“Fahrenheit 451” is a dystopian novel written by Ray Bradbury in 1953. His book is about a far away future where books have been banned and firemen are tasked with burning any that they find. In this future, knowledge is controlled. In order to keep the people not questioning their government, the only information they get is desensitized. Television is controlled and leads the people through their lives.
Since books promote free thinking and give the reader the chance to set them down and consider what they have read, they have been slowly removed. First, they were censored, then they were removed from schools, then the more controversial were destroyed . This lead to the culmination of burning all the books. The people thought this would level the playing field intellectually, but, what it actually did is make a convenient way to control the masses.
The hero of the story, Guy Montag is looking for answers. He wants to know more about life. With the mind numbing activities of every day life, no one has even thought of these questions, much fewer answers. They have no regard for the lives of their fellow humans, so they don’t care about anyone but the actors they see on TV. Televisions have expanded to cover three walls and are now interactive.
As a fireman, Guy is tasked with destroying books, but instead, after meeting a neighborhood girl, he begins to question the reasons behind his actions. He starts to read and the world is different. By the end of the book, bombs have wiped out most of the humanity, and the world is ready to rebuild, hopefully, better.
We think this book is not a possibility until we see people sitting next to each other, not speaking, but sending texts. We also carry our TV’s around on our phones, and massive televisions sit in most homes. In an essay, Ray Bradbury wrote in 1982 he wrote, “People ask me to predict the Future when all I want to do is prevent it.”
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury begins in the future. The setting is a small town in the United States of America. Many things are illegal. Books and walking are two of them. Guy Montag is a fireman, and quite proud of his profession. He wears a helmet and a slick uniform in black with an emblem of a salamander on his arm and a crest with a phoenix on his chest. In this future, firemen don’t put out fires, the burn books.
One evening while on his way home up to his driveway, he senses the presence of someone on the road walking. This doesn’t happen, so he is interested. It is the first time in his life anything has actually been different and interesting. He sees a girl, when he stops to speak with her, his life is forever changed. She is just seventeen years old, and her name is Clarisse McClellan. She tells him that she and her family are crazy. They do odd things, like walk. When she sees that he is a fireman, she tells him that firemen used to put out fires, and he is surprised and doubtful. Although she makes him nervous, Guy is attracted to her, maybe because she is so different. Before she goes into her own house, she asks him if he is happy, which prompts him to become introspective for the first time in his life.
As he goes into his own house, Guy realizes he isn’t happy. He finds his wife, Mildred asleep with her earphones on, and after kicking over a pill bottle, realizes that she has taken too many. He calls the hospital. They send over two cynical hospital workers who pump her stomach and replace some of her blood with fresh blood. While this is all happening, Guy goes outside and listens to the voices and laughter coming from the McClellan house. Clarisse had told him that her odd family actually speak to each other. Finally, when the medical technicians leave, he goes inside, takes a sleeping pill and goes to sleep.
The next morning, Mildred has no memory of the night before. When Guy tries to talk to her, she only wants to talk about the shows she is watching on television. Their house, like most, have three wall to wall televisions on the three largest walls in the living room. The shows are usually interactive, allowing the viewer to become part of the episode. They even send out scripts so viewers can enter into the scene at the right spots. As Guy is leaving for work, he sees Clarisse standing on her lawn catching raindrops on her tongue. She tells him it tastes like wine, and if you rub a dandelion under your chin, it will predict whether you are in love or not. When it doesn’t turn his chin yellow, he is angry and tells Charisse to get to her appointment with her psychiatrist. The state has ordered her to see one because they think she needs more sociability, and that she has too much independent thought. After she leaves, Guy tilts his head back and catches a raindrop on his tongue.
When Guy reaches the station, the first thing he sees is a mechanical dog. He reaches down to pet it and it growls and snaps at him. Concerned, Guy mentions it to his boss, Captain Beatty. He thinks the dog doesn’t seem to like him, and the Captain reminds him that they are machines, and therefore the only thoughts they have are programmed, all they know is hunting and killing. Maybe, since the hound has threatened him twice, someone programmed it to react to Guy, alone. Guy and his exploits with the machine./dog keep the men of the precinct entertained. One of the men tells Guy about a fireman that committed suicide by programming the hound to attack his chemical complex. Beatty tells Guy that no one would have programmed the hound to react to him, but he will have it checked, anyway.
