The literal meaning of the title of the second part of Fahrenheit 451, “The Sieve and the Sand” refers to a completely futile act of trying to amass the sand using the sieve. As Montag tries to read the Bible on the train, he thinks, “if you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve” (Bradbury 74). This quote demonstrates that trying to obtain knowledge is futile in the society described by Bradbury because any possible knowledge gained from reading would quickly disappear since people living in that society do not have the ability to retain knowledge; just like the sieve cannot retain the sand.
As a result, ignorance is the default state in the Fahrenheit 451 world. However, the comparison that Montag has come up with as a child proves that there is a chance for knowledge to take over ignorance, as even the sand would leave some marks on the sieve. Indeed, there might be the largest particles of knowledge left that are too large to drop in the tiny holes of the sieve. Montag does have the desire to gain knowledge because he wants to read the Bible, and Bradbury shares his belief on how to bring knowledge back into the lives of people who have been raised to think that ignorance is bliss.
The world created by Bradbury is anti-utopian. The main idea of the novel is that fiction nothing but our reality dragged to the extremes of absurdity. One of the pillars of absurdity is extreme ignorance of knowledge and the truth. It is important to understand that the characters live in a world where firemen burning books is a norm. They do not question this act, because their moral principles and social norms demand them to do so. It is no surprise that Montag finds pleasure in burning a collection of books, “It was a pleasure to burn” (Bradbury 1). This is the same pleasure firefighters in the real world get when they stop fires.
Another normalized thing in the Fahrenheit 451 world is the fear of seeking knowledge. This fear is not natural, but people are raised believing that they should fear knowledge. When Faber and Montag speak about books, Faber asks Montag, “So now do you see why books are hated and feared?” (Bradbury 79). This quote proves that citizens are living in constant hate and fear of knowledge. With this in mind, it is once again important to understand that while this fear is absurd in reality, for people living in that society, the fear of knowledge is perfectly justifiable. It is understood that people still have some knowledge simply to be able to live in an organized society.
However, Faber argues that the type of knowledge people possess lacks “quality” and “texture of information” (Bradbury 80). The knowledge people have does not “show the pores in the face of life” (Bradbury 79). Without access to these pores in the face of life, people cannot live in full awareness of reality. Without this attention to detail that can only be accessed through quality knowledge, people lack the tools to assess their role in society and evaluate the morality of the ruling class. When they are discussing a plan to change the system, Faber informs Montag that people already have everything they need to gain knowledge, “The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world” (Bradbury 82).
However, this knowledge cannot be seen, “the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book” (Bradbury 92). It goes without saying that the fear is artificial and backed up by myths as well as legal punishments. Bradbury is clear to present the level of punishment inflicted on anyone who owned a collection of books. In particular, the punishment for owning a book is being arrested and having their house burned down with those books. The punishment is extremely retributive in nature. In this case, it is only natural that people fear books. Despite all the efforts of the state, despite the propaganda and the myths, people who have the chance to see books understand that the fear is unnatural. Despite this fear, people like Montag and Faber still loved knowledge, as indicated in the book “Then his eyes touched on the book under Montag’s 77 arm and he did not look so old anymore and not quite as fragile” (Bradbury 76) Thus, the state of ignorance in the Fahrenheit 451 society is supported by normalized destruction of knowledge and artificially-induced fear of seeking knowledge.
Another characteristic of the Fahrenheit 451 society that helps maintain the state of ignorance is stripping people of leisure. Characters do not even recognize that they have no opportunity to think. Indeed, when Faber tells Montag that they do not have leisure, Montag’s reaction is to oppose, “Oh, but we’ve plenty of off hours” (Bradbury 80). Even Montag who has rebellious nature does not notice the real state of things. Citizens do not have time to think. People are put in a situation where they are “driving a hundred miles an hour” only so that they “can’t think of anything else but the danger” (Bradbury 80).
