Paper spontaneously catches fire and burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Why do you think the author chose this temperature as a title for his novel? Do you think it is a good title? Why or why not? What are some other titles that might fit? At the very beginning of Fahrenheit 451, Montag always feels like he is smiling. How does this change after he meets Clarisse McClellan? Why do you think it changes? Has she made him unhappy, or was he just unaware he was unhappy before now? Use evidence from the text to back up your answers. When Mildred almost dies, why do handymen come to save her instead of a doctor? Based on what the handymen say, do you think crises like Mildred’s are common or uncommon? What does this suggest about the overall happiness—or unhappiness—of people in the society of the novel? According to Captain Beatty, anything that makes people think deeply is the enemy of happiness. Do you agree or disagree? What do you think happiness is? Professor Faber says that nature and friendship can teach the lessons Montag is trying to learn from books. Why hasn’t Montag already learned these lessons? Why do you think he chooses to keep pursuing the knowledge in books, even though it is risky to do so? Why do you think Montag gets angry during Mildred’s visit with Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles? Do these women make you angry, or do you feel sorry for them? Why do you feel the way you do? How does Montag help Faber avoid a visit from the mechanical hound? Why do you think Montag, in his hurry, stops to find out if the hound’s mechanical nose is fooled? In your opinion, is Montag selflessly concerned for his friend, or is he simply making sure his disguise (Faber’s old, smelly clothes) is not compromised?
Critically acclaimed for its satirical exploration of ideas as well as crackling, fast-moving prose, Fahrenheit 451 is that rare book at once completely of its time and eerily prescient of the contemporary issues with which modern readers grapple. Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953, developed from author Ray Bradbury’s shorter first draft entitled The Fire Man, in turn fashioned from an early short story. The resulting 1953 novel is a masterpiece of science fiction, sounding alarms to the dangers of conformity, censorship, and, most importantly, the consequences of waning intellectual curiosity. It is inevitable to make the connection between Bradbury’s book-burning firemen and the piles of smoldering texts ignited by the Nazis during World War II, but Fahrenheit 451 is anything but jingoistic in its embrace of American ideals and the promises of freedom and human dignity. It was during the writing and publication of Bradbury’s work that Senator Joseph McCarthy and his ilk were at their most active, accusing thousands of Americans of being Communists or Communist sympathizers, especially those who worked in Hollywood, union organizers, and government employees. During this “Red Scare,” a blacklist was maintained of entertainers suspected of Communist sympathy, ruining the careers and lives of many; Americans turned on one another in an effort to avoid persecution themselves. Through the blacklist and the McCarthy hearings, it could be argued that any loss of individualism threatened by Communism was answered by something equally odious in American culture. But perhaps, as Captain Beatty tells us, it really all began when the zipper displaced the button, starting a domino effect that sped up our lives and eroded any “leisure time” in which we could simply think. In Fahrenheit 451, cars rush by 200-foot-long billboards at 130 miles per hour, far too fast for occupants to observe or enjoy their natural surroundings. Grass and rose gardens are perceived only as green and pink blurs, respectively. At home, blaring TV walls drown out any attempt at conversation, and suburban homes have lost their porches and gardens, spaces designed to invite connection and observation. Even when Montag dares to defy the law and memorize a portion of the Bible, the blaring advertisement jingles on the subway render him incapable of finishing his task. As with most dystopian novels, Bradbury features technology prominently and disparagingly; it has removed us from the natural world, separated us from one another, and contributed to both the hectic pace of our lives and the conformity which threatens our very humanity. These are critical ideas to contemplate and discuss, especially for those modern readers saturated by media and crammed “full of noncombustible data,” stuffed full of nonsense, and kept feeling “brilliant” with irrelevant information. Indeed, the intervening years since 1953 have delivered many of the advances Bradbury could only imagine. This point of connection, while unsettling, offers an excellent entry point to the modern reader able and willing to remove the ear buds, stop texting, and stay off the Internet long enough to fully enjoy the novel’s complex message cloaked in a popular genre better known for spawning hit movies than for critiquing society. In fact, the astounding prose is bright enough to keep the reader dazzled by rich allusions, brilliant metaphors, intrigue, and heart-stopping suspense. As a thing, the book is so enjoyable that it reminds us, very pointedly, that the act of reading itself is a right we too often take for granted. It is not a police state which we should fear the most, but instead the deliberate replacement of complex thought and potentially uncomfortable conversations with entertainment so barbless there is no risk of offense.