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, “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. 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. 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.”
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.
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...
(The entire section is 1,857 words.)