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In Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel of a dystopian future in which a totalitarian government at a perpetual state of war controls the population through its monopoly on knowledge, firemen no longer exist to put out fires. Rather, in Fahrenheit 451, they serve the regime by locating and burning every book still being hidden by a few holdouts among the populace. One of these fireman, Montag, begins over time to question the morality of his position, and develops a growing interest in what the books he is sent to destroy actually say. Early in the story, Montag encounters an elderly gentleman who he suspects is concealing his possession of a book. The identity of this individual is described by Bradbury in the following passage:
“The old man admitted to being a retired English professor who had been thrown out upon the world forty years ago when the last liberal arts college shut for lack of students and patronage. His name was Faber . . .”
The brief encounter with Professor Fabor sticks in Montag’s mind and, as his growing interest in the subject of books takes an irreversible turn, he seeks out the professor at the latter’s home. Professor Faber invites Montag in and relates his memory of the period when the government first determined that the population had to be denied independent sources of knowledge and information. Faber’s recollection is deeply informed by the sense of guilt he carries many years later:
"Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I'm one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the `guilty,' but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself. And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the, firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then. Now, it's too late."
It is Professor Faber who enlightens Montag as to the reasons why firemen are paid to seek out and destroy books, and the homes of those discovered to be concealing them. Bradbury uses the character of Professor Faber to provide the background both the reader and Montag need to understand how the country reached the stage depicted in the novel, and why books were deemed a threat to the government’s ability to control the population.
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