What are some examples of irony in Fahrenheit 451?

Quick answer:

Fahrenheit 451 employs various forms of irony. Verbal irony is seen when Captain Beatty sarcastically suggests Montag will enjoy destroying his own home. Dramatic irony occurs when Mildred unknowingly overdoses on sleeping pills, while the audience knows what happened. Situational irony appears in the depiction of firemen burning books, brutality being encouraged, and intellectual thought being forbidden in the dystopian society. Also, Montag has to join a group of disguised intellectuals to be valued.

Expert Answers

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

Verbal Irony: At the end of Part Two, Captain Beatty sarcastically inquires about Montag's physical condition and enthusiastically implies that Montag will enjoy going on the next call, which happens to be Montag's home. This is a clear example of verbal irony because Captain Beatty is not concerned about Montag's well-being, nor does he think Montag will enjoy destroying his own home. Captain Beatty says,

"Montag, you don't look well? I'd hate to think you were coming down with another fever...You'll be fine. This is a special case. Come on, jump for it!" (Bradbury, 52)

Dramatic Irony: A good example of dramatic irony takes place in Part One when Mildred overdoses on sleeping pills. Montag watches as an operator pumps his wife's stomach using a suctioning machine that resembles a snake. When Mildred wakes up in the morning, she wonders why she feels hungry and does not know that she had her stomach pumped. However, the audience is aware that Mildred had overdosed and had her stomach pumped the previous night, which makes this scene an example of dramatic irony.

Situational Irony: The entire novel is filled with examples of situational irony, which is when something happens that the audience does not expect, and the final outcome of an event or certain aspects of the novel do not meet the audience's expectations. From the beginning of the novel, Bradbury uses situational irony by depicting how firemen actually set books on fire instead of putting them out. Also, brutality is encouraged and intellectual thought is forbidden throughout the dystopian society's school system. In order to become a valued member of society, Montag must flee the city and join a traveling group of hobo intellectuals. Instead of being revered scholars, the intellectuals dress like homeless individuals in order to avoid the authorities, which is another example of situational irony.

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

The pages quoted are from my edition of the book which is ancient.  If you cannot find the exact quote in the book, you may need to look at the page ahead or behind it.

When Montag tries to communicate his distress over the burning of the old woman, Mildred replies “She’s nothing to me: she shouldn’t have had books.  It was her responsibility, she should’ve thought of that.  I hate her.  She’s got you going  and the next thing you know we’ll be out, no house, no job, nothing.”(pg  51.   Mildred is worrying about a dead old woman having this affect on Montag, and the fact of the matter is, she turns in the alarm on him.  She causes her life to have no house, no job, nothing by doing what the government says, not by breaking the law.

Another example of irony is Captain Beatty’s speech to Montag . He tells Montag

“Who knows who might be the target of a well-read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute.”  Pg 58.  

 The fact of the matter is, Montag is the target of a well-read man, Beatty.   When Montag returns to the firehouse, Beatty quotes John Donne, Sir Philip Sydney ,and  Alexander Pope.  He tells Montag of a dream he had where Montag quoted Dr. Johnson. He continues to taunt Montag with quotes from many different areas.  Pg 107.  When Montag is about to set him on fire, he spouts Shakespeare.  The man was well-read.

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

What is an example of verbal irony in Fahrenheit 451?

To be clear, verbal irony can present itself in several ways. It often occurs when someone intentionally makes a statement that is the opposite of the truth or what they feel, which usually has a sarcastic tone. Sometimes, however, the person doesn’t realize the untruth of their statement, which adds a layer of dramatic irony, since the listeners get it. Bradbury uses both types of verbal irony in Fahrenheit 451.

In part one, “The Hearth and the Salamander,” Montag becomes physically ill in response to the woman choosing to be burned alive with her books rather than live without them. Beatty gives Montag a pep talk about how important it is to keep people happy by preventing them from thinking. This, of course, is ironic. Yet Montag is unconvinced, so when the captain leaves, he turns to his wife for support, trying to explain to her how unhappy he is. He doesn’t yet understand why, but he feels that their lives are missing something, and he is angry about it. Mildred tells him to take the beetle because “you feel wonderful” when you run over rabbits and dogs with it. This is also ironic, that one must kill another creature in order to feel better. On top of this, she’s really not listening to her husband or what he needs; she’s talking about herself, which is a large part of Montag’s misery—their disconnectedness.