Every day when Guy comes home from work, he sees Clarisse and they talk. She asks questions that make him think and tells him that she doesn’t go to school because it is too mindless and boring. Then on the eighth day, Clarisse doesn’t appear in the morning. He thinks to search for her, but then his train arrives, so he heads to work. At the firehouse, Guy asks the Captain about the guy whose library they burned down the week before. Beatty tells him the guy is in the insane asylum. Guy wonders aloud about the guy but luckily stops himself before he can say that he read the first line of a fairy tale in one of the books before setting fire to it.
Guy asks if fireman ever put out fires, so the men bring out a rule book that shows the first fire department was established in 1790 by Benjamin Franklin. The purpose of the first fire department was to burn English propaganda. Suddenly the alarm sounds. They head to the house of an old woman. She has books hidden in her attic. When they push her aside to get to the books, a book falls into Guy’s hand. Without even thinking, he stuffs it into his coat. The firemen spray the books with kerosene, but the woman still won’t leave. When Beatty starts to light the fire, Guy tries to stop him and asks her to leave. But, she still refuses. When Guy walks away, she drops a match herself and starts the fire. She dies in the fire. On the ride back, everyone is quiet.
Life is becoming more surreal for Guy. After he arrives back at home and hides the book, he starts to notice that he has nothing to talk about with his wife. He climbs into his own bed and questions her about when they met, but neither of them can remember. Mildred is detached from life. The only people she is interested in is her TV “family”. She takes some sleeping pills to go to sleep and Guy listens to her swallow, counting the pills and wondering if she will forget and take more again later. Before going to sleep, he asks her if she has seen the next door neighbors since he hasn’t seen Clarisse in four days. She says that the moved away and she thinks Clarisse was hit by a car and killed.
The next morning, Guy is feeling ill. The death of the old woman from the day before is tormenting him. He tries to get Mildred to talk to him, but she doesn’t understand. When he asks her when was the last time something bothered her, she becomes agitated. Then he asks her what she would think if he quit his job. The argument doesn’t end until they see the Captain coming up their walkway. Captain Beatty says that he expected Guy to take a sick day, after yesterday. Most firemen experience this “problem” at least once in their careers. Then he goes on to relate the history of the firemen with hopes of making Guy understand why they do their job. This might have worked better, had Beatty’s explanation not sounded so manic. One explanation he gave is that television and other media made books obsolete because people wanted their stories in movie format. Instant gratification.
Another explanation he gave is that the widespread literacy made books repetitive and more condensed. Then another explanation was because of people finding so much content in books objectionable and banning them. From there the next step was book burning.
While Beatty is talking, Mildred wanders around tidying. She comes across the book that Guy hid under a pillow, and tries to draw attention to it. Guy yells at her to sit down, and Beatty pretends not to notice. He continues with his disjointed history lesson. He says that eventually people were only interested in magazines, mostly porn, with a few comic books here and there. Since most houses were now fireproof, the firemen became the burners of books, especially the ones that could make a person above their neighbors. Everyone’s intellectual level needs to be the same. Books could make people feel they were superior. Guy asks Beatty how a family like the McClellan’s had managed to become so different. Beatty tells him that they had an extensive file on the family, because of their works to change the school system that existed and made children all the same. He also said that it was good that Clarisse was dead, it was better for her. Beatty tells Guy that he had read a couple of books in his time as a fireman and found them to be useless. As he is leaving, Beatty urges Guy to remember how important their jobs as firemen is. Guy asks him what would happen if a fireman accidentally takes a book home. Beatty says he would have twenty-four to forty-eight hours to look it over, then he would be expected to burn it. If he didn’t they would burn it for him.
