Places Discussed

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 8, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 430

City

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.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Fahrenheit 451 Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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, “every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up . . . But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again.”

Countryside

Countryside. The world outside the city contrasts sharply with the urban environment. Ray Bradbury is a romantic writer who often yearns for the simpler, rural life he knew as a child. When Montag is forced to run for his life from the city, the source of all the evils he has come to hate and fear, he escapes to the countryside. His journey ends when he comes upon an old railroad track, a symbol of the long-lost American past. There, he joins a new social group, made up of people who share his beliefs. Its outcast members, who have rejected society’s standards, keep literature alive by memorizing books.

River

River. Wide stream down which Montag floats until he reaches the community of book people. This river operates as a dividing line between past life and new, signifying a kind of baptism: After he began “floating in the river he knew why he must never burn again in his life.”

Setting

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 159

In Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury offers a dark vision of twenty-first-century America. The novel portrays a society where rigid conformity is expected of all individuals, and where independent thought is highly suspect. Most members of this society seem to willingly embrace the opportunity to escape the burdens of individuality and intellectualism, but their unconscious frustration manifests itself in the violence that permeates their bleak world.

In Bradbury's narrative, America has started and won two atomic wars since 1960. Suicide attempts and drug abuse are so commonplace that special machines that can be operated by "handymen" have been invented to treat drug overdoses. Carloads of young teenagers speed along the highways and run over pedestrians for sport. Montag's wife explains that she enjoys driving at ninety-five miles per hour in the country because "you hit rabbits, sometimes you hit dogs." The firemen regularly unleash their vicious Mechanical Hound on chickens, cats, or rats, placing bets on which animal the Hound will kill first.

Literary Style

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 8, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 648

Structure

Bradbury has structured Fahrenheit 451 into three parts which parallel the stages of Montag's transformation. Part One is called "The Hearth and the Salamander." Montag enjoys his work as a fireman in this section, but he also begins to find his inner voice as doubts set in. While

Clarisse and Mildred are introduced in this section, the other main character is Captain Beatty. Montag's conflict with the captain begins in Part One. Part Two is called "The Sieve and the Sand." In this section Montag has taken steps away from social conformity. He is reading books. He has established an alliance with Faber, who has equipped him with a two-way communication device. Montag's dialogues become angry and incoherent as he is torn between listening to people around him and to the voice of Faber in his ear. This section of the book ends with Montag in front of his own house, where he has come to burn books. His illegal activities have been exposed. In Part Three, "Burning Bright," Montag commits his final acts of transformation. He kills Beatty after burning down his own house and is chased by the Mechanical Hound as he makes his escape down the river. The other important character in Part Three is Granger, who introduces the work of the book people. The book ends with his meeting the book people, the bombing of the city, and a note of hope for the future.

Point of View

The book is written in the third person ("he") with its central focus on the thoughts and actions of Montag. Much of the excitement in the story, though, comes from the descriptive passages of the setting, action, and characters. Through his poetic descriptions, Bradbury makes the unreal world he describes seem real. He is able to make the fantastic seem real and reality seem fantastic, which establishes a tension that moves the story along. The narrative is interspersed with dialogue between characters. Some of the dialogue is didactic—that is, somewhat preachy—and tends to delay the action. These instructive passages, however, do reveal Bradbury's basic point of view, which passionately embraces the importance of books for human beings. Clearly, he has written Fahrenheit 451 in order to express this opinion. His purpose is not merely entertainment, although readers do find the novel an enjoyable work of fiction.

Symbolism

Fire, the salamander, the Mechanical Hound, and the number of the title are important symbols that Bradbury exploits in the novel. At 451 degrees Fahrenheit, paper will burn. Fire is a primary image in the book. In the work of the fireman, it is seen as a destructive force. It stamps out books and the freedom of thought that books represent. In the beginning, Montag enjoys its qualities. He even likes the soot that it leaves behind. Later, when he is with the book people, fire is used constructively to warm people. When the Phoenix myth is used in the book, fire becomes a symbol of renewal. Out of the ashes, the mythical bird will be renewed. The suggestion is that a new society will be born from the ashes of the old one. The symbol of the Phoenix is used in contrast to the earlier use of the salamander. The dangerous fire lizard of myth, a symbol of the firemen's society from which Montag escapes, the salamander represents the destructive uses of fire. The most frightening symbol Bradbury uses is that of the Mechanical Hound, which represents the dehumanizing side of technology. This fierce creature seems to have powers greater than human ones; it has inescapable tracking capabilities and can capture its victims with just one sting of anesthetic. Bradbury has made the creature seem so real that it exists in the novel as an important character. When the Mechanical Hound pursuing Montag is destroyed, another one is sent in its place, suggesting that technology used destructively cannot be easily demolished.

Literary Techniques

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 216

Bradbury was for years science fiction's premier literary stylist, and although his heavy use of adjectives and metaphors can seem cloying today, he remains one of the most sophisticated users of language in the genre. He is particularly fond of similes, such as the description of a book that tumbles into Montag's hand during a raid on an old woman's secret library: "A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon."

Bradbury enhances his narrative with symbolism. The river into which he plunges to escape the Mechanical Hound serves as a symbol of rebirth as it carries him away from the violent city to a vagrant community of book memorizers. The cold river also represents an antidote to the firemen's handiwork that threatens to destroy the last vestiges of free thought.

In the novel's opening pages, Clarisse's discussion with Montag about the nature of a fireman's duties sets an ironic tone. She asks, "Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?" Montag replies that houses have always been fireproof so that there has never been a need for firemen to extinguish fires.

Literary Qualities

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 310

Bradbury was for years science fiction's premier literary stylist, and although his heavy use of adjectives and metaphors can seem cloying today, he remains one of the most sophisticated users of language in the genre. He is particularly fond of similes, such as the description of a book that tumbles into Montag's hand during a raid on an old woman's secret library: "A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon."

Bradbury enhances his narrative with symbolism. The river into which he plunges to escape the Mechanical Hound serves as a symbol of rebirth as it carries him away from the violent city to a vagrant community of book memorizers. The cold river also represents an antidote to the firemen's handiwork that threatens to destroy the last vestiges of free thought.

In the novel's opening pages, Clarisse's discussion with Montag about the nature of a fireman's duties sets an ironic tone. She asks, "Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?" Montag replies that houses have always been fireproof so that there has never been a need for firemen to extinguish fires.

Fahrenheit 451 is set solidly within the tradition of dystopian literature as exemplified by such works as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1931) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Such literature portrays an imaginary world where misguided attempts to create a Utopia, or a socially and politically perfect place, result in largescale human misery. Montag's conversion from servant to opponent of the totalitarian state clearly parallels Winston Smith's transformation in Orwell's novel. Other 1950s works written in a similar vein as Fahrenheit 451 include Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's The Space Merchants (1953) and Fritz Leiber's "Coming Attraction" (1951).

Literary Precedents

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 94

Fahrenheit 451 is set solidly within the tradition of dystopian literature as exemplified by such works as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1931) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Such literature portrays an imaginary world where misguided attempts to create a Utopia, or a socially and politically perfect place, result in large-scale human misery. Montag's conversion from servant to opponent of the totalitarian state clearly parallels Winston Smith's transformation in Orwell's novel. Other 1950s works written in a similar vein as Fahrenheit 451 include Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's The Space Merchants (1953) and Fritz Leiber's "Coming Attraction" (1951).

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Previous

Key Ideas and Commentary

Next

Historical and Social Context

Explore Study Guides