Montag insists that he doesn’t want to get over this feeling; he wants to figure out what’s wrong, even if it means reading books for answers. He tells Mildred that Beatty is right, happiness is important, “And yet...I’m not happy, I’m not happy.” At this point a loving wife would say something supportive to her husband. Mildred’s response is, “I’m tired of listening to this junk,” and she turns back to listen to the announcer on her T.V. walls. The irony of this is lost on her. She doesn’t have a clue what the real junk is that she chooses to listen to all day long. But of course we do, and Montag has begun to realize the meaninglessness of their way of life.

We see this several pages later when he tells Faber sarcastically, “Christ is one of the 'family' now. I wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down?” They use Christ to sell “commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.” At this point, Bradbury has moved beyond simple verbal irony to present satire on how disconnected this future society has become, a prophesy that we certainly see unfolding in our world today.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of verbal irony in Fahrenheit 451?

There are quite a few examples of verbal irony in this book. Fahrenheit 451 is a wonderful book about just how out of control some people really are. The symbolism and ironies in the book are scary to think about.

At the very beginning of the book, we meet Guy Montag, and he is a fireman. What is such a verbal irony here, is that in the past fireman were always there to put out fires and keep us safe, now in this future, they are the ones starting the fires and destroying everything. They are not there to keep us safe anymore. They are there to make sure the people don't have any books and think for themselves. 

The next verbal irony is after Montag starts a fire and he sees Clarise on the street and she asks him if he is happy. He thinks to himself, as he walks off, that of course he is happy. Why wouldn't he be happy?

"He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself like a tallow skin, lie the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs. He wore his happiness like a mask."

This is where we see the change begin to happen. Montag is now ready to think for himself and find out what true happiness really is.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of verbal irony in Fahrenheit 451?

One example of verbal irony is Mildred's continual reference to the actors performing on the TV walls as her "Family". In reality, Mildred neglects her true family (Montag), and even attempts to commit suicide. However, when Montag confronts her about these intentions, she denies it, unable to consider in what way she might be unhappy. But during the day, she constantly harps on Montag about buying a 4th TV wall, claiming that 3 isn't enough. She sits in her house all day (there's no reference to her ever working, but she's perfectly happy to spend Montag's money), watching the actors play out a meaningless, inane soap opera. At one point, Montag asks her to explain why everyone is so angry, but she can't even follow the storyline. Instead, she purchases an upgrade, which allows her name to be inserted into the conversation: like "her family" is actually speaking to her.

So she finds superficial, meaningless happiness in her material possessions, while drifting further and further away from Montag and the possibility of actual contentment.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of euphemism in Fahrenheit 451?

A euphemism can be defined as a polite word or expression that's used to refer to something inherently unpleasant. For example, instead of saying that someone's died, we often say that they've passed away. Euphemisms are a way of protecting people from the harsh nature of reality. This is precisely what the repressive government in the dystopian society of Fahrenheit 451 aims to do by burning books.

On one such book-burning expedition, the firemen—another euphemism—incinerate an old lady along with her books. Before she dies, she quotes the dying words of Hugh Latimer, a 16th century English Protestant bishop, burned to death by the Catholic Queen Mary as a heretic:

Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.

"Lighting a candle" is a euphemism, a much nicer way of describing someone being burned to death. Latimer was expressing his firm belief that the deaths of himself and his co-religionist, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, would act as a spark for change, lighting a permanent flame in the souls of their fellow Englishmen, who would embrace what they regarded as the true religion of Protestantism. The old lady uses this euphemism to refer, not to religion, but to the flame of knowledge, a flame that will never be extinguished despite the best efforts of this repressive, totalitarian government.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of euphemism in Fahrenheit 451?

The most obvious example of euphemism in Fahrenheit 451 is the use of the word "fireman" to refer to a person who actively sets fires, instead of a person who tries to put them out. In today's society, such a person would be called an "arsonist," not a fireman, but the government in the novel has revised both history and language to use the word in a different manner. A firetruck now is a truck filled with kerosene, with flamethrowers, and the fireman's traditional rescue dog is now a Mechanical Hound, with eight legs and a poison needle in its nose to kill people who try to escape or fight the system. By changing the meanings of these long-standing words, the implication of "I called the fireman" takes on a very different meaning.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of dramatic irony in Fahrenheit 451?

