his article is about the novel. For other uses, see Fahrenheit 451 (disambiguation).
First edition cover
|Illustrator||Joe Pernaciaro and Joseph Mugnaini|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 978-0-7432-4722-1 (current cover edition)|
|Dewey Decimal||813.54 22|
|LC Classification||PS3503.R167 F3 2003|
This novel has been the subject of various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship, but a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of factoids, partial information devoid of context.
Writing and publishing the work
In 1947, Bradbury wrote a short story titled "Bright Phoenix" (later revised for publication in a 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction). Bradbury expanded the basic premise of "Bright Phoenix" into The Fireman, a novella published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. First published in 1953 by Ballantine Books, Fahrenheit 451 is twice as long as "The Fireman". A few months later, the novel was serialized in the March, April, and May 1954 issues of Playboy. Bradbury wrote the entire novel in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library on a pay typewriter that he rented for a fee of ten cents per half an hour.
The Hearth and the Salamander
On a rainy night while returning from his job, Guy Montag is followed by a cheery, 17-year-old girl (she later admits to being a month short of 17 years-old) named Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse initially bothers Montag with her incessant questions (and Clarisse is a bit bothered by Montag's uncalled-for reactions, such as laughing when she hasn't said anything funny), but Montag chooses to tolerate her as she tells him of how she loves nature and walking around and observing how crazy the world has become. The two walk until they reach Clarisse's house (which is next to Montag's). Before Clarisse goes inside, she asks Montag if he's happy. The question catches Montag by surprise and he mulls over his encounter with Clarisse (and how similar it was to another encounter in the park involving an English professor who was afraid of Montag).
Montag enters his bedroom, and finds Mildred in bed with her Seashell ear radio in her ear, staring vacantly at the ceiling (just as she's been doing for the past ten years or so). Montag doesn't notice anything wrong until his foot hits Mildred's empty sleeping pill bottle. Montag tries to wake up his wife, but she doesn't respond. Montag calls for medical attention, trying to shout over the screams of the passing jet engines above the house. Because "accidental" prescription pill overdoses have become commonplace, the medical department sends over two cynical, uncaring technicians who use a "Black Cobra" stomach pump to flush the poisons out of Mildred's system and replace her blood with a fresh, mechanical replacement. Montag stands outside Clarisse's house and sees that she and her family are the only ones in the neighborhood with the lights on and engaging in a spirited conversation. Montag returns to his house, sees that Mildred is looking slightly better than before, and goes to bed.
The next day, Montag finds Mildred in the kitchen, making breakfast and complaining of an upset stomach. Montag tries to tell his wife that she overdosed, but is interrupted by Mildred's ramblings of her stomach hurting, but being hungry, and rationalizes that the feeling is from drinking too much alcohol during a party. As Montag leaves for work, he finally tells Mildred (who is watching an interactive soap opera on the "parlor walls" -- three enormous, floor-to-ceiling television screens) that she overdosed on sleeping pills. Mildred denies that she would do something that suicidal, but Montag insists. Mildred brushes off the issue and returns to her soap opera. Over the next few days, Montag bonds with Clarisse, who tells him that her interest in intellectual activities has made her an outcast in a society dominated by shallow entertainment, and for that, she has no friends and has to see a psychiatrist. On the final day, however, Clarisse doesn't appear alongside Montag. Montag waits for her, but the wait is short-lived when the train comes to take him to work.
A few days later, the firemen are called in to burn down the house of an old woman who has been hoarding books. The firemen go to arrest her, but instead the woman recites a quote from Nicholas Ridley and refuses to leave. As the firemen toss the books from the woman's upstairs bedroom down to the living room floor and spray the pile with kerosene, Montag accidentally reads a line in one of her books and hides it away before any of his coworkers can see. The woman is given a final warning to leave the house, but the woman produces a match. Before she can strike it, the firemen flee, save for Montag, who watches as the woman lights the match, drops it in the kerosene, and is engulfed in flames.