After Beatty leaves, Guy tells Mildred that he has no intention of going back to the fire department. He no longer wants to be a fireman. He also shows her his stash of about twenty books that he has collected. She panics and tries to burn them, but, he calms her a says he wants to share them with her. He has been discontented and feels that the answer to why may be in one of these books. He also hopes to find something in them he can share with others. He asks her to give him forty-eight hours to read some of them. While they are talking, someone or something comes to the door. Later we discover it was the mechanical dog, hunting. Guy settles down to read Gulliver’s Travels.
Guy and Mildred spend the afternoon reading, but she doesn’t like books. She wants to go back to her television walls. Guy is still unsatisfied and feels that he needs someone to talk with about the books and help him to understand. He remembers an old professor he saw once on a park bench reading a book of poetry. The old man tried to run away when Guy saw him, but when Guy let him know he was safe, the man tells him his name is Faber and gives Guy his address and phone number.
Guy calls him now and asks him how many copies of Shakespeare, Plato, and the Bible are left in the world. Fearing a trap, the old man says none and hangs up. This is when Guy realizes that the book he took from the woman, may actually be the last copy of the Bible in existence. He can’t turn it over to Beatty, but if he gives him one of the other books, Beatty may remember what book he took and then realize he has more at home. He makes up his mind to find someone to make a copy for him so he can turn it in. He tells Mildred he is leaving, and she tells him she has friends coming over to watch television later. Guy makes another attempt to connect with his wife by asking her if she thinks the “family” on TV loves her back. But she still doesn’t understand his point.
While Guy is on the subway headed over to Faber’s he tries to memorize passages from the Bible but is distracted by a commercial playing over the speaker. His anger builds until he finds himself waving the book and telling the speaker to shut up. This terrifies the other passengers. But before they can call for a guard, he gets off the subway.
When Guy reaches Faber the first thing he does is show him the book, which alleviates his fears, somewhat. Guy asks Faber to make him understand the meaning of the book and other books he has read. Guy doesn’t understand why he is so unhappy, but, others, like his wife, seem to be happy. Faber tells him that it isn’t the books, exactly, that are the cause of his unhappiness. It’s that he knows something is missing and that is the only tangible thing he can point to. Faber tells him that the meaning he could get from books can also be found in other media, but, long ago people stopped demanding it. He compares it to flowers trying to live on flowers instead of soil, sunlight, and rain. People wanted to skip the unpleasant parts of life and just live in the inane television shows. He says that unlike TV, books allow a reader to put them down and take the time to digest the information.
Being a man of action, Guy suggests putting books in the homes of all the firemen, therefore discrediting them. Faber tells him that it’s not the firemen that are the problem, it’s the public’s preconception that has to change. They had stopped reading books long before the firemen started to burn them. He goes on to tell Guy that they just have to be patient. The upcoming war will end the TV families. Guy thinks that means they will be able to bring books back into the light.
Still yet, Guy has an immediate problem. Faber is too afraid to help until Guy begins to tear pages out of the Bible and Faber relents. He tells him of a man he knows who has a printing press, but he has to leave it with him. Guy agrees but is unsure what to say to Beatty. Faber suggests that he wear an earpiece he invented so he can prompt him on what to say. Meanwhile, Guy will try to give a substitute book to Beatty.
When Guy arrives back home, he finds his wife entertaining her friends, Mrs. Phelps, and Mrs. Bowles. Guy turns off the TV and tries to engage them in conversation only to discover they don’t know enough to carry one on. They have no opinion on the war, even though some of their family members are involved. When he asks them about the last presidential election, the women are superficial and say that they chose who to vote for by his physical attributes. This enrages Guy, so he pulls out a book of poetry, against the warnings from his wife and Faber, speaking in his ear.
