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.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain, using themes, plot points, and characters from the book, how Fahrenheit 451 explores the concepts of conformity and difference and their effects on society.
2. Describe how and why censorship evolved in this society, and discuss the role of apathy in creating state control.
3. Identify the dystopian elements throughout the novel, and explain how Bradbury uses them to set the mood for the book and frame the story.
4. Compare and contrast Clarisse and Mildred, and identify the ideas and typologies each represents in general society.
5. Compare how technology functions in modern society to how it functions in the novel, and determine how technology affects the quality of life in each.
6. Identify and discuss how Bradbury employs literary allusions in the novel.
7. Investigate which actions the novel appears to condone in the face of an oppressive society.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
• The Study Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
• Before chapter Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Study Guide vocabulary lists include words from the novel that vary in difficulty.
1. The vocabulary lists for each chapter are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.
2. Working from the lesson plan’s chapter vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each chapter that are most appropriate for them.
The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the novel; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the novel.
3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.
Before students read through the book, point out to them the following themes, or universal ideas, that will be addressed in the novel:
- Alienation (from the environment, from each other, from truth)
- Control (language, history, information, communication)
Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or repeated action, element, or idea in a book. As they read, have them pay attention to the following motifs:
- Fire, flame
- Literature (books, history, beauty, intellectualism, elitism)
- Time and increments (what happens in mere minutes, hours, days, a week; speed;
- The natural world (leaves, milk, flowers, rain, apples, pear)
- Technology (Seashells, parlor walls, toast machine, subway, cleaning machines)
A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have your students talk about how the author uses the following symbols and look for other symbols on their own as they read:
- Mechanical Hound
- The Bible (Ecclesiastes, Revelation)
1. Clarisse says that sometimes she thinks “drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly . . . If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he’d say, that’s grass! A pink blur! That’s a rose garden! White blurs are houses. Brown blurs are cows.” What point do you think the author is trying to make through this passage? In the book, what consequences come from such a hectic, busy lifestyle?
2. Use examples from the text to describe how sanity is defined by society in Fahrenheit 451. By these criteria, which characters in the book are sane? Which characters are considered crazy, and why? How does this compare to what we consider abnormal or “crazy” behavior? What do you think Bradbury is trying to say about these definitions?
3. Describe at least two scenes from the book that feature fire, and use them to explain what fire and flame symbolize in the novel. Does the meaning shift throughout the novel?
4. Montag tells Faber that the reason he sought his help was that “[n]obody listens any more. I can’t talk to the wall because they’re yelling at me. I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense.” What does this passage say about people’s alienation from one another? What does it say about the distraction of media? Citing examples, describe the parallels you see with contemporary society.
5. When Millie, Mrs. Phelps, and Mrs. Bowles discuss politics with Montag, they say they voted for President Noble simply because he was handsome, much more attractive than his opponent who was fat, who mumbled, and who had an awkward name. Is politics really just a popularity contest? Use recent examples to take a position on this question: Do Americans base their votes...
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cacophony: simultaneous loud, jarring sounds
cataract: milky film that covers the lens of the eye
centrifuge: machine that spins rapidly to separate liquids of different densities
dictum: a command
dike: manmade embankment used to hold back water
figments of imagination: made up or imaginary things
fragile: easily broken or hurt
gorging: gluttonous, greedy
heresy: act against God or against the power structure
incinerator: type of furnace used to burn waste or garbage
jargon: specialized language
luminescent: glowing, shining
(The entire section is 2499 words.)
Cheshire Cat: cat known for his broad smile in the books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
contemptible: despicable, shameful
fidgeted: squirmed, moved restlessly
fly-leaf: first page of a book, especially a hardbound book
harlequin: clown, usually portrayed in a bright costume and mask
insidious: subtly menacing, dangerous
linguists: people who study language
perished: died, ended
praetorian guard: imperial Roman bodyguards
profusion: abundance, large amounts
retaliation: vengeance, act done for revenge
skepticism: doubt, disbelief
(The entire section is 1442 words.)
aesthetic: beautiful, visually appealing
anesthetized: made numb, put to sleep
bombardier: crew member that releases the bombs from a military plane
convolutions: twists or curves, complications
faltered: hesitated, paused
fugitive: wanted criminal who escapes capture
gibbering: babbling, talking in gibberish
gout: large blob
juggernaut: a destructive, unstoppable force or object
lagged: fell behind
liquefaction: process of liquefying something
litterateur: writer or student of literature
luminosity: brilliance, radiance
needling: provoking someone...
(The entire section is 2184 words.)
1. What does “451” stand for?
A. The number of banned books on the official list
B. Faber’s address
C. The temperature at which paper burns
D. The nickname for the Mechanical Hound
E. Montag’s address
2. What is a Seashell used for?
A. It is a type of receiver used to listen to radio programming.
B. It emits the sound of the ocean for relaxation.
C. It is used to communicate with other people.
D. It serves as decoration in the...
(The entire section is 1024 words.)
1. Describe how and why the firemen came into being and the rationale given by Beatty for making books illegal and burning them. Explain any underlying reasons or motivations for censorship that are implied, but not directly stated, in the text.
Contrary to the fact that firemen are public servants and represent the city, Beatty says that censorship did not begin with the politicians. Instead, he says that “[t]echnology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure did the trick.” Beatty says that censorship began with “mass communication,” by which he means information that was condensed for mass public consumption. With the invention of movies, radio, and television, books were cut shorter and shorter and...
(The entire section is 2806 words.)