Montag comes home from the jarring experience and tries to take his mind off the event by asking a half-asleep Mildred where the two first met and when. Mildred tries to remember, but can't, laughing it off as she heads to the bathroom to take her sleeping pills. As Montag reflects on his stagnant, stilted marriage to Mildred (and how Mildred has become emotionally and mentally dead from watching her "parlor wall" entertainment, driving recklessly, and her sleeping pill addiction), Montag begins to cry after realizing that if Mildred died, he wouldn't miss her at all. Montag then asks Mildred about Clarisse and her whereabouts. Mildred initially denies knowledge of what happened to Clarisse, then tells Montag exactly what happened to her: Clarisse was run over by a speeding car and, once her family heard the news about her death, they packed up and moved away, all of which happened four days ago. Montag is shocked that Mildred didn't tell him the grim news sooner and more disturbed over Mildred's apathy over the death of someone Montag had genuinely liked.
Montag wakes up physically ill and begs Mildred to call in sick for him. Mildred refuses and doesn't believe that Montag is really sick (even when Montag vomits on the rug from the stench of kerosene -- which earlier was like a perfume to him -- Mildred is only concerned about whether or not the vomit stain will come out in the wash). Captain Beatty, Montag's fire chief, personally visits him and tells him the story of how books lost their value and where the firemen fit in: Over the course of several decades (with the starting point being after the American Civil War), populations grew and people embraced new media, sports, and a quickening pace of life. Books were ruthlessly abridged and degraded to accommodate a shorter attention span. Later, minorities and other special-interest groups began criticizing books for their controversial content while other critics bashed authors for making people feel inferior by publishing works that no one could comprehend. Books became blander and blander due to censorship measures, and eventually, books stopped selling and authors were either locked away in insane asylums or gave up their profession and lived in exile. The only reading material that the society now accepts are captionless comics, three-dimensional sex magazines, trade magazines, and scripts used during the interactive plays on the parlor walls. To get rid of the books from the past (and their copies), the government implemented a program using the firemen to burn the books (now that houses were being rebuilt to be fire-resistant) and placate the masses. As Beatty is giving his monologue, Mildred tries to fluff Montag's pillow and nearly discovers the book hidden underneath. Montag yells at her and Mildred, at the request of Beatty, quietly leaves the room to watch the parlor walls. Beatty knows that Montag has a book but acts casual about it, stating that it's natural that every fireman gets curious about books and starts to possess one. If the book isn't burned or returned to the firehouse within 24 hours then the firemen will burn it for him.
After Beatty has left, Montag shows Mildred the books he has hidden in the ventilator of their home. Mildred tries to incinerate the books, but Montag subdues her and tells her that the two of them are going to read the books to see if they have value. If they do not, he promises the books will be burned and all will return to normal.
The Sieve and the Sand
While going over the stolen books (and nearly getting caught by the firehouse's Mechanical Hound), Mildred argues with Montag that books have no meaning and questions why Montag dragged her into this. Montag snaps back by mentioning Mildred's overdose, Clarisse's death, the book woman who burned herself, and how society is falling apart due to apathy, ignorance, and a pending war, then states that maybe the books of the past have messages in them that can save society from its own destruction. Before Montag can finish, Mildred gets a call from her friends about coming over to watch The White Clown on the parlor walls.
Montag laments that his wife is a lost cause (and he will be too if he can't force himself to absorb the information in the books). Montag then remembers a man he once met in the park a year ago: Faber, a former English professor. Montag seeks Faber's help, though Faber refuses at first due to his cowardice. After Montag starts to rip a few pages from the beginning of a rare copy of The New Testament (one of the few left that actually contains God's word, rather than the incorrect versions that have Jesus and other Biblical characters shilling products), Faber relents and teaches Montag about the importance of literature in its attempt to explain human existence. He gives Montag an ear-piece communicator he made himself so that Faber can offer guidance throughout his daily activities.
