The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
It is ironic that in 1953, an asbestos edition of the novel, which describes a terrifying, censorship-obsessed society that burns books, was published. Ironic too is that in the 1980’s, Ray Bradbury found that the publisher had, through the years, silently censored from his original text seventy-five sections of Fahrenheit 451. Stories published in the 1953 edition are omitted from most later editions.
Fahrenheit 451, which takes its title from the temperature at which paper burns, takes place in a sterile, futuristic society in which firemen burn books because the State has decided that books make people unhappy. Suspected readers are arrested. Instead of reading, people listen to “seashells,” tiny radios that fit in the ear, and watch insipid television shows projected on wall-to-wall screens. In school, students play sports and learn nothing. Fast driving is encouraged, and pedestrians are arrested. Indiscriminate drug use, suicide, overpopulation, and war are rampant.
In this world lives Guy Montag, the main character, who smilingly and unquestioningly accepts his job as a fireman. Guy’s wife, Mildred, watches endless hours of television and overdoses on narcotics. Early in the novel, a young neighbor, Clarisse, shocks Guy by asking whether he ever reads the books he burns and whether he is happy. Although she is later killed by a hit-and-run driver, Clarisse is the catalyst through which Guy begins to evaluate his life and...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
City. Unnamed urban center in which the protagonist, Guy Montag, lives and works. In this future world, culture is reduced to the lowest common denominator. Montag’s wife, for example, is completely dependent on her wall-sized television screens. Books are banned because they contain contradictory ideas and can confront the comfortable prejudices and ignorance that abounds. Montag himself works as a “fireman”; his job is to burn books as they are discovered hidden in people’s homes. In this world of state-sponsored book-burning, books are not simply carriers of potentially subversive messages—their very physical existence evokes a rich cultural tradition antithetical to the leveling tendencies of the mass media. When Montag discovers the joy of reading, he begins hiding books in his own house. Eventually, his wife reports him to the police, and he is sent to burn out his own house. He flees the city for his life.
Meanwhile, a constant threat of war overhangs the city, and most of its people view with suspicion anyone who lives outside carefully proscribed social boundaries. The book ends with the destruction of the cities by atomic bombs and the hope that civilization, like the mythical Phoenix, will rise again from its ashes. At the end of the story, the classical allusion to the phoenix is explained by Granger, the leader of the book people. The symbol is appropriate to their mission, he says, because like humankind,...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Greenberg, Martin Henry, and Joseph D. Olander, eds. Ray Bradbury. New York: Taplinger, 1980 . This collection contains several essays discussing aspects of Fahrenheit 451. Extensive bibliography.
Johnson, Wayne L. Ray Bradbury. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Deals with central themes related to science fiction and fantasy in Bradbury’s works.
Mogen, David. Ray Bradbury. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Provides biographical background as well as analyses of major works. Sees Fahrenheit 451 as satire of the McCarthyism of the 1950’s, as well as a general attack on totalitarianism.
Spencer, Susan. “The Post-Apocalyptic Library: Oral and Literate Culture in...
(The entire section is 164 words.)