- Slides: 104
FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
Firemen “It was a pleasure to burn” (p. 3) Guy Montag is a thirty-year-old fireman in the twenty-fourth century (keep in mind that this book was written during the early 1950 s). Day 01 (p. 03 -24)
Homes are now fireproofed so there is no longer the demand for a fireman to do his former work – putting out fires. Now the firemen start fires. They burn books in order to maintain social order; they are the official censors of the government. Books are evil; they must be destroyed.
Without books, and without the ideas that books contain, everyone conforms; as a consequence, everyone is happy. When books and ideas are available to people, conflict and unhappiness occur. In theory, then, Montag should be happy. But is he?
Happiness vs. Masks “‘Are you happy? ’ she said” (p. 10) Montag smiles, but he isn’t happy. The smile, just like his “burnt-corked” face, is a mask (4). Montag recognizes this, as does the reader, when he meets Clarisse Mc. Clellan (see page 12). Day 01 (p. 03 -24)
Clarisse is spontaneous and curious about nature and life, and she has no rigid daily schedule. Montag is a creature of habit. She speaks to him about the beauties of life, the man in the moon, the early morning dew, and her liking to smell things and examine things. Montag has never concerned himself with such trivial matters.
Clarisse lives with her mother, father, and uncle; Montag has no family other than his wife, and his home life is unhappy.
Millie Montag “There was only the singing of the thimblewasps in her tamped-shut ears” (p. 13) Guy isn’t the only person who is unhappy. Although she would never admit it, Millie is not happy either. Day 01 (p. 03 -24)
The reader discovers that Mildred places small, seashell-like radios into her ears, and the music whisks her away from the dreariness of her everyday reality. Millie also relies on the three wall-size TVs in their home in order to escape from her meaningless existence. She has abandoned reality through the use of technology.
And she doesn’t stop there. Millie is also addicted to tranquilizers and sleeping pills. On this night, in particular, Montag discovers that she has taken an overdose of pills and calls the emergency hospital. The reader never discovers if this was an attempted suicide or just a result of sheer mindlessness.
Something to Hide “He stood looking up at the ventilator grille…” (p. 10) Apparently Montag has something to hide. This section mentions it twice: once on page 10, and briefly on page 19, when Montag is peering up in the air-conditioning vent. Day 01 (p. 03 -24)
Taste the Rain “[H]e tilted his head back in the rain, for just a few moments, and opened his mouth…” (p. 24) Clarisse awakens in Montag a love and a desire to enjoy the simple and innocent things in life. After she leaves, Guy, for the first time in his life, tilts his head up and tastes the rain. Day 01 (p. 03 -24)
It is significant that Montag drinks water. Water is cleansing and purifying. Bradbury uses water imagery in order to imply a rebirth or regeneration for Montag. This won’t be the last time water imagery is used for this purpose in the novel
Firemen’s Symbols (p. 6) The Salamander a lizard-like animal representation of fire. In mythology, it endures flames without burning. Day 01 (p. 03 -24)
and the Phoenix a mythical bird that supposedly lives 500 years, burns itself to ashes on a pyre, and rises alive from the ashes to live again. It continues this cycle indefinitely.
Worthless Marriage “When did we meet? And where? ” (p. 42) Montag comes to realize that his marriage to Millie is in shambles He can’t even remember when, where, or how they met. Millie can’t remember either; she is more interested in her “family” – the images on her three-walled TV. Day 02 (p. 24 -48)
She also drives their car recklessly and overdoses on sleeping pills These are all indicators to Montag that their life is both meaningless and purposeless. They don’t love one another; in fact, if they love anything at all, it would be burning (for Montag) and the TV “relatives” (for Millie).
