At the opening of his science fiction story of a dystopian society in which books are banned because of the knowledge they contain -- knowledge that could pose a threat to the stability of this repressive society -- Ray Bradbury notes: "FAHRENHEIT 451: The temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns"
In Fahrenheit 451, firemen are not employed to extinguish fires; they are employed for the purpose of carrying out the government's edict against the possession of books. As Bradbury's story begins, he describes the exhilaration experienced by firemen as they torch literature. Montag, the story's protagonist, is busy at work:
"With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black."
The relationship of the book's title to the story is the emphasis placed by the ruling regime on controlling the population through criminalization of literature. The irony inherent in vesting in firemen the authority and responsibility for locating and burning books is at the core of Bradbury's novel.