living is bigger than ever before.

This fast-paced life is often considered to be an aspect of cultural decay which Bradbury also describes in Fahrenheit 451. There are several passages that deal with this facet and describe the lifestyle of the characters in more detail. In the following, these references will be analysed and explained in order to specify this aspect.

The society in Fahrenheit 451 is portrayed to be a fast-paced one. There is a first point of reference in a text passage at the very beginning of the novel. The protagonist Guy Montag meets his neighbour Clarisse McClellan for the first time. On their walk home from the train station, she asks several questions that force him to think deeply about his life and himself as a person. For example, she brings up cars as a topic for discussion. She asks him if he has “ever watched the jet cars racing on the boulevards down that way?” (Bradbury 3) Never before has Guy thought about such a question and even before he is able to answer she bares her thoughts to him: “I sometimes think drivers don't know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly” (Bradbury 3). With this statement Clarisse takes up a good point. She realises that the majority of the society is too preoccupied with speed and therefore people are not able to notice such simple things in their everyday life. They have no time to enjoy the different colours and the beauty of the nature. This also becomes clear when she talks about the moon. Guy realises that he “hadn’t looked [at the moon] for a long time.” (Bradbury 4) When she tells him that “there’s dew on the grass in the morning” (Bradbury 4), Guy is not even sure if he knew that.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Aspects of cultural decay in Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451"
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald
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ISBN (Book)
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Cultural decay, Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Culture doom
Quote paper
Felix B. (Author), 2014, Aspects of cultural decay in Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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