Summary (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
The first science fiction novel by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 is an early example of a dystopian tale about a future world that is nightmarish rather than hopeful. In its imaginary world, police state “firemen” burn homes containing books, as all books are forbidden by law. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman who becomes drawn into the world of clandestine book-readers by a woman he meets. Eventually, he joins a group of outcasts trying to preserve literature by committing entire books to memory. While printed matter can be burned, memories cannot be erased.
The novel’s point of view is clearly against censorship. It depicts the general population as living in darkness, with huge television screens dominating their homes and radios constantly blaring in their ears. The authoritarian government has decreed that all writing is subversive, as it is inevitably contradictory and it allows people to become aware of unpleasant aspects of society. Montag’s conversion to reading is significant in that he suddenly finds himself in light rather than darkness. The book’s none-too-subtle message is that reading makes people aware of ideas that may be dangerous to a totalitarian state, but are absolutely necessary for clear thinking.
Although Fahrenheit 451 is intended as a warning, not a prophecy, its anticensorship message has often been cited by opponents of book bannings in the United States.
(The entire section is 225 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Like all firemen in the future society of the novel, Montag burns books, which are entirely prohibited. One day, while returning home from work, Montag meets Clarisse, his mysterious young neighbor. Her probing questions cause him to reflect critically on the purpose of his job. When he enters his house, he finds that his wife has taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Montag calls the emergency hospital to have her stomach pumped.
The next day, however, Mildred fails to recollect the event and returns to her usual life of watching mindless television shows. After talking again to Clarisse, Montag returns to the firehouse. There the Mechanical Hound, a dangerous robotic creature used to track suspects, starts acting aggressively toward him. During the following weeks Montag meets Clarisse every day, and they discuss the moral and spiritual emptiness of their society, caused by its obsession with frantic consumption and shallow entertainment. One day, however, Clarisse is suddenly gone. Montag now begins to ask his colleagues questions concerning the historical origins of book-burning. During the next book-burning raid on an old woman’s home, he secretly takes a book. The old woman, rather than submitting to be arrested, sets fire to herself and her books.
At home, Montag feels increasingly alienated from Mildred. While Mildred is watching her favorite shows on the television screens that cover three entire walls, she casually mentions that...
(The entire section is 734 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Fahrenheit 451—named for the temperature at which paper ignites and burns—is Bradbury’s best-known novel and is probably also his best. Based on an earlier story, “The Fireman” (1950), and developing the censorship theme that appears in several other Bradbury works, this novel presents the dystopia that Bradbury may fear most.
In a future United States, the lowest common denominator of culture has imposed its ideas of happiness upon the whole culture. The universal idea of happiness has become an extrapolation of sitting in front of a television with a six-pack of beer, free of hard work, of complex human relationships, and of the disturbing stimulation of the ideas and images of the great artists and thinkers. In the future, television screens can be all four walls of a room. There, the viewer participates in the families and adventures that appear on “the walls” by subscribing to and then acting out a viewer script. When the walls fail to interest, one places receivers in the ears and blankets the mind with pleasant sound that blocks out awareness of self and world.
Montag, the protagonist, is a “fireman.” His team’s job is to burn books and arrest their possessors. Not all books are outlawed—only those that stimulate the imagination with their complex ideas or vivid images of human possibility, those books that encourage people to aspire toward thought and experience beyond the ordinary.
(The entire section is 1195 words.)
The title Fahrenheit 451 represents the temperature at which paper burns. Based on a 1951 short story, "The Fireman," the novel depicts a future America where television dominates culture and all books are banned. Montag, the main character, is a fireman, a member of an elite, Gestapo-like organization whose purpose is to seek out and burn the few books that remain.
Fahrenheit 451 makes no attempt to describe the workings of a totalitarian state. Instead, Bradbury is concerned with developing a parable of sorts about intellectual freedom. The novel can be seen as an attack on Senator Joseph McCarthy's early 1950s anti-Communist crusade, during which the senator and his supporters attempted to subject government workers, politicians, journalists, and artists to strict government scrutiny. In a broader sense, Bradbury addresses the issues of mass media induced illiteracy and antiintellectualism in general.
(The entire section is 137 words.)
Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander
Guy Montag is a thirty-year-old fireman experiencing an intellectual awakening. For ten years now he has protected the sanity and comfort of the community by setting fire to books. He and his wife Mildred live comfortably in the suburbs of a large city. All Mildred needs to make her life complete is a fourth TV wall, so she can be surrounded by the characters she watches and interacts with everyday in her living room. True, an international war has been brewing, but nobody much cares as long as they're comfortable.
One evening, after having taken great pleasure in burning a house full of dangerous books, Montag meets Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse, a seventeen-year-old "oddball" neighbor, likes to talk about the world around her. She challenges Montag's authority as a guardian of their way of life. She questions his purpose, practically tells him that he cannot think, and asks him, "Are you happy?" These questions bring to his mind the dissatisfactions which up to now he has only vaguely felt. Going into the house, he finds Mildred lying in bed, practically dead from an overdose of sleeping pills, and he realizes that Mildred's happiness is only a mask, too. The "technicians" who come to fix her up are so casual about it that Montag realizes that something has happened to everybody, that under the "mask of happiness" lies a great emptiness.
(The entire section is 1625 words.)