Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Favorite Literary Character

DesLily, of "Here, There, and Everywhere, 2nd edition" is presenting a "favorite character" contest, with a deadline of Sunday, August 5. Write about your favorite character, post it on you own blog, and let DesLily know about it. If you have no blog, post your entry on The Elders Tribune and notify DesLily that it's there. This is fun; try it!

Here are the links, as well as my story:

Mildred Montag

I have many favorite characters, among them most of the usual "classics," as well as some quirky choices: Garfield the Cat, Jim Smiley of Mark Twain's "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country," and Sol Roth, the character played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie version of Soylent Green. I obviously have a taste for the satirical and the fantastic.

One character whom few people are likely to remember is Mildred Montag, a sort of anti-heroine in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. That's the story of a society where books are forbidden, where "We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal . . . but everyone made equal. . . . Who knows who might be the target of a well-read man?" The title refers to "the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns."

As the story opens, Mildred's husband, Guy, a new-age fireman charged with burning books, comes home to find Mildred lying in bed, unconscious, with an empty sleeping pill bottle beside her. After she's revived by stomach pumping and blood replacement technicians, she remembers nothing. She has a sore stomach, but she asks only, "Did we have a wild party or something?

Mildred's main passtime is watching her "family" on the "parlor walls," an ultimate form of wide-screen TV. She's still begging her husband for a fourth TV wall, even though it would cost one-third of his yearly pay. Mildred's hobbies include "driving a hundred miles an hour around town."

When her friends come over, their conversation goes like this:

"Doesn't everyone look nice!"
"You look fine, Millie!"
"Everyone looks swell."

When Guy Montag turns off the TV and tries to force the women into conversation, asking them some serious questions, the results are ridiculous. On the coming war:

"It's always someone else's husband dies, they say."

"I've heard that too. I've never known any dead man killed in a war. Killed jumping off buildings, yes . . . but from wars? No."

Mildred goes back to what she knows:
"That reminds me. Did you see that Clara Dove five-minute romance last night in your (TV) wall? Well, it was all about this woman who . . ."

Mildred Montag is the ultimate airhead, a satirical portrait of the "average housewife" in a society where books and thinking as not only rare, but forbidden. Mildred represents all I don't want to be. Exaggerated and humorous, yes, but she serves as a good reminder of the possible results of extreme anti-intellectualism, censorship, and the growth of mindless entertainment.

As a former English teacher, I can appreciate Bradbury's message and his portrait of Mildred Montag. And by the way, in the film version, Mildred's first name was modernized, to "Linda," I believe. In my opinion, the book is better than the movie.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
This book is available at


DesLily said...

Hi! I am glad you decided to join in and write of a favorite character!!
I think most people who read alot think the books are better than the movie (if one is made)..but I think some of the movies are getting much better! Besides special effects, maybe some of the directors actually talk to the author and see what he/she is really trying to get into their stories..well.. maybe.. nice thought anyway lol

Nicki Mann said...

I remember reading Farenheit 451 in high school! I don't remember much of it, but I do remember I actually enjoyed it! It is one of the only books I was forced to read that I actually liked! (Some others I was forced to read, like To Kill A Mockingbird and Catcher In The Rye, I had already read of my own free will by the time I was 12, so re-reading them for highschool was no big deal!
By the way... I must tag you for this meme: Please list the five of your own posts that are your favorite or that you think are the most important for new readers to see! :D

seniorwriter said...

I'm glad you liked the book, Nicki. Too many assigned books are resented merely because they are required reading,and believe me, it's hard for teachers to find the "right" ones to assign. Some of my students loved F451 and others hated it.

Thanks for your suggestion. I'll try to do something with "My favorite posts" or "Readers' Favorites" or something like that. I realize that the blog is big and varied, so I'll try something. I won't get to it right away--I'm busy these days.

Stephanie said...

When I saw what character you had chosed on Deslily's site, I wondered why you chose her. But that she is the antithesis of what you want to be makes total sense to me. I agree. When I first read this book, I found her frustrating and annoying. The older I get, however, the more I find her pathetic and a little scary.

Good choice!!

seniorwriter said...

Yes, Stephanie, Mildred Montag is, indeed, pathetic and scary--intended as a sort of caricature, of course. The sad thing is that a few women still revel in being, or seeming, mindless. How sad!