He begins to read them a poem, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. Mrs. Phelps, whose husband has just left for the war, begins to weep. The women are frightened and Mildred tries to comfort them by telling them that firemen are allowed to bring home one book a year so they can show their families how useless they are. In his ear, Faber is urging Guy to agree with Mildred’s lie. With Faber’s encouragement, he drops the book in the incinerator. Then Guy yells at the women to leave while Mildred goes to bed. Guy discovers his wife has been burning his books one by one and wonders if they women are right, and it’s better to just focus on the pleasures of life, leave the realities alone. Faber says he would agree if it wasn’t for the war looming so close. Faber tells him, “If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”
Guy takes a book to the firehouse. Beatty tosses it in the trash without even looking at it. Then Beatty throws out a lot of literary quotations to confuse Guy and make him believe books are better burned than read. Suddenly an alarm comes through and everyone grabs their gear. When the reach their destination, Guy is distressed to see it is his house. Guy sees his wife leaving the house with a suitcase and jumping into a waiting cab. That is when he realizes she is the one who called the fire department. Beatty gives Guy the flame thrower and orders hi to burn his house. Afterward, Beatty places Guy under arrest. When Beatty notices that Guy is listening to someone in the earbud, he takes it and says that he will have it traced back to whoever is on the other end, and is giving Guy his orders.
When Beatty throws out more literary quotes, Guy has had enough. With Beatty’s last quote from Julius Caesar, Guy turns the flamethrower on him and burns him to a crisp. The other firemen are frozen in place and Guy knocks them all out. But, he is attacked by the mechanical dog, who injects him with an anesthetic before Guy turns the flamethrower on it, destroying it. Guy is on the run, which is made more difficult with a leg that is now numb. But, first, he collects the four books Mildred left in her burning fury. He hears sirens and stumbles off. He puts his usual official radio in his ear and hears the police put out a warning about him. Describing him and putting all the citizens on alert. Soon, he sees a car coming at him and thinking it is a police car, he is surprised to see it is a bunch of teenagers who would have mowed him down with little regret. He angrily wonders if these are the same teenagers who killed Clarisse. Then he drops off the books in another fireman’s house and calls the police.
After this Guy goes back to Faber’s house. He tells the professor what has happened and gives him some money to get away. Faber tells him to follow the railroad tracks where he will find homeless intellectuals. Guy takes a suitcase full of Faber’s old clothes and tells Faber how to remove any traces of his scent so the dogs that have been sent to find him won’t be alerted. Guy manages to avoid the search party by looking in the houses he runs past. Everyone is watching the chase over their huge TV’s. When he reaches the river, he jumps in further confusing the search party. He sees the helicopters are headed in the opposite direction, so he leaves the river and begins to follow the tracks. Guy comes across a group of homeless men. They invite him to join them, they had been tracing his escape on their portable television set. The men tell him that the government will soon choose a scapegoat to avoid the embarrassment of losing him. Soon, a solitary man walking down the street is attacked by the dog and killed. He was chosen because he was walking on the street alone. Clearly an antisocial behavior. The announcement comes over the TV that Guy Montag is dead.
Guy learns that the Book People have all memorized different parts of classical books. There are people all over the country that have done so. They are all waiting for when mankind is ready for knowledge again. Guy is surprised to see that the men are all so normal looking. They all look like bums, even. They laugh and tell him not to judge a book by its cover. Guy says that he has a wife in the city, and is sad that he doesn’t miss her and wouldn’t care if she died. One of the men tells him that a person needs to leave a bit of their soul in something in order to be missed. Suddenly, they see planes overhead, they drop bombs on the city, wiping it out. Guy and his new friends are thrown to the ground. As Guy is recovering on the ground, he thinks about Mildred, wondering about how she met her death. Now, he finally remembers meeting Mildred, they were in Chicago.
Afterward, the men head to the city to help any survivors. It is finally time for mankind to rebuild and they will need books. The first building they should build is a mirror factory so they can all get a good look at themselves.
Guy Montag – his grandfather and his father were all firemen, but, Guy is the first generation of his family to question his life. Firemen, in this futuristic city, don’t fight fires, they fight knowledge by burning books. His soul cries out for more, even if he doesn’t know what that is. He knows that he wants a more intellectual friendship, and gravitates to anyone who questions the world. Everyone else around him seems to be living in a fog. Then, one day, the fog parts to reveal a young girl. She asks questions. This starts Guy out on a search for answers. His wife doesn’t want to engage in real conversations. She, like most people, only want to talk about what their television family is doing. Although Guy is sad about not being able to connect with his wife, he continues his search for what is missing from life. He feels that the missing component are books, since his job is to burn them. Owning books are illegal, so he becomes marked for death by the government for owning them.
