What is the main theme in Fahrenheit 451?

You might think that book burning is the main theme in Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel, but try expanding on that idea. Burning books is the destruction of individual thought that is printed on paper — or, in one word, censorship.

Set in the twenty-fourth century, Fahrenheit 451 introduces a new world in which the media controls the masses, and overpopulation and censorship have taken over. The individual is not accepted and the intellectual is considered an outlaw. Television (on huge screens) has replaced the common perception of family, and people plug small radios into their ears to escape the dreariness of everyday reality. (Wow . . . see anything familiar in that last sentence?)

In this setting, books are considered evil because they make people question and think. All intellectual curiosity and hunger for knowledge must be quelled for the good of the state — for conformity. Without ideas, everyone conforms, and as a result, everyone should be happy. When books and new ideas are available to people, conflict and unhappiness occur.

Fahrenheit 451 is explicit in its warnings and moral lessons aimed at the present. Bradbury believes that human society can easily become oppressive and regimented — unless it changes its present tendency toward censorship (suppression of an individual's innate rights).