Fahrenheit 451 was Ray Bradbury’s first major novel. His earlier book-length work, The Martian Chronicles (1950), was a loosely connected cycle of short stories. In the opinion of many critics, Fahrenheit 451 remains his only really impressive novel. Appropriately enough for a writer who has generally been considered a master of short fiction, this novel grew out of a story, titled “The Fireman,” which Bradbury had published in 1951. Fahrenheit 451 reached a wide audience through François Truffaut’s film adaptation of 1966, which starred Julie Christie as both Mildred and Clarisse and Oscar Werner as Guy Montag.
Bradbury’s novel is a classic example of dystopian fiction, a subgenre of utopian literature. Literary utopias, such as Thomas More’s De Optimo Reipublicae Statu, deque Nova Insula Utopia (1516; Utopia, 1551), after which the entire genre was named, present fictional depictions of societies that are clearly superior to the one in which the author lives. The societies described in such seventeenth century works as Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627) and Tommaso Campanella’s Civitas Solis (1623; The City of the Sun, 1885) are highly structured and static. Utopian novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (most notably Edward Bellamy’s immensely popular Looking Backward: 2000-1887, 1888) added the concept of progress, situating...
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