Guilt “The growl simmered in the beast and it looked at him” (p. 26) Montag is afraid that the Hound dislikes him. He has a guilty conscience. He thinks that somehow this Hound knows that he has confiscated some books during one of his raids. Day 02 (p. 24 -48)
Captain Beatty “None of those books agree with each other… Snap out of it! The people in those books never lived” (p. 38) Beatty is a well-read man, but he still goes along with society’s path. Reading books isn’t the problem – the problem is when they affect one’s actions. Beatty is intelligent and has read a lot, but he sees no value in books – so he burns them. Day 02 (p. 24 -48)
Beatty even goes along with perversions of history, as it appears in the history of Firemen in America, which states that the first fire station was founded in 1790 by Benjamin Franklin in order to “burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. ” Interestingly, Ben Franklin did start the first fire department (in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1736), but they put fires out, of course! Ben died in 1790. It’s very important to know history, so others cannot change it to suit their purposes.
The Old Woman Martyr “You can’t ever have my books” (p. 38) This old woman refuses to leave her home after she is caught with books. She would rather die than live without her books. Her words are very interesting. Day 02 (p. 24 -48)
She quotes Hugh Latimer, an early martyr for the Protestant faith: “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. ” This quote is very significant. Latimer and Ridley were burned at the stake as heretics because they dared challenge the established authority (the Catholic Church), and their deaths drew others to their cause.
Here, this woman dies for her cause, and Montag becomes intrigued and decides to investigate what books really are, what they contain, and what fulfillment they offer. He wants to find out why they’re worth dying for. This is a major turning point for Guy, as is Clarisse’s death.
More About the Old Woman and Her Match Why did Bradbury choose to make this character a woman, and why did she strike a match? Traditionally, “Knowledge” has been portrayed as a woman. Just think about the Greek goddess Athena (born from Zeus’ head) who represents wisdom. Day 02 (p. 24 -48)
Also, wisdom is often portrayed as a light or torch. Think about Prometheus, the god who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind.
The Hound “He did not open the window” (p. 48) At the end of this section, Montag has a premonition that the Hound is stalking him and that it is just outside his house. Either it’s all in his head and no one suspects anything, or someone knows what he’s hiding and has tipped off the captain. Day 02 (p. 24 -48)
Realization “I’m not going to work tonight” (p. 49) Montag feigns illness and goes to bed for a couple reasons… Day 03 (p. 48 -68)
First, Millie, his wife, offers him no sympathetic understanding about his changing beliefs about books, and he is realizing that he can’t talk to her about anything substantial and that their relationship is worthless.
Second, Montag is coming to grips with the fact that he has not only played a part in burning and executing an old woman the night before, he has been burning and killing people’s lives and ideas (in the form of their books) for his entire career.
Books “There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine” (p. 51) Montag knows there must be something special about books, something so great that it made the old woman want to remain in the burning house with her books rather than leave them. Day 03 (p. 48 -68)
He tries to convey this to Millie, but she is incapable of understanding what he means. All she knows is that books are illegal and that anyone who breaks the law must be punished.
The Pep Talk “A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it” (p. 58) Captain Beatty has been suspicious of Montag’s recent behavior and has been aware of the intellectual and moral changes going on in Montag. He has already recognized Montag’s discontent, and so he makes a sick. Day call to 03 (p. 48 -68) Montag’s home.
He explains that every fireman sooner or later goes through a period of intellectual curiosity and steals a book. (He miraculously seems to know that Montag has, in fact, stolen a book. ) Beatty stresses that books contain nothing believable. “[B]ooks say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They’re about nonexistent people, figments of imagination” (62).
The Problem with Books “People want to be happy, isn’t that right? ” (p. 59) Everyone is angered by at least some kinds of literature; the simplest solution is to get rid of all the books. Books spread ideas, opinions, and controversy. Eliminating them eliminates controversy and conflict. Politically Correct Day 03 (p. 48 -68)
Beatty is promoting a perverse democratic ideal: ridding the world of all controversial books and ideas makes all men equal. “You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none” (60 -1).
Part One The Hearth and the Salamander (p. 2) Fire has a dual image; it can be destructive and purifying. It can destroy, but it can also warm. A hearth is a comforting fireplace. Day 03 (p. 48 -68)
A salamander is a creature that can survive in fire. Possibly Montag himself is being described through the mention of the salamander. His job has dictated that he live in an environment of fire and destruction, but Montag now realizes that the salamander is able to remove itself from fire and survive.
