In Fahrenheit 451, why is the city bombed?

It is not specified why the city is bombed in Fahrenheit 451. There are no specific details given regarding the cause of the atomic war, and the audience does not even know the identity of the enemy. The ambiguity surrounding the war serves as a backdrop to highlight the artificial, destructive lives of the citizens. The nuclear war also parallels Montag's internal conflict as he pursues knowledge and happiness in a depressing world.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To understand why the city was bombed in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, we have to put the novel into its historical context. It was published in 1953 in the middle of the Cold War, and its subject matter, although projected into a hypothetical future, is very much derived from the political and cultural situation of its times.

The book burning that occurs in the novel is an exaggerated reaction to the ever-increasing censorship that was taking place during the Cold War. The American public's fear of communist incursion allowed the rise of Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which blatantly disregarded rights to free speech and other freedoms in its witch hunt for Communist subversives. At the same time, the even more terrifying prospect of nuclear warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union caused people to fear nuclear holocaust.

Bradbury wrote this underlying Cold War fear of nuclear devastation into his book. He does not specifically explain how the war started or why the opponents are fighting each other, but the threat of war is mentioned several times throughout the book as a sort of undercurrent of menace. For example, when Montag goes to visit the old man Faber, while they are talking together in Faber's home, Bradbury alludes to war preparations:

A bomber flight had been moving east all the time they talked, and only now did the two men stop and listen, feeling the great jet sound tremble inside themselves.

Just after Montag leaves Faber's home with the earpiece in place, he hears the government announce, "We have mobilized a million men. Quick victory is ours if the war comes." Faber then corrects the announcement, saying that if the government says one million men are mobilized, probably at least ten million have been.

When Montag is with the other bookish indigents in the wilderness, a jet flies by and Granger comments that "the cities won't do well in the next few days." Everyone is aware that the war is imminent, but no one can do anything to stop it. As mentioned above, this is the Cold War mentality that pervaded the culture back in the 1950s, and Bradbury wrote this into his book. The only explanation for why the city is bombed is that one side somehow provoked the other, but the specific cause is not mentioned in the book.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the background of the story, Montag's society is involved in an imminent war against a nondescript enemy for no specific reason. The impending war foreshadows the destruction of the dystopia and parallels Montag's internal conflict regarding his pursuit of happiness in a meaningless world. Bradbury alludes to the war several times in the story, and the audience is aware of the conflict as Montag grapples with his thoughts as fighter jets continually fly overhead.

Bradbury's dystopia is depicted as a shallow, cruel society where people engage in dangerous behaviors and enjoy destroying things. Fire is an important motif throughout the novel, symbolizing a destructive...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

force used to censor knowledge and suppress individuality. In the dystopia, violence and hostility are prominent aspects of the culture, and they correspond to the impending war in the background of the story.

The reader is aware that Montag's society has already been involved in two nuclear wars, but details regarding these conflicts have been intentionally left out to highlight the artificial lives of the citizens. At the end of the story, Montag watches from a distance as the city is destroyed by an atomic bomb. Although a reason is never given and there no details regarding the exact nature of the conflict, the atomic war underscores the destructive nature of Bradbury's dystopia and provides an opportunity for the intellectuals to rebuild a literate, tolerant society.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Bradbury does not give a specific reason why Montag's dystopian society is bombed, but one can assume that it is retaliation from another nation at war with them. Throughout the novel, there are numerous comments about how Montag's society is continually at war. Several scenes in the novel depict fighter jets flying overhead, and Montag listens to a Seashell radio report that ten million troops have been mobilized. Mrs. Phelps also mentions that her husband has been deployed for what the government refers to as a "quick war." Overall, Montag's society is depicted as a brutal nation, which is continually at war with other countries. When Montag joins the group of traveling intellectuals, they repeatedly comment on how their society will eventually be destroyed. At the end of the novel, an atomic bomb is dropped on the city and the group of traveling intellectuals walk towards the destroyed society in hopes of one day rebuilding a literate nation. The atomic bomb also serves as a deus ex machina, which offers the story a positive conclusion. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Fahrenheit 451, there is some sort of war going on between two factions (Montag’s society and another), and the reader knows very little about why they are fighting.  There are only a few mentions of the war in the novel.  Some examples of where we see the impact of the war is a radio report that war can be declared any day; jets going over the city every day and making the firehouse “tremble”; and finally, at the end of the novel when Montag’s city is bombed and Montag sees the jets from the hobo camp he has joined.

Bradbury keeps the reason for the war secret perhaps in an attempt to let us see just how far this society has fallen.  People in this society seem very unconcerned about the war; it appears to be just another thing they put up with and don’t even notice.  In addition, the novel was published in 1953 during the Cold War.  Nuclear war was a real threat to people in the United States, and perhaps Bradbury is proposing that we don’t be complacent in its seriousness. 

I’ve always imagined that the war is being fought between Montag’s dystopian society and those who want to change it back to a society of individuality and freedom.  However, there’s no evidence to this in the novel, but it would have been a great idea for a second book about Montag.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team