At Montag's house, Mildred has friends Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles over to watch the parlor walls. In the middle of a bloody demolition derby, Montag unplugs the walls and engages the women into meaningful conversation, only to find them concerned only with pleasure in the present moment and indifferent to the upcoming war, death, their families, and politics. Montag then brings out a book of poetry to scare some emotion into them (despite Faber's warnings). Mildred tries to cover up Montag's actions by claiming that, once a year, firemen bring home one book and read it aloud as a form of mocking past literature. Mildred then turns to a page in the book that has the poem Dover Beach on it and assures that none of her friends will understand any of the words. A shaken, confused Montag reads the poem, which ends up making Mrs. Phelps cry. Mrs. Bowles, however, is disgusted, accuses Montag of being nasty, and breaks off her friendship with Mildred. Montag yells at the women to go home and reflect on their empty lives and burns the poetry book while Mildred locks herself in the bathroom to take her pills.
Montag returns to the firehouse the next day with only one of the books, which Beatty tosses into the trash. Beatty tells Montag that he had a dream in which they fought endlessly by quoting books to each other. In describing the dream Beatty shows that, despite his disillusionment, he was once an enthusiastic reader. A fire alarm goes off and Beatty picks up the address from the dispatcher system. He reminds Montag of his duty, theatrically leads the crew to the fire engine, and drives it to Montag's house.
Beatty orders Montag to destroy his own house, telling him that his wife and neighbors were the ones who reported him. Montag tries to talk to Mildred as she quickly leaves the house, but Mildred ignores him, gets inside a waiting taxi, and vanishes down the street. Montag obeys the chief, destroying the home piece by piece with a flamethrower. After he has incinerated the house, Beatty discovers Montag's earpiece (the green bullet) and plans to hunt down Faber. Montag threatens Beatty with the flamethrower and (after Beatty taunts him) burns his boss alive, and knocks his coworkers unconscious. As Montag flees the scene, the firehouse's mechanical hound attacks him, managing to inject his leg with a tranquilizer. He destroys it with the flamethrower and limps away.
Montag flees through the city streets, to Faber's house. Faber urges him to make his way to the countryside and contact the exiled book-lovers who live there. On Faber's television, they watch news reports of another mechanical hound being released, with news helicopters following it to create a public spectacle. Montag leaves Faber's house and escapes the manhunt by jumping into a river and floating downstream into the countryside. There he meets the exiles, who have memorized various books for an upcoming time when society is ready to rediscover them. The war begins, and then, just as suddenly, ends. Montag watches helplessly as jet bombers fly overhead and attack the city with nuclear weapons, completely annihilating it.
During breakfast at dawn, Granger (leader of the group of wandering intellectuals) discusses the legendary phoenix and its endless cycle of long life, death in flames, and rebirth, adding that the phoenix must have some relation to mankind, which constantly repeats its mistakes, but that man has something the phoenix doesn't; man can remember the mistakes it made from before it destroyed itself, and try to not make them again. Granger then muses that a large factory of mirrors should be built, so that mankind can take a long look at itself. After the meal is over, the band sets off back toward the city, to help rebuild society.
- Guy Montag is the protagonist and fireman who presents the dystopia through the eyes of a worker loyal to it, a man in conflict about it, and one resolved to be free of it. Through most of the book, Montag lacks knowledge and believes what he hears. Bradbury notes in his afterword that he noticed, after the book was published, that Montag is the name of a paper company.
- Clarisse McClellan walks with Montag on his trips home and is one month short of being a 17-year-old girl. She is an unusual sort of person in the bookless, hedonistic society: outgoing, naturally cheerful, unorthodox, and intuitive. She is unpopular among peers and disliked by teachers for asking "why" instead of "how" and focusing on nature rather than on technology. A few days after their first meeting, she disappears without any explanation, although Mildred tells Montag (and Captain Beatty confirms) that Clarisse was hit by a speeding car and that her family left following her death. In the afterword of a later edition, Bradbury notes that the film adaptation changed the ending so that Clarisse (who, in the film, is now a 20-year-old school teacher who was fired for being unorthodox) was living with the exiles. Bradbury, far from being displeased by this, was so happy with the new ending that he wrote it into his later stage edition.