What Book? “It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end” (p. 68) Jonathan Swift wrote these words in Book I of Gulliver’s Travels. This is where Gulliver is on the island of Lilliput, and the Little-Endians and Big-Endians are fighting about which side of an egg should be broken. Day 03 (p. 48 -68)
This is about a society that will go to extreme lengths (fighting and killing one another) to enforce conformity. Sound familiar?
Noise at the Door “It’s only a dog, that’s what!” (p. 72) While Montag and Millie are reading books, there is a noise at the door. Millie says it is only a dog. Which leads us to guess that it’s the Mechanical Hound and that it has been sent by Beatty to obtain evidence against Montag. Day 04 (p. 71 -91)
Teachers “Poor Montag, it’s mud to you” (p. 74) Montag realizes that he needs a teacher to help him understand better what he reads in books. Most of us do until we learn how to read well and can do it on our own. Day 04 (p. 71 -91)
The Sieve and the Sand “[I]f you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve” (p. 78) The title of this section refers to a childhood memory where Montag tried to fill up a sieve (a utensil of wire mesh or closely perforated metal, used for straining) with sand. Day 04 (p. 71 -91)
It is, of course, impossible to fill up a sieve with sand because the sand keeps slipping through the holes. This same thing is happening as he’s reading this book (the Bible); the words are all slipping through his thoughts and not sticking. And those loud, interrupting commercials for Denham’s Dentifrice (toothpaste) sure aren’t helping his memory…
The Three Missing Things “It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books” (p. 82) The three things missing in this future dystopia (an imaginary place in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror) are quality of information leisure to digest information and the right to carry out actions. Day 04 (p. 71 -91)
Books “show the pores in the face of life” (83). They expose problems and spread ideas. In the novel, the people’s quality of information is awful. Not only are the stories and news articles the people receive completely watered down and stripped of anything controversial or thought provoking, they are laced with lies and deceit.
For example, just think about what the general public thinks about the history of firemen. They think that houses have always been fireproof and that firemen have always started fires as opposed to put them out.
Leisure is not TV time; TV is a distraction most of the time – television “tells you what to think and blasts it in” (84). Leisure is time to reflect upon what you read or what new ideas or thoughts you come to.
Lastly, books (and the ideas in them) are of no value unless people have the right to carry out actions based on things learned from books. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look too promising for Montag and Faber that they’ll have much freedom the way things are going.
Montag’s Plan “I’ve a list of firemen’s residences everywhere” (p. 86) Montag thinks he and Faber could frame the firemen by planting books in their houses or fire departments and then calling in an alarm on them. Faber doesn’t think this would be very effective in bringing books back into people’s lives because most people don’t even want books Day 04 (p. 71 -91) anymore.
Faber’s Plan “I’m the Queen Bee, safe in the hive. You will be the drone, the traveling ear” (p. 90) Faber has made some two-way communicating devices so that Montag and he can be in constant contact. This way the two of them can work together to confront Beatty. Day 04 (p. 71 -91)
This is especially important because Faber is wise and learned while Montag is uneducated Faber is a coward while Montag is fearless.
Why the Book of Job? “I’ll read so you can remember” (p. 92) It is significant that Faber selects this book from the Old Testament. This book is about a man named Job, who is tested by God. Job suffers many tragedies and, in the end, learns to trust God completely. Montag is about to be tested severely Day 05 (p. 91 -110)
Relationships “You heave them into the ‘parlor’ and turn the switch… They’d just as soon kick as kiss me ” (p. 96) Bradbury paints a pretty depressing vision of future relationships. These relationships are seen as shallow and worthless. Day 05 (p. 91 -110)
Millie’s friends’ fake smiles are an indication of the illusion of happiness that they are under. Millie’s friends are very much like her; they are all more interested and involved in their TV “families” than they are in their real ones. They don’t really care about their kids (if they have them), and they don’t really seem to care much about their husbands, who are gone to war.
Many of Bradbury’s works include this theme that better technology doesn’t necessarily increase (and may decrease) the quality of life. Faber: “Montag, you mustn’t go back to being just a fireman. All isn’t well with the world” (104).