In Fahrenheit 451, there are a number of examples of dramatic irony (when the reader knows more than the character). Here are some examples:

  • When Montag is sick at home, Beatty visits him and gives him a lecture on the history of the fireman system. Beatty tells Montag that the firemen were introduced around the time of the Civil War with the purpose of setting fire to houses. In contrast, the reader knows firemen have always existed to put out fires and that Beatty's real intention is to steer Montag away from reading books. 
  • Also in this scene, the reader knows Montag has hidden a book under his pillow, but Mildred does not. This explains Montag's anxiety when she tries to straighten up his pillows.
  • When Montag first visits Faber's apartment, Faber assumes he is in trouble and demonstrates a hostile attitude towards his guest. The reader, however, knows Montag is in the early stages of rebellion and is genuinely searching for help to bring down the fireman system.
Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of dramatic irony in Fahrenheit 451?

Let us remind ourselves of the definition of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is a form of irony when one character and/or the audience knows something that other characters do not. The classic example is of course in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, where at the end, the audience knows that Juliet is just about to come to life again, but Romeo does not, and he kills himself just before it happens.

Thinking about this concept, it is clear that one example of dramatic irony could concern Mildred's attempt to kill herself and then her subsequent unawareness of this fact and what was done to save her the next morning. When Montag asks Mildred about last night, she responds:

"What? Did we have a wild party or something? Feel like I've a hangover. God, I'm hungry. Who was here?"

Her inability to remember what happened is an excellent example of dramatic irony, as is her assumption that they had a party and she is suffering from a hangover rather than the after-effects of having her life saved from her suicide attempt.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of dramatic irony in Fahrenheit 451?

Dramatic irony occurs when audience members or readers know something about characters or a situation that characters do not or particularly a specific character does not know.

In Fahrenheit 451, Montag, along with the reading audience, knows that Mildred just suffered from a dramatic stomach pumping in the middle of the night during the first chapter. However, Mildred has no idea why she feels strange the morning after the incident. In fact, she feels inexplicably famished and hungry. Montag makes the conscious choice not to tell her about it. Readers feel on the inside with Montag when this happens because they know too.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of situational irony in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

Situational irony occurs when a situation is the opposite of what characters in a work of literature think it is.

One example of situational irony in Fahrenheit 451 is that of Clarisse McClellan and her family. They are people who spend time outside in nature, don't watch the giant television view screens, take walks, and enjoy having conversations with each other. They are not overly reliant on technology and like to ask questions. When Clarisse interacts with Montag in a genuine way and shows an interest in him, it actually awakens in him a dissatisfaction with the shallowness of his life. To Bradbury's mind the McClellans represent people who are much more well adjusted than most of the people in their society.

However, as Beatty explains, within the context of their culture, the McClellans are considered deviant and maladjusted. Beatty says of them:

We had some false alarms on the McClellans, when they lived in Chicago. Never found a book. Uncle had a mixed record; anti-social. The girl? She was a time bomb. The family had been feeding her subconscious, I'm sure, from what I saw of her school record. She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. The poor girl's better off dead.

It is an example of situational irony that Beatty, a mouthpiece for orthodox thought in his culture, thinks the McClellans are a problem when they represent exactly the kind of thoughtful energy and inquiry the society needs. It is ironic that Beatty thinks Clarisse is better off dead when she was the most alive person Montag had met in years.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of situational irony in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

There is an example of situational irony on the very first page of Fahrenheit 451, when the reader meets the main character, Montag. In this opening paragraph, Montag's duties as a fireman and his enjoyment of the job are described to the reader:

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.

This situation is ironic because we would expect a fireman to put out fires, not to start them. In the world of Fahrenheit 451, however, firemen are the defenders of censorship and the burners of books. Though ironic to the reader, it is this description which foreshadows the conflict that Montag will experience as he comes to realise that this is a repressive system which does not make him truly happy. 

To escape this repression, however, there will be a second example of situational irony: Montag will have to burn his boss, Captain Beatty, as he fights against the book-burning which exists in his world.

For more examples of irony, please see the reference link provided. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of situational irony in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

Situational irony refers specifically to events where the setup causes an outcome opposite to expectations; it hinges on reversal of expectation rather. In the book, a good example of situational irony is the use of the term "firemen." In present-day society, firemen are public service workers who respond to sudden fires, either environmental or residential, and work with water and chemicals to put the fires out and save lives. However, in the book, it is made clear from the beginning that the firemen are "men of fire," charged with burning books and allowed to kill people who break the law without consequence.

"Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin."

