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The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

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Published by lauren_haddow
An examination of principles of happiness and how they relate to Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451.
An examination of principles of happiness and how they relate to Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451.

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Published by: lauren_haddow on Dec 12, 2010
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Lauren HaddowProfessor WillburnAmerican Literature11 December 2010
We are the hollow menWe are the stuffed menLeaning together Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!Our dried voices, whenWe whisper together  Are quiet and meaningless As wind in dried grass
T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men
The Pursuit of Happiness
Happiness plays an important and necessary role in the lives of people around the world. InAmerica, happiness has been engrained in our brains since Thomas Jefferson penned these famouswords
in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self 
-evident, that all men arecreated equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among theseare Life, Liberty and the
 pursuit of Happiness
” (Jeffers
on). Since then, Americans from New York toCalifornia have been engaged in that act: pursuing happiness. The problem however, as Ray Bradburydemonstrates in his novel Fahrenheit 451, is that those things which make us happy initially mayeventually lead to our downfall. By examining Guy Montag, the protagonist in Fahrenheit 451, and theworld he lives in we can gain valuable insights to direct us in our own pursuit of happiness. From Montagand other characters we will learn how physical, emotional, and spiritual happiness can drastically affectour lives. We must ask ourselves what our lives, words, and actions are worth. We should hope that our
words are not meaningless, “as wind in dried grass” (Eliot).
 
 
Haddow 2
History
Before we look into
specifics, we’ll examine the history and development of “happiness” as a
philosophy. Of course, the emotion of happiness has always existed, but it began to be seriouslycontemplated around 2,500 years ago by philosophers like Confucius, Buddha, Socrates and Aristotle.Shortly after Buddha taught his followers his Noble Eight Fold Path (which we will talk about later),Aristotle was teaching that happiness is
dependent on the individual
(Aristotle).Probably more than any of the early philosophers, Aristotle promoted happiness as a centralcomponent of human life. The Greeks used a term,
eudaimonia,
which is often used as the Greek wordfor
happiness.
However, most scholars translate it as “human flourishing” or “well
-
being of the spirit.”
Along with
eudaimonia,
terms like
arete,
“virtue”, and
 phronesis,
“practical or moral wisdom”, are atthe core of Greek philosophy. So if you could have asked Aristotle “What components or values must aperson have in order to live a fulfilling life?” He probably would have answered, “Virtue, wisdom, and
spiritual well-
being.”
Would Aristotle have been pleased with the futuristic world of Fahrenheit 451?Probably not. Certainly, the lack of virtue, learning, and the false sense of happiness would haveastonished any of the early philosophers.
Physical Happiness
In Fahrenheit 451, the citizens of the city in which Montag lives are disconnected from the
physical world. They are constantly watching their “wall TVs” with “seashells” in their ears. They have no
conversations with each other that are meaningful, and they drive so fast they can never see the beautyof nature that is around them. Part of a recent study done by two University of Michigan psychologists
discovered that human being prefer nature to cities (Dye). In the study, which was to analyze the “keysof happiness,” the researchers asked people to look at two photos (one of nature
and the other a cityscene) and decide which one they preferred. With only one exception, participants chose the nature
 
Haddow 3photo. The single exception was of an urban park. Another study done at Cornell University found thatnature had a positive impact on the stress levels of children. Children who live next to green spaces
were less affected by the “psychological distress that accompanies high
-
stress events” (Lang). This
shows that nature affects people throughout their entire lives in positive ways, and the lack of naturecan have debilitating effects.America in Fahrenheit 451 has separated itself from nature. The people have convincedthemselves that those who take time to do things like have conversations and appreciate nature are
“strange”, and so they
ostracize them. In the novel, Clarisse is a perfect example of one of these
“strange” people. Clarisse and her family enjoy nature. They like to sit with each other and have
conversations. Sometimes, they even go on walks.
Montag observes Clarisse “shaking a walnut tree,”and on the “lawn knitting a blue sweater.” She even brings him bouquets of flowers, sacks of chestnuts,
and pins fallen leaves to his door (Bradbury 28). Montag asks Clarisse why she is never in school. She
replies, “Oh, they don’t miss me. I’m anti
-
social, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very socialindeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it? Social to me is talking to you about… howstrange the world is” (Bradbury 29). The way Clarisse is treated demonstrat
es exactly how disconnectedsociety is from the natural world. They have no regard for the physical world so they exclude those whodo.
Mildred, Montag’s wife, is the literary foil to Clarisse. A foil is a character who contrasts with
another character, usually in order to highlight certain characteristics or attributes the characters have(Literary Terms). Mildred loves her TV programs, rather, she is obsessed with them. Montag tells us that
“no matter when he came in, the walls were always talking to Mildred” (Bradbury 44). At one pointMontag asks her what one of her shows is about. She responds, “I told you. There are these peoplenamed Bob and Ruth and Helen”
(20).This gives the reader a clue that these programs are meaningless

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