In this world where people are supposed to be happy and content, the ladies can’t think of anyone who was killed in a war, but they can think of plenty who committed suicide (94).
The Alliance “He would be Montag-plus-Faber, fire plus water, and then, one day… there would be neither fire nor water, but wine” (p. 103) Fire (Montag) and water (Faber) images blend, and the product resulting from the union of theses two separate and opposite items is a third – wine. Wine looks like water, but it burns like fire. Montag and Faber, fire and water – together Day 05 (p. 91 -110) they work because all is far from well in the
“Dover Beach” “Where ignorant armies clash by night” (p. 100) “Dover Beach” is a poem by Matthew Arnold, and even though these ladies are all very shallow, it affects them all in some way (even though they can’t explain why). Day 05 (p. 91 -110)
Mrs. Bowles becomes upset and leaves in a fury; Mrs. Phelps becomes sad and leaves, crying (her husband is the one in the war); and Millie escapes this scene by rushing to the bathroom and downing several sleeping pills.
The Captain “[T]he Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority” (p. 108) Beatty is revealed to be extremely well-read; he quotes, accurately, authors from a wide range of historical periods (quoting extensively from the Bible, John Donne, Sir Philip Sidney, Alexander Pope, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Ben Johnson, Francis Bacon, Robert Burton, Sir Isaac Newton, and lots of Shakespeare) and is able to apply what he has read. Day 05 (p. 91 -110)
He has obviously thought about what the works mean, and, in a curious way, uses them to good effect against Montag. He is aware of Montag’s new-found zealousness: “Read a few lines and off you go over the cliff. Bang, you’re ready to blow up the world, chop off heads, knock down women and children, destroy authority” (106).
Irony “[W]e’ve stopped in front of my house” (p. 110) Before Montag can respond to Beatty, the fire alarm sounds, and the firemen rush off to work. Montag then realizes that his own home is the target for the firemen. This is a reversal of his plans; instead of implementing a plan to undermine the firemen by planting books in their houses, Montag, in a grotesque reversal of expectations, becomes a victim himself Day 05 (p. 91 -110)
It’s Personal “Your house, your cleanup” (p. 116) Beatty apparently didn’t really want to arrest Montag for breaking the law He claims to have sent the Hound around Montag’s house as a warning. Day 06 (p. 113 -136)
Beatty compares Montag to Icarus, the boy from Greek mythology whose father made wings so he could fly. Icarus fell to his death when he flew too close to the sun because the wings, which were made of wax, melted.
Beatty further reveals his active imagination and knowledge of illegal books. When Beatty forces Montag to set fire to his own house, Montag almost seems to enjoy burning this house that he and Millie shared. She was basically a stranger to him, and he gets revenge on the TV screens that he hates so strongly.
Values “We never burned right…” (p. 119) The meaning of these words is open to speculation. Montag could be saying that the firemen should know what it is they are burning; they should know what the subjects of the books are and what they contain. Day 06 (p. 113 -136)
Or, possibly, burning shouldn’t be done simply as a mindless job that one does out of force of habit or routine, but of political or ideological convictions. Given the context, however, he says it with the implication that Beatty was wrong to encourage book burning when he, Beatty, knew the value of the books.
Look Both Ways “The beetle came in a single whistling trajectory, fired from an invisible rifle” (p. 127) In his journey to Faber’s, Montag confronts an unforeseen danger: crossing a boulevard. Because cars travel at such high speeds, crossing the street is extremely dangerous – plus, the fact that so little value is given to a person’s life makes it a sport to run over pedestrians. Day 06 (p. 113 -136)
(Remember that Clarisse was killed by a hitand-run driver. ) This crossing is especially dangerous because Montag has a crippled leg, deadened with procaine.
Personal and Public Parallels “You know the war’s on? ” (p. 131) On his way to Faber’s house, Montag discovers that war has been declared. This hint of doom, which has been looming on the horizon during the entire novel, is now reaching a climax. Day 06 (p. 113 -136)
This new development again serves as a parallel to the situation in which Montag finds himself. He is at war against his former self and against the society that he disagrees with.