RULE 1. Answer the alarm swiftly.
2. Start the fire swiftly.
3. Burn everything.
4. Report back to firehouse immediately.
5. Stand alert for other alarms.
(Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Google Books)

This is, of course, ridiculous; there is no reason why fires would be considered a good course of action, especially in regards to books. Also, Ben Franklin was the first firefighter, not an arsonist. However, since the future society is based on collective ignorance, it is imperative that the people be both afraid to read, and distrustful of anyone who thinks differently; the violence of the fire and the public consequences of burning are enough to continue this mindset. In this way, the term "firemen" is reversed and made ironic because it refers to the direct opposite of its initial meaning.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of situational irony in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

Let us remind ourselves of the definition of situational irony. Situational irony is when there is a sudden, unexpected reversal of what we expect to happen in a story. The classic example of this is "The Gift of the Magi," when there is a sudden, shocking ending as Jim and Della that they have both traded the possessions that were dearest to them to purchase gifts that now cannot be used by the other.

If we think about this concept in terms of this novel, I would argue that the ending of the story is an example of situational irony. Having finally escaped the mechanical hound and found a group of Book People who he can join, Montag is looking forward to a life of hidden opposition and remembering texts. Instead, both he and the reader are shocked by the sudden destruction of the city from which he has just fled:

The bombardment was to all intents and purposes finished once the jets had sighted their target, alerted their bombardier at five thousand miles an hour; as quick as the whisper of a scythe the war was finished. Once the bomb release was yanked, it was over.

The shock with which this rapid and sudden destruction of the city occurs is as much of a surprise for Montag as it is for us. Now the group will not have to operate in secret, and can be part of the phoenix rising from the ashes that Granger remembers. It is a sudden twist in the plot that takes us by surprise.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of sarcasm in Fahrenheit 451?

Fahrenheit 451 has many sarcastic elements that poke fun at Guy's society (and western modern society by extension). For example, in "The Sieve and the Sand," Mildred, Guy Montag's wife, has gathered her banal female friends at their home, and Guy taunts them with the poetry he is illegally reading. 

Mildred urges Guy to read by saying, "Here's that real funny one you read out loud today. Ladies, you won't understand a word. It goes umpty-tumpty- ump" (page numbers vary by edition). Mildred finds poetry riotously funny because it means as little to her as nonsense syllables. After Guy finishes reading "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, a serious and contemplative poem that reaffirms the poet's belief in the power of love above all, the ladies at the party, who Mildred thought she would entertain with silly poetry, instead break into sobbing. In fact, Mrs. Bowles, a party-goer, says to Montag, "You're nasty!" She conceives of his poetry reading as threatening and evil, which is ironic because the society is evil for making literature and poetry illegal. Guy is not evil for simply reading poetry. Hence, this scene employs sarcasm because Guy finds beauty in poetry, while the women, brainwashed by their society, find his reading poetry evil and harmful. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is an example of dramatic irony in book three of the novel Fahrenheit 451?

Dramatic irony is when the spectator or reader is given information that one or more characters are not aware of. Therefore, a subsequent event is usually a surprise to the character, but the audience is ready for it. 

At the very beginning of Part 3, Beatty is lecturing Montag on the perils of literature. Meanwhile, Faber continues talking to Montag via the radio device in his ear. The reader, Montag, and Faber are aware of this, but Beatty is not. Faber continually asks Montag if he can escape. Montag replies that he can't, "Because of the Hound!" Beatty assumes he is talking to him and agrees that the Hound is near. Finally, Montag tries to escape and Beatty hits him, sending the radio earpiece (the "green bullet") flying to the ground. Beatty discovers what we, Montag, and Faber had already known. This is called the resolution of dramatic irony. This is when the ignorant character discovers what the spectator was already aware of. Beatty says: 

"Well--so there's more here than I thought. I saw you tilt your head, listening. First I thought you had a Seashell. But when you turned clever later, I wondered. We'll trace this and drop it on your friend."

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Can you list some ironies from Fahrenheit 451?

I can try to list a few to get you started.  When you are looking for ironies, look for anything that is the opposite of what you might expect.  There are examples, obvious and more integrated, throughout the entire novel.

1.  Firemen that burn books instead of put out fires.

2.  The person to turn Montag into the authorities is his own wife.

3.  Montag, a fireman, gets an alarm turned in on his own house, and it is torched.

4.  Beatty, captain of the firemen, is extremely well-read and knowledgable about books, to the extent that he can quote them from heart.

5.  Families that are stable, loving, and funtioning, are targeted as threats and destroyed in their society.

6.  Montag and Mildred can't remember where they met.

Those are just a few ideas for you; I hope that helps a bit!  Good luck!

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on