One of the major themes in Fahrenheit 451 focuses on how the characters in the book experience life, which is basically not at all. In their society, they do everything they can to stifle and suppress emotions and experiences: they drive cars fast, take antidepressants, stare blankly at t.v. screens for entertainment, avoid anything that could stir an emotion, such as reading poetry or listening to music. The only reading material they are allowed is comics and celebrity gossip magazines. Serving as a foil, Clarisse, the “anti-social”, experiences life in a sensual way; she feels, she tastes, she touches, she thinks. She says, “I like to put my head back, like this, and let the rain fall in my mouth. It tastes just like wine”. At the end of Fahrenheit 451, Montag returns to his house and experiences life in this same sensual way. Bradbury writes, “Montag stood looking in now at this queer house, made strange by the hour of the night, by murmuring neighbor voices, by littered glass….for these were nothing but black type and yellowed paper and raveled binding”. Suddenly, Montag is opening himself up to seeing his house, hearing his neighbors, feeling his emotions; instead of avoiding, repressing, forbidding, Montag is actually experiencing life, and while is it terrible, destructive, depressing, it is also beautiful, thought-provoking, motivating.
Bradbury’s predictions on our future society could not be anymore true. I know so many people who devote themselves to their work when life gets messy, to avoid some kind of daunting thought. They focus on making more money, on working longer hours, finding success through titles and awards because they are trying to avoid an experience of life: feeling. I know many people who take some kind of medication to remedy some kind of emotional or physical pain. And, as Fahrenheit 451 also predicts, I know many people who turn on their t.v.’s as soon as they get home to “de-stress” from their day; but, what they are really doing is avoiding thinking about how they feel inadequate, a guilty conscience, a mistake they made, etc.
We really do forget to “stop and smell the roses” because we are too busy trying to avoid feeling the negative and uncomfortable that we forget about the rewards it could bring.
However, I believe that these range of emotions are all necessary parts of life; we need to have sad times to appreciate the happy times, we need to experience guilt to learn morals, suppression to gain confidence, pain to feel motivated.
Experience is sinusoidal; the higher you go up, the further you have to go down. The more emotions you put into a relationship, the harder you will crash when it’s over. The more effort you put into getting a job, the more the disappointment will feel when it falls through. The more you hype up a birthday part, the stronger the pain will feel when no one shows up. So, as a defense mechanism, we decide to just live life on the straight edge. We don’t dabble into the sheer elation that we could experience because it is too scary for the opposite reaction. We experience life modesty, because it is much, much safer.
But what would happen if we let ourselves experience life to it’s fullest and ultimate capacity? What if we stop turning to work as a coping mechanism, taking prescription drugs, turning on our technology, and let ourselves experience? Some really painful things could come up, but some really rewarding things could come up as well.
I live my life intensely. I laugh loudly, I wallow when I am sad. I turn my music up, toxify my classroom with aromas. I love intensely, lecture proudly. I put away my cell phone, I don’t take medicine, drink coffee, engage in certain activities, because I want to experience life in the way it is meant to: sensually.
I do NOT want to turn into a Mildred.