Montag’s Problem: Beatty “Don’t face a problem, burn it” (p. 121) It’s poetic justice that Beatty is burned as a solution to Montag’s problem. Soon after killing him, Montag comes to the realization that Beatty wanted to die – he seemed to provoke Montag into ending his life. Day 06 (p. 113 -136)
This helps (or forces) the reader to look at Beatty in a very different way than he was seen before. What Montag had always imagined, that all firemen were happy, has no basis now – neither he nor Beatty was happy. In a strange way, Beatty had wanted to commit suicide, but evidently had been too cowardly to carry it out.
This is the fourth instance of characters in this futuristic society being unhappy to the point of being suicidal: Millie overdosing on sleeping pills the fireman in Seattle who purposely set a Mechanical Hound to search for his own chemical composition and set it loose and the unidentified woman who chose to go up in flames with her books.
People in Montag’s society simply aren’t happy. Their desire for death reflects a social depression and sense of meaningless and purposelessness
Cleansing “[H]e walked out in the river until there was no bottom and he was swept away in the dark” (p. 139) While the chase is continuing elsewhere, Montag floats in the river toward the far shore and safety. The imagery of water, a traditional symbol of regeneration and renewal, suggests. Daya 07 (p. 137 -160) transformation in Montag.
Epiphany “[H]e knew why he must never burn again in his life” (p. 141) His time spent in the water also helps Montag to think and reflect. He thinks about his dual roles as a fireman… Day 07 (p. 137 -160)
“The sun burnt every day. It burnt Time… So if he burnt things with the firemen and the sun burnt Time, that meant that everything burnt… One of them had to stop burning ” (141). Only human beings are capable of making choices (and therefore are moral), and his moral choice is to stop burning.
Duality of Fire “It was not burning. It was warming” (p. 145) To signal the profound change that Montag has undergone, we learn now that he sees fire as strange. This is not a fire that destroys, but heals, and by so doing, it draws Montag to the company of his fellow outcasts, book burners of a different sort. Day 07 (p. 137 -160)
Body Odor “Drink this, too. It’ll change the chemical index of your perspiration” (p. 147) The leader of the outcasts is Granger, a former author and intellectual. Curiously, Granger seems to have expected Montag and reveals his good will by offering Montag “a small bottle of colorless fluid” to change his scent and protect him from the Hound (147). Day 07 (p. 137 -160)
Not only is Montag dressed in clothes that are not his, the chemical which Granger offers now changes his perspiration, his chemical signature. Montag’s thoughts and beliefs have changed along with his physical qualities. He has become, literally, a different man.
Cover-up “They’re faking… They can’t admit it” (p. 148) The government cannot allow the public to know of their failure, so they enact a hoax: an innocent man is chosen as a victim for the TV cameras. Day 07 (p. 137 -160)
The populace is deceived into thinking that Montag is dead because their wall televisions actually depict the murder of a man, even though this man is not Montag (whom the populace, of course, has never seen). Don’t believe everything you see on TV…
Human Books “We’re nothing more than dust jackets for books” (p. 153) Granger explains to Montag the nature of the commune and how each member chooses a book and memorizes it. When the entire book has been memorized, it is then burned to prevent the individual from being arrested by the authorities. Day 07 (p. 137 -160)
From that time on, it is transmitted verbally from one generation to another. Now, not only has Montag learned the value of a book, but he has also learned that he can become the book itself.
One of the neatest quotes from the book occurs when Montag is examining the faces of the group and one of them says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” (155).
Another great one is when Granger quotes his grandfather as saying, “I hate a Roman named Status Quo” (157). Status quo is a Latin phrase meaning “the existing state of affairs, ” or “the way things are now. ”
Realization “Mildred!” (p. 159) While the bombs are dropping, Montag’s thoughts turn to Millie, and he imagines how the last moments of her life must have been. He pictures her looking at her wall TV set. In an instant, the TV screen goes blank, and Millie is left seeing only a mirror image of herself. Day 07 (p. 137 -160)
Montag imagines that just before her death, Millie finally sees and knows for herself just how superficial and empty her life has been. Who knows if that happened or not. Your thoughts?