Even when people are in the comfort of their own homes, they still do not have time to think. As Faber eagerly explains to Montag, “you can’t argue with the fourwall televisor … The televisor is ‘real.’ It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be, right. … your mind hasn’t time to protest” (Bradbury 80). This demonstrates that the state uses the available technology, such as high-speed infrastructure and fourwall television to prevent people from thinking, analyzing situations, and making their own conclusions.
The author raises the question of repression of intellectualism as a movement and cognitive abilities in general. Bradbury demonstrates a world where the state and cultural repression of intellect is beneficial for the vested interests of the rulers. The society described by Bradbury embraces arrogance and shuns knowledge. Indeed, citizens do not have access to technology that would change things. However, due to intellectual repression and the universal culture of ignorance, people lack cognitive abilities as well as material resources and communication tools to recognize the state of repression. The state machine has been so successful in cognitive devolution that its citizens do not perceive the state of subjugation as a threat a source of their sufferings. By contrast, citizens of the state believe in their duty to stop any activity related to knowledge generation even if the culprits are members of their families. This is especially visible in Montag’s wife’s response to her husband’s illegal actions.
Montag’s house is burned down after his wife, together with her friends reported him to the firemen, because he had a collection of books in his house. With this event, Bradbury is communicating that ignorance is paramount in the society. People hate knowledge more than they love their family members. They despise knowledge and thrive in ignorance to such as extent that they would not stop, even if it means losing their family members. Montag’s knowledge-seeking activity would not have been discovered so easily if his wife had not reported him to the firemen. This tells a lot about the society of Fahrenheit 451. Indeed, this is a society where everyone is watching their neighbors, coworkers, relatives, friends, and family members to report them to the police at the first opportunity of divergence.
It is necessary to mention that the very literary devices used by Bradbury promote the idea of ignorance. In particular, the author uses the method of depersonalization of individuality. For example, the novel does not give any description of the characters’ appearance that would say something about their personality traits. This is a conscious decision by the author to withhold this information. It seems as if Bradbury’s decision to ignore the description of the character’s eyes, clothes, shapes, and sizes proves that people living in that world do not actually care about this information. It is possible that the characters of the novel are bad at reading each other feelings from non-verbal gestures too. Characters description is a valuable source of information on the Fahrenheit 451 world. The only personalized feature that the characters have is their number depicted on their uniform.
It is understood that people are different in their physical appearance, but Bradbury decided to use an identification number as the only distinguishing feature available to the characters. Therefore, it is safe to argue that the novel’s society is ignorant of people’s inner personalities. The individual becomes a mere brick in the collective mass of the population.
Even though the world is anti-utopian, Bradbury provides his take on how to ensure that knowledge defeats ignorance. The three main principles apparent in the book are to reject the primitive style of living, political correctness, and consumerism. It seems as if Bradbury is speaking through one of its characters Faber. When Montag asks Faber what they even have to do to regain control over their life, Faber tells him to focus on three components. Firstly, they should have access to quality of information. Secondly, they should have “leisure to digest it” (Bradbury 81). The third component is the most important and the most difficult, as they must have “the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the inter-action of the first two” (Bradbury 81). Even Faber who understands the way things work in that society is skeptical whether they “could do much this late in the game” (Bradbury 81).
To sum up, Bradbury’s anti-utopian novel shows his version of the future where ignorance takes over knowledge. People living in Fahrenheit 451 cannot retain knowledge, because the whole society is like a sieve when it comes to the sand made of knowledge. The state of ignorance is maintained by normalized destruction of knowledge, artificial fear of knowledge, depersonalization of individuals, and breakdown of social relationships. In this book, the author warns human societies of the future that the world of ignorance may easily become real if people indulge in a primitive style of living and consumerism.
Still, Bradbury shows hope. The only source of this hope is humans’ natural desire to seek knowledge. Bradbury presents his beliefs on how a lost society as the one presented in Fahrenheit 451 can take over the state of ignorance. The society should cherish the quality of information because it shows the intricacies of the world that people have stopped noticing. According to the author, the society should grant people time to think and analyze the information they gain. Finally, the society should allow people to act freely based on the conclusions they made.