Captain Beatty – Guy Montag’s boss at the fire department. Beatty is a very complex character. Although he plays the villain, the reader becomes sympathetic when he tells that his own search for answers from the universe has proven that the world is a lonely place and he would rather live a life searching for pleasure. He is devious and seems to be able to read Guy’s thoughts, probably because he also had them at one time. He tries to sway Guy to his way of thinking, but, even though Guy is practically a blank slate and easy to manipulate, he can’t quite find the right words to capture Guy. Although he seems to really hate books, he quotes them incessantly. Then, when he makes no attempt to prevent his own death, his role as a villain becomes even more cloudy.
Professor Faber – the professor is an intellectual. He is a retired English professor, who still secretly still owns a few books. He readily admits that he, and those like him, are the cowards that never stopped the book burning when they had a chance. He does finally, take a more active stance in the resistance when he helps Guy to escape persecution. Before running away himself to meet with another member of the resistance, he tells Guy how to find a group of transient intellectuals who live by the train tracks.
The Book People – a group of intellectuals that are stationed throughout the country. They have developed a system for memorizing parts of the classic books, to hold them for the time after the “Dark Ages.” Their leader is a man named Granger, who introduces Guy to their way of life and welcomes him. They value the chapters from the Bible he was able to memorize. After the city is vaporized by a bomb, they Book People head to the city in order to help the survivors.
Ray Bradbury Biography
Born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, Ray Douglas Bradbury developed a love of stories very young. His family relocated to Los Angeles, California when he was fourteen, and his future was set. He was in love with Hollywood and spent many afternoons trying to meet celebrities. His first paying job was as a writer for an episode of the “Burns and Allen” show when he was fourteen.
He began writing when he was just eleven years old. He wrote on any kind of paper he could find, including butcher paper. As a prolific writer, Bradbury wrote every day from the time he learned how to hold a pencil. He spent as much time as possible in the library and contributed his education to the libraries. “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for ten years.” He went on to tell The Paris Review, “You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do – and they don’t.”
Bradbury was an avid reader and a strong supporter of libraries. He participated in a lot of programs to raise money and prevent the closure of libraries, especially in California. Although he was a firm supporter of computers, he didn’t want to have his books added to e-books. Finally agreeing when his publisher, Simon & Schuster agreed to make the book, Fahrenheit 451 available to libraries free. It is still the only book that the publisher provides to libraries free in e-book form.
Until the age of eighteen, Bradbury wrote horror stories, trying to imitate the form of Edgar Allan Poe. He was such a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, that he wrote a sequel to Burroughs’ novel, The Warlord of Mars, at age twelve. He also was a good illustrator and made his own comic panels of Tarzan. Citing H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as his favorite science fiction writers and biggest influences, he said that he identified with Jules Verne, “He believes the human being is in a strange situation in a very strange world, and he believes that we can triumph by behaving morally.”
In 1947, Bradbury married the only woman he ever dated, Marguerite McClure, or Maggie, and they were married until her death in 2003. They had four daughters. He never had a driver’s license and either rode his bicycle or relied on public transportation. He lived at home until he was twenty-seven when he was married.
He had varied friendships, from writers to directors to actors, etc. He and Gene Roddenberry were close friends for thirty years after Gene asked him to write for Star Trek. He turned him down, but, they remained friends. He was also close friends with the creator of the Addams Family. Writing a series of stories that were closely related to the TV show.
In 1999 he suffered a stroke, and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but continued to write. He wrote an essay for The New Yorker. It was about his inspiration for writing and was published one week prior to his death. Ray Bradbury passed away after a prolonged illness in 2012, at the age of 91. He was eulogized in writing by a wide variety of people including President Obama. Author, Stephen King, wrote on his website, “Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called ‘A Sound of Thunder.’ The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all the resonance and strange beauty.” On his tombstone he asked to have printed, “The Author of Fahrenheit 451.”