- Mildred Montag is Guy Montag's wife. She is addicted to sleeping pills, absorbed in the shallow dramas played on her "parlor walls" (flat-panel televisions), and indifferent to the oppressive society around her. Despite Guy Montag's attempts to break her from the spell society has on her, Mildred continues to be shallow and indifferent. After Montag scares her friends away by reading Dover Beach and unable to live with someone who has been hoarding books, Mildred betrays Montag by reporting him to the firemen and abandoning him. She is described as being very sickly and pale, thanks to dieting, her pill addiction, and the stomach pumping operation she underwent earlier in the story.
- Captain Beatty is Montag's boss. Once an avid reader, he has come to hate books due to their unpleasant content and contradicting facts and opinions. In a scene written years later by Bradbury for the Fahrenheit 451 play, Beatty invites Montag to his house where he shows him walls of books left to molder on their shelves.
- Faber is a former English professor. He has spent years regretting that he did not defend books when he saw the moves to ban them. Montag turns to him for guidance, remembering him from a chance meeting in a park some time earlier. Faber at first refuses to help Montag, but later realizes that he is only trying to learn about books, not destroy them. Bradbury notes in his afterword that Faber is part of the name of a German manufacturer of pencils, Faber-Castell.
- Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps are Mildred's friends, and, like Stoneman and Black, below, are representative of the anti-intellectual, hedonistic society presented in the novel. During a social visit to Montag's house, they brag about ignoring the bad things in their lives and have a cavalier attitude towards the upcoming war, their husbands, their children, and politics. Mrs. Phelps has a husband named Pete who was called in to fight in the upcoming war (and believes that he'll be back in a week because of how quick the war will be) and thinks having children serves no purpose other than to ruin lives. Mrs. Bowles is a single mother who was married three times—her first husband divorced her, her second one died in a jet accident, and her third one committed suicide by shooting himself in the head—and has two children who don't like or even respect her (which stems from her permissive, often negligent and abusive parenting—Mrs. Bowles brags that her kids beat her up and she's glad that she can hit back). When Montag reads Dover Beach to them, Mrs. Phelps starts crying over how hollow her life is while Mrs. Bowles chastises Montag for reading a "filthy" poem.
- Granger is the leader of a group of wandering intellectual exiles who memorize books in order to preserve their contents.
- Stoneman and Black are other firemen that are mentioned in the novel, but do not have a large impact on the story. Their main purpose in the novel is to show the reader the contrast between the firemen who do as they're told without question and someone like Montag, who formerly took pride in his job, but now realizes how damaging it is to society.
The novel is frequently interpreted as being critical of state-sponsored censorship, but Bradbury has disputed this interpretation. He said in a 2007 interview that the book explored the effects of television and mass media on the reading of literature. Bradbury went even further to elaborate his meaning, saying specifically that the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state—it is the people. Yet in the paperback edition released in 1979, Bradbury wrote a new coda for the book containing multiple comments on censorship and its relation to the novel. The coda is also present in the 1987 mass market paperback, which is still in print.
In the late 1950s, Bradbury observed that the novel touches on the alienation of people by media:
In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.
Galaxy reviewer Groff Conklin placed the novel "among the great works of the imagination written in English in the last decade or more." Boucher and McComas, however, were less enthusiastic, faulting the book for being "simply padded, occasionally with startlingly ingenious gimmickry, . . . often with coruscating cascades of verbal brilliance [but] too often merely with words." Reviewing the book for Astounding Science Fiction, P. Schuyler Miller characterized the title piece as "one of Bradbury's bitter, almost hysterical diatribes," although he praised its "emotional drive and compelling, nagging detail."
