encounters The thematic presence of illiteracy comes into

encounters Clarisse.

She is described by CaptainBeatty as being a “time bomb,” while serving as a catalyst thatcompels Montag towards a raw but essential self-examination. ”he felt his bodydivide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, atrembling and a nit trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other”(Ray Bradbury, pg.35). By gently pricking his self-awareness, Clarisse exposesthe absence of happiness, contentment and love in his life. The thematicpresence of illiteracy comes into play when Montag, amidst his confusion anddespair puts his hopes in books, but has no actual experience in reading orunderstanding their complicated ideas and arguments. “maybe the books can getus half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damninsane mistakes! I don’t hear those idiot bastards in your parlour talkingabout it.

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God, Millie, don’t you see? An hour a day, two hours, with thesebooks, and maybe…” (Bradbury, pg.96). Montag notices that society is in thedark, due to the governments strong hold on censorship, and he feels the ideasthat the books provide a key to finally escape the darkness. Montag doesn’tthink he can get what he needs from books on his own and thereby asks Faber’shelp.  It is important to note how Faberexplains to Montag that he just doesn’t ”talk about things” rather he talksabout the ”meaning of things”. Faber understands the true constructivemeaning and cognitive value of literature as a potential tool for society tobecome less shallow and materialistic. The struggle to comprehend ideas fromthe works of Plato, Shakespeare and even the Bible, goes to show how devoid andilliterate society is from thinking or questioning their routine.

Moreover,this concept of illiteracy is recurring through the character of CaptainBeatty, when he describes the political reasons for the censorship of books inorder to appease minorities. ‘What traitor’s books can be! You think they’rebacking you up, and then they turn on you. Others can use them, too, and thereyou are, lost in the middle of the moor, in a great welter of nouns and verbsand adjectives.” (Bradbury pg.

104). Therefore, literature is representedthrough understanding the content inside of the books, and in turn literaturefor its meaning rather than what it is made of. This is contrasted with theeffortlessness of watching television that creates a numb, sadistic, andescapist society instead of an appreciative and understanding one.  The early parts of the ‘The Reader’ represent literature as a form of escapism. Hanna’spersistence on maintaining secrecy about her illiteracy, creates a sudden, butcontinuing special routine for her relationship with Michael. ”…so, reading toher, showering with her making love to her, and lying next to her for a whileafterwards- that became the ritual in our meetings.” (Schlink, pg.

41). Sheinsistently asks him about what texts he studies at school and her attentivenesswhen Michael reads aloud to her signify her awe and eagerness towardsunderstanding literature. ”her laugh, her sniffs of contempt and her angry orenthusiastic remarks left no doubt that she was following the actionintently”. (Schlink pg. 37) Seeing as Hanna is known to not have any currentfamily around her, Michael’s reading aloud provides her with an escape, whereshe dives into a literary world, she did not have a chance to be a part of.

Another example referring towards escapism, is when in chapter 11, Hanna swingsa belt at Michael which results in him splitting his lip. After theconfrontation, she insists ”read me something, Kid!” (Schlink pg.54). Thisevent is highly significant in its nature, as for the first time Hanna shows Michael,real emotion, through her tears, but avoids talking about the situation as shedistracts herself by making him continue reading Eichendorff’s Memoirs of aGood-for-Nothing. As the title of the book, ‘The Reader’ itself suggests,Michael’s reading, and the specially picked prisoners reading to Hanna, helpher escape the reality of her illiteracy and her frustration with it.   However, the theme of escapism plays out differentlyin ‘Fahrenheit 451’ where the focuson escapism from reality is through the ignorance that lies in the escapistsociety. Books are meant to be burnt, as an alternative to being read.

Instead,the society is shown to immerse itself in an electronic world. An example ofthis is Guy Montag’s wife, Mildred, who fills her waking hours watchingTelevision and escaping from her real feelings that lead her to nearlycommitting suicide from a drug overdose. She is also seen to be quite distantfrom any real emotion by always identifying with a three-dimensional fiction”family,” in which she enjoys playing a scripted role. ”No matter when hecame in, the walls were always talking to Mildred.” (Bradbury, pg.60).Furthermore, she longs for a fourth screen wall which suggests her capabilityof completely plunging into a fantasy, withdrawn from the roles of being amother, a wife to Montag and to an extent a whole human being.

”Leave youalone! We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in awhile. How long since you were really bothered? About something important, aboutsomething real?” (Bradbury, pg.

69). Literature is shown to break this sense offalse escapism when Montag recites ”DoverBeach” by Matthew Arnold, to Mildred and her friends. Upon hearing thepoetry, the women do not react well.

While one reacts with denial and anger,the other breaks down and starts to cry. This suggests that the poemencompasses a type of reality that these women, and most likely the people inthis society, manage to hide from themselves by using media and materialisticthings as a distraction, i.e., television, and fast cars. At being exposed tothe truth, the emptiness that exists in their happiness, they must come to facetheir hidden despair.

Therefore, in ‘Fahrenheit451’ Ray Bradbury portrays the representation of literature as beingdirectly related to an escapist society’s lack of understanding it, and amedium that could potentially cause one to confront their reality.  In terms of the literature mentioned in the novel, itis seen to functionalise as a source of enlightenment. Bradbury manages toemploy several literary quotations to illustrate the ”shallowness of Guy’sworld. This way he uses the references to literature as a way to carry throughthe basic irony in the book, as to how he, himself is using books to underscorehis ideas about a world in which great books themselves have been banned.” (Sisario, The English Journal). There are quotationsfrom the book, ‘Gulliver’s travels’, that enlighten Montag on the truth of thestatements he has been reading from different authors, and although his wifecan only understand the literal meaning of them, he himself manages to pick outthe truth in them. For example, the mention of the long-standing feud inLilliput causes Guy to relate the struggle between ”being reasonable and beingsaddled to tradition in his own society.” (Sisario, The English Journal).

Similarly,the books read by Michael to Hanna and by Hanna herself, are significant.Michael selection of texts emerges from the Enlightenment period, “withits emphasis on moral and ethical absolutes,” and German classics by whichmeans he tries to reclaim German heritage.’ (Kremer, Holocaust Literature:Lerner to Zychlinsky). Furthermore, Schlink uses Hanna’s new-found ability toread, to illustrate how she begins to understand the extent of the horrors sheparticipated in, which leads her to commit suicide the day before her releasefrom prison. She tells Michael: ”I always had the feeling that no oneunderstood me anyway….

But the dead can. They understand. They don’t even haveto have been there, but if they do, they understand even better. Here in prisonthey were with me a lot. They came every night, whether I wanted them to ornot. Before the trial I could still chase them away when they wanted to come.

”(Schlink, pg.198-199). This can be understood as an enlightenment effect the Holocaustliterature has on Hannah, where she is able to finally identify herself with thereality of the situation.