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The Flight from the Good Life: Fahrenheit 451 in the Context of Postwar American Dystopias

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2009

David Seed
Affiliation:
David Seed lectures in the Department of English Language and Literature, University of Liverpool, P.O. Box 147, Liverpool L69 3BX, England.

Extract

Surveying the American scene in 1958, Aldous Huxley recorded his dismay over the speed with which Brave New World was becoming realized in contemporary developments: “The nightmare of total organization, which I had situated in the seventh century After Ford, has emerged from the safe, remote future and is now awaiting us, just around the next corner.” Having struck a keynote of urgency Huxley then lines up a series of oppositions between limited disorder, individuality and freedom on the one hand, and order, automatism and subjection on the other in order to express his liberal anxieties that political and social organization might hypertrophy. Huxley sums up an abiding fear which runs through American dystopian fiction of the 1950s that individuals will lose their identity and become the two-dimensional stereotypes indicated in two catch-phrases of the period: the “organization man” and the “man in the grey flannel suit. ” William H. Whyte's 1956 study diagnoses the demise of the Protestant ethic in American life and its replacement by a corporate one which privileges “belongingness. ” The result might be, he warns, not a world controlled by self-evident enemies familiar from Nineteen Eighty-Four, but an antiseptic regime presided over by a “mild-looking group of therapists who, like the Grand Inquisitor, would be doing what they did to help you.”

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1994

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References

1 Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World Revisited (1958; rept. New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 4Google Scholar.

2 Whyte, William H., The Organization Man (1956; rept. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960), 33Google Scholar. The term “belongingness” was first used in the 1930s by the behavioural psychologist E. L. Thorndike. Its earliest postwar citations by the O.E.D. are by David Riesman (a contribution to Loos, A. W.'s Religious Faith and World Culture, 1951)Google Scholar and Whyte's Invisible Man.

3 Miller, Walter M. Jr, Conditionally Human (1962; rept. London: Science Fiction Book Club, 1964), 8Google Scholar.

4 Roshwald, Mordecai, “Quo Vadis, America?Modern Age, 2.ii (1958), 195, 198Google Scholar.

5 Roshwald, , letter of 1988, quoted in Franklin, H. Bruce, “Afterword,” Level 7, by Mordecai Roshwald (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1989), 190Google Scholar. This edition corrects errors which appeared in the original 1959 edition of the novel.

6 Letter from Mordecai Roshwald, 29 April, 1993. I have discussed these themes in greater detail in Push-Button Holocaust: Mordecai Roshwald's Level 7,” Foundation, 57 (Spring 1993), 6886Google Scholar.

7 Fromm, Eric, The Sane Society (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956), 16Google Scholar.

8 Bradbury, Ray, Fahrenheit 451 (1953; rept. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1967), 81Google Scholar.

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10 Bradbury, , “The Fireman,” Galaxy Science Fiction, (02 1951), 33Google Scholar.

11 Fahrenheit 451 papers, California State University, Fullerton, second folder, unnumbered 1953; Marshall, McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), 41Google Scholar.

12 Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 46, 47Google Scholar.

13 McLuhan, 313, 319.

14 Huxley, 69.

15 This story is collected in Greenberg, Martin Harry and Olander, Joseph D., eds., Tomorrow, Inc.: S.F. Stories about Big Business (London: Robson, 1977), 6779Google Scholar.

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17 Baudrillard, Jean, Selected Writings, ed. Poster, Mark (Stamford: Stamford University Press, 1988), 166, 170Google Scholar.

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19 Bradbury, , The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953; rept. St. Albans: Granada, 1981), 9Google Scholar. “The Fireman” dates its narrative similarly at 2051.

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28 Letter from Ray Bradbury, 2 Sept. 1992.

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34 Miller's application of Bradbury's notion is also presented as a kind of revival, this time of the Church's lost role as guardian of literacy. The purpose is likewise one of preservation: “The project, aimed at saving a small remnant of human culture from the remnant of humanity who wanted it destroyed, was then underway ”: Miller, Walter M. Jr, A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959; rept. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), 74Google Scholar.

35 Watt, 213.

36 Buck, Solon Justus, The Granger Movement (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933), 64Google Scholar.

37 Shklar, Judith N., After Utopia: The Decline of Political Faith (1957; rept. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 219CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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