What are the highlights of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the story deals with Guy Montag and how he learns to see the world—and his place in it—in a very different way, from the start of the story until its end.

Guy Montag is someone who follows the rules. The rules require that no one think for him- or herself, but unquestioningly follow the dictates set forth by society. No one really lives anymore; they simply function. No one asks questions—there is no trouble. This premise is supported in the burning of books: for without the reading of books, how can one question things of the past or present?

Guy's life is pretty mundane—he's a fireman...not one that saves houses from burning, but someone who burns houses that hold books. It is not until Guy Montag meets Clarisse, a new neighbor, that he starts to ask questions—slowly realizing that his life is controlled: he has no real freedom. Clarisse asks Montag questions, and Montag eventually asks questions of society. Clarisse starts by pointing out that no one stops to see the world around them:

Have you ever watched the jet cars racing on the boulevards down that way?...I sometimes think drivers don't know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly...If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he'd say, that's grass! A pink blur! That's a rose garden! White blurs are houses. Brown blurs are cows. My uncle drove slowly on the highway once. He drove forty miles an hour and they jailed him for two days. Isn't that funny, and sad, too?

As Montag starts to see that life is really just one big blur—something that does not allow for clarity in order to see things (and wonder about them...ask questions about them)—he questions the rules that govern society. He struggles because his wife Mildred is unwilling to ask any questions, and he begins to examine his role as a burner of books. He is especially troubled after a woman sets fire to her home (while she is still inside) rather than face a world without books.

As Montag becomes more unsatisfied, he connects with the "underground," (Faber) that resists such a mindless existence. Ultimately, Montag is found harboring books himself and in an act of uncharacteristic violence, becomes a hunted man. As he joins the "resistance," society destroys itself. It is only the people hidden throughout countless cities—readers and keepers of historical knowledge—who are left to rebuild society from the ashes.

Themes in the story include apathy and passivity. Montag begins the story as an apathetic and passive character: he is "well-behaved" and questions nothing. After meeting Clarisse, his actions reflect another theme—change and transformation—Montag questions the universe as it is, and steps out of line in order to change his own existence—and ultimately, to choose his own fate.

Another man (Granger) who also hopes to preserve books, notes that society is suffering for not paying attention to what was in books. However, he believes there is hope.

And when they ask us what we are doing, you can say, We're remembering. That's where we'll win out in the long run.

Granger believes that through self-examination—exactly what Montag is doing—humanity will one day thrive again. It will be a hard job, but with Granger and others like him, Montag willingly commits himself to changing the world with books—with knowledge.


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