Different Types Of Social Control Represented in Ray Bradbury’s Book Fahrenheit 451

February 15, 2021 by Essay Writer

There are several different types of social control represented in Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. Internal social control is a major form of social control seen in the book. Society sets rules, norms, and values that are used in order to keep individuals from exhibiting non-conforming behavior (Chriss, 2013). As a result, individuals internalize the rules and typically consider them in their decision making process. Unfortunately, even unpopular norms can be enforced through social control. This concept is known as the emperor’s dilemma (Chriss, 2013). Many individuals assist in reinforcing unpopular norms in order to go along with the crowd to avoid sanctions (Chriss, 2013). In Fahrenheit 451 many citizens believe that the laws created by the government were put into place for their own protection. Citizens often reinforce unpopular norms because of to misrepresentation. In Bradbury’s book intelligence is viewed as a negative characteristic; For example, Montag is called “snobby” when he reads poetry to the women (Bradbury, 1981).

The government in Fahrenheit 451 has developed new rules in order to keep limit social interaction. For example, porches are no longer allowed due to their use of social interaction by people sitting in rocking chairs and socializing on them. Several characters in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 abide by the norms set by society including the heavy reliance on technology as a form of entertainment. In the book, technology is used as a form to isolate people. An example seen in the book are the use of “seashells” and “parlor walls” as tools for the government to promote social control through its ability to decide what programs will be shown and also to monitor and listen to what is going on in each household. The parlor walls (which consists of television screens), even create a virtual family for Mildred to connect with.

Family, peers and the media are primary agents of control. Agents of social control assist children in conforming to social norms and expected behavior through rewards and punishments (Chriss, 2013). According to Chriss, socialization is the process in which individuals learn culture and social norms (2013). This process help the individual develop an understanding of the social norms. Clarisse had relatives that were viewed as non-conforming, therefore, Clarisse’s behavior was more similar to them. For example, Clarisse mentions to Montag that her uncle was arrested for driving too slowly and also for being a pedestrian (Bradbury, 1981). Captain Beatty indicates that Clarisse was a risk due to her continuation of these types of behaviors, therefore, she was killed (Bradbury, 1981).

In order for the government to promote total conformity, Captain Beatty mentions that the government has lowered the age for young children to enter kindergarten. Decreasing the age of children entering kindergarten prohibits families that might be seen as non-conforming from influencing those values of their young children. Education is typically used as a form of social control by promoting socialization within children, however, according to Captain Beatty the role of schools changed over time to be geared more towards athletics and technology (Bradbury, 1981). According to Beatty, the educational institution was producing more athletes than scholars, leading to the word “intellectual” being viewed as a curse word (Bradbury, 1981).

The media is another commonly used agent of social control in Fahrenheit 451. The media can often assist of social control by distorting a picture of crime and creating fear of crime for its viewers. In the book, the media uses the parlor walls to display the search and capture of criminals in order to attempt to deter and create fear of breaking the law for other citizens. In order to achieve it’s full goal and create deterrence within society, it even portrays a fake capture of Montag so that citizens know that the hound will follow through with its job of capturing criminals (Bradbury, 1981). The media also limits what is seen by its citizens so that they are not made “unhappy”. For example, Montag mentions hearing rumors about citizens in other countries starving, but it is not a focus of the media because it is not a positive topic (Bradbury, 1981).

In order to control how social agents effect individuals, the government creates virtual families through the use of the “parlor walls” (Bradbury, 1981). Mildred develops such a deep relationship with her virtual family, that she tends to put them above her own husband. This is seen when Montag is sick and asks her to turn the parlor walls off; instead of accommodating her sick husband but turning them off, she only offers to turn them down (Bradbury, 1981). Towards the end of the book, when Mildred learns that her house is going to be burned down, her primary concern is not her husband, but her parlor family (Bradbury, 1981).

Individuals that do not conform with the societal norms set in the book are as viewed as “abnormal”, rare, and even deviant. For example, when first meeting Clarisse, Montag is surprised by her use of other forms of entertainment involving socializing with people and exploring the outdoors. Society’s definition of socialization has shifted from actually socializing with other individuals, to heavily relying on technology as a form of socialization. This leads to the fellow students to view Clarisse as anti-social, even though she enjoys socializing with others (Bradbury, 1981). Clarisse also mentions that she was sent to a psychiatrist to find out why she likes to hike, watch birds, and collect butterflies (Bradbury, 1981).

There are also several forms of external social control seen in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. External social control relies heavily on the use of positive and negative reinforcements to shape behavior (Chriss, 2013). This can be seen by the use of law, firemen, punishment in school, and bullying by peers in order to promote conforming behavior. There are three subcategories of external control: proximate, sequential, and social control (Chriss, 2013). In Fahrenheit 451 the firemen exhibit forms of proximate control by physically removing books from individuals and burning them. Sequential control uses chain of command, telephone, the internet, or face-to-face interaction to change behavior; this is seen by Mildred and her friends “pulling the alarm” to report Montag to the authorities for reading poetry ( Bradbury,1981).

In Fahrenheit 451, society was shaped to view certain behaviors and actions including reading, exploring, socializing, and learning as deviant (Bradbury, 1981). The result of this is seen by the use of informal social control in the book. Informal social control uses society’s opinion or reaction towards a certain behavior or belief in order to shape behavior (Chriss, 2013). This form of social control does not punish deviant individual’s through the use of the law, instead it uses forms of social punishment (Chriss, 2013). In Fahrenheit 451, individuals that chose to read books instead of watching television or listening to music were viewed as social outcasts within society (Bradbury, 1981).

Social change modifies the way people work, raise a family, educate their children, govern themselves, and seek meaning in life (Vago, 2013). It can also lead to restructuring the ways that people within a society relate to each other with government, education, and even family life (Vago, 2013). In Fahrenheit 451, the increased reliance on technology is the one of the causes of social change within society. Mildred seems to have a closer relationship with technology than people for example, when Montag asks Mildred if she remembers where they met, she states she does not (Bradbury, 1981). Technological growth affects the psychological and social well-being of individuals. When Montag informs Mildred of the effects of burning the woman she is and is very insensitive to the effects this event has had on her husband (Bradbury, 1981). For example, Mildred indicates that she hates the woman, even though this is a woman that she doesn’t know (Bradbury, 1981).

Law is used as a tool of formal social control by its use of restricting individuals from owning and reading books. New law can be created as a response to social change, but also as the result of social change (Vago, 2013). Alterations in social conditions, technology, knowledge, values and attitudes may also cause a legal change; law is reactive follows the social change (Vago, 2013). In Fahrenheit 451, law is used as both a dependent and independent variable. For example, law is put into place as a result of society viewing books and knowledge as something that could potentially make them unhappy. In this context, law is being used as a result of social change; however, it is also used as the result of social change in order to keep citizens conforming.

The use of the law and legal system as a tool to promote social change is known as legal control. This form of social control relies heavily on individuals having fear of the consequences that go along with breaking the law (Chriss, 2013). The Hound, in Fahrenheit 451, is used to enforce the laws created by the government to gain control as well as the government’s manipulation of technology to help attain its goal of control over society. The firemen are also agents of legal control through their new responsibility of carrying out the law and ensure that books are eliminated by burning them and monitoring members of society that tend to be a threat to this. Instead of the perceived idea that firemen burn books to keep society happy, they actually are doing it to keep individuals from reading new ideas and limiting individual thoughts that could be threatening to the government’s ultimate goal of a conformed society. Beatty suggests that firemen are used as the judge, jury, and even executioner of those that deviate without any form of due process (Bradbury, 1981).


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