In June 2009, a graphic novel edition of the book was published. Entitled Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation, the paperback graphic adaptation was illustrated by Tim Hamilton. The introduction in the novel is written by Bradbury.
The book has also been adapted into a 4 hour 30 minute long audiobook.
Playhouse 90 broadcast "A Sound of Different Drummers" on CBS in 1957. The script, which was written by Robert Alan Aurthur, combined plot ideas from Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen Eighty-Four; Bradbury sued and eventually won on appeal.
In 2006, the Drama Desk Award winning Godlight Theatre Company produced and performed the New York City premiere of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 at 59E59 Theaters. After the completion of the New York run, the production then transferred to the Edinburgh Festival where it was a 2006 Edinburgh Festival Pick of the Fringe.
Fahrenheit 451 inspired the Birmingham Repertory Theatre production "Time Has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine", which was performed at the Birmingham Central Library in April 2012.
- Blackwell companions to literature and culture, 34. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. Page 491 – 498
- Bradbury, Ray About Freedom, raybradbury.com, Date unknown; Boyle Johnston, Amy E. "Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 Misinterpreted", LA Weekly, May 30, 2007.
- Rogers, John, Associated Press. U.S.News & World Report, 6 June 6, 2012, "Author of 'Fahrenheit 451,' Ray Bradbury, Dies at 91". Accessed 12 June 2012.
- "About the Book: Fahrenheit 451". The Big Read. National Endowment for the Arts.
- Garmon, Jay, R.I.P. Ray Bradbury - The man who dreamed the future, TechRepublic, June 6, 2012
- Ruhlmann, Ellyn, Ray Bradbury, Waukegan Public Library, retrieved 7 June 2012
- Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 Misinterpreted: "Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most famous literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953... Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature."
- "There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist / Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist / Women's Lib / Republican / Mattachine / FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse….Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by the minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the library closed forever. Only six weeks ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with the censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. Judy-Lynn del Rey, one of the new Ballantine editors, is having the entire book reset and republished this summer with all the damns and hells back in place."
- Quoted by Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction (1960). Bradbury directly foretells this incident early in the work: "And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talking coming in." p.12
- "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1954, p.108
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, December 1953, p. 105.
- "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, April 1954, pp.145–46
- Barrett, Amanda Kay (May 2011). "Fahrenheit 451: A Descriptive Bibliography". Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- Dodson, Ronald F.; Hammar, Samuel P. (2006). Asbestos: Risk Assessment, Epidemiology, and Health Effects. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis Group. p. 204. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- "Macmillan: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation Ray Bradbury, Tim Hamilton: Books". Us.macmillan.com.
- "Fahrenheit 451 becomes e-book despite author's feelings". BBC News. November 30, 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- Flood, Alison (November 30, 2011). "Fahrenheit 451 ebook published as Ray Bradbury gives in to digital era". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- William F. Nolan, "Bradbury: Prose Poet in the Age of Space", The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June, 1963.
- Stephen Bowie. "The Sound of a Single Drummer", The Classic TV History Blog, Aug 19, 2010.
- Ray Bradbury Radio Plays, Diversity Website, retrieved 7 June 2012
- "BBC iPlayer – Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451". Retrieved February 19, 2012.
- "Literature to Life – Citizenship & Censorship: Raise Your Civic Voice in 2008–09". The American Place Theatre.
- Tuck, D. H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 62. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
- McGiveron, R. O. (1996). "What 'Carried the Trick'? Mass Exploitation and the Decline of Thought in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451". Extrapolation 37 (3): 245–256.
- McGiveron, R. O. (1996). "Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451". Explicator 54 (3): 177. ISSN 00144940.
- Smolla, R. A. (2009). "The Life of the Mind and a Life of Meaning: Reflections on Fahrenheit 451". Michigan Law Review 107 (6): 895–912.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Fahrenheit 451|
- Fahrenheit 451 title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database