Discussion Questions, p. 137160 On 140, it says the river was going away from the people who ate Shadows, Steam, and Vapor. What does this mean? On 141, what does the sun burn? How? On 142, Montag imagined a farmhouse. With whom in it? Why? On 144, there is more than enough to fill him. Enough what? Why?
Discussion Questions, p. 137160 How could it be ironic that now Montag is finding his way along the railroad track? And then, Montag saw a fire. What was different about this fire than all other fires he had seen? On 149, Montag watches himself get killed. How? On 151, Montag is talking to some men. They are all confident that Montag can recite the book of Ecclesiastes. Why are they so confident?
Discussion Questions, p. 137160 On 152, it is explained why these men have to keep their mouths shut for now. Why? What are they waiting for? Why? On 153, it is explained that these men cannot feel superior to anybody. Why not? On 156, Montag explains what is so sad about Millie. What is? Why is that sad? On 157, how is nature superior to man, even with man's bombs?
Discussion Questions, p. 137160 On 157, still, there is a line that says, “I hate a Roman named Status Quo!” What's wrong with the Roman named Status Quo? On 159, how does Montag imagine Mildred's end?
History Repeats Itself “Phoenix” (p. 163) After thinking about the war and looking into the fire, Granger says the word “phoenix. ” The phoenix, he says, was “a silly damn bird” which “every few hundred years” built a pyre “and burned himself up. ” Day 08 (p. 160 -179)
Granger imagines the bird as “first cousin to Man” because the bird was continually going through rebirth only to destroy himself again. There’s a famous saying that history repeats itself. We keep making the same mistakes over and over – to the detriment of our very lives – only to learn for a short time and repeat the process later.
Altruism “They’ll be needing us up that way” (p. 163) As soon as the city is destroyed, Granger, Montag, and the rest of the exiles feel compelled to return to the city and lend aid to any survivors. Day 08 (p. 160 -179)
Right at the end of the book, Montag recalls the words from Ecclesiastes 3: 1 -8, which says, “To everything there is a season… A time to break down, a time to build up. ” This passage reminds him that there is a time for dying or killing, and there is a time for living and healing. He also thinks about a prophetic passage from Revelation 22 that talks about trees whose fruit would heal the nations.
Part Three Burning Bright (p. 111) The title given to Part Three alludes to William Blake’s poem “The Tyger. ” This poem, from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, is often interpreted as a meditation about the origin of evil in the world. The first four lines of the poem are: “Tyger, burning bright, / In the forests of the night: / What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame they fearful symmetry? Day 08 (p. 160 -179)
In Blake’s poem, the tiger is often considered a symbol for a world in which evil is at work; it speaks also of the dual nature of all existence.
Appropriately, Part Three’s title, “Burning Bright, ” serves a dual function: it summarizes the situation at the conclusion of the book: Even while the city is still burning brightly from the war’s destruction, the spirit of the commune is also brightly burning, signifying a future of hope and optimism.
The Moral “There is more than one way to burn a book” (p. 176) Fahrenheit 451 is clear in its warnings and moral lessons aimed at the present. Bradbury believes that our social organization can easily become oppressive and regimented unless it changes its present course of suppression of an individual’s innate rights (freedom from censorship or other forms of control, for Day 08 (p. 160 -179) example).
The degenerated future depicted in Fahrenheit 451 represents the culmination of dangerous tendencies that are submerged in our own society. At the very least, the book asserts that an individual’s freedoms include his or her freedom of imagination.
They Just Don’t Get It “I discovered that…editors…censored some 75 different sections from [Fahrenheit 451]” (p. 177) The ultimate irony is that this book whose main theme is about the existence and dangers of censorship has been censored. Again: “There is more than one way to burn a book” (176).
If you liked Fahrenheit 451, you might also like the following: Books – Brave New World by Aldus Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand Movies – Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium (2002) and George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971) Day 08 (p. 160 -179)