Introduction to Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel, written by an American author, Ray Bradbury. It was published in the United States in 1953 and instantly became a textbook across the globe. Interestingly this novel declared to be a textbook presents the American future society where books have been banned and firemen have been deputed to ensure their burning. The novel presents the story of Guy Montag, a fireman, who becomes disenchanted by his work of burning books and censoring them before starting his task. Eventually, he gives up this job, thinking preservation of knowledge a moral option for him. The storyline of the novel won various awards for its uniqueness, bringing recognition to the author and awards such as the American Academy Award and Prometheus Hall of Fame Award with several others. The novel also became a film adaptation under the same name in 1966 and 2018.
Summary of Fahrenheit 451
The story opens with Guy Montag engaged in his work of burning books. Society now does not need books as people have stopped reading them because the Government has banned the books to control the public opinions and the offense they were creating among the people for the content written by the writers. They rather enjoy nature and spend time in enjoyments and conversation. They also take time for long drives in high speed and watch televisions or listen to Seashell radio sets attached to them. Also, the state was under the threat of atomic bombings and war.
During his work of burning books, Montag comes across a young girl, his neighbor Clarisse McClellan. She has a very powerful impact on him due to her innocent questions and love for nature. She shows him the other side of life and love. In the next few days, he goes through several disturbing experiences in that his wife tries to take her life by taking pills but fortunately paramedics save her by using the modern technology who arrive at the scene, showing no empathy because that was their everyday job, and then he finds another old woman having a literary treasure hidden in her building and still another wanting to burn with her with the books when he reaches to eliminate them. However, before burning the books he steals a book from the old woman’s library. When he contacts Clarisse, he comes to know about her accident in which she had died. It further dissatisfies him with his work as well as life and he starts thinking about the solution of books he has stolen and hidden in the vent to read them in leisure.
Montag refuses to go to work the next day. Soon Montag starts to play truant and his captain, Beatty, sensing something fishy, reaches him. He advises him about his thoughts regarding books and tells him that it is normal to think out of routine but his monologue rather further disturbs Montag’s confused mind. His argument that the first ban was slapped after some groups objected to some books does not go down well with Montag. It also does not seem appropriate to him when Beatty said that an overall ban was imposed on books after some time. Finally, society started banning books and the final order came in the shape of the burning of all of the books having conflicting arguments in them. He also permits Montag to keep books for a day and then return after having a glance at their pages and Montag takes a night to see what those books have in them. Overwhelmed by reading, he sees that his wife is engaged in watching television and thinks about a retired English professor, Faber, and decides to meet him to help him understand the reading. Faber, then, briefs him about the value of books and the enjoyment that provide during leisure. With his help, Montag starts thinking about changing the status quo and making a plan to proliferate such books to the firemen in its first phase. They also have a radio set for two-way communication to hide their plan.
When Montag reaches the professor, he sees friends of his wife watching television and having a chitchat about families and war. He becomes furious over their casual manner and starts reading Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach even though when Faber calls him not to do so. Meanwhile, Mildred tells him that the firemen read poetry to discredit books, while women flee seeing his interest in books. Thinking about books, he reaches office and hands over books to his chief, Beatty, who bombards him with contradictory ideas from literature to discredit books. Suddenly, they find the alarm bells calling them to Montag’s house at which he feels the treachery of his wife about informing the office regarding the presence of books. After Montag completes this task of burning his own house, Beatty still does not stop berating him, incensing him to the point that he turns the flamethrower at him. Meanwhile, the Mechanical Hound injects an anesthetic on his leg, yet Montag destroys it with the flamethrower and manages to flee with some of his books. A fireman’s ranch becomes his hideout from where he calls his friend Faber.
When finally, they meet, Faber informs him about the hunting expedition launched to track him down. As Faber is going to St. Louis in search of a printer, Montag requests him to eliminate his smell from the house to mislead the sniffers. Meanwhile, he learns from the news that another man has been killed in his name by the hound just to create fear in the hearts of the people to let them know how drastic measures the State would take if anyone went against it. Taking Faber’s clothes, he leaves the ranch toward the river from where he goes downstream and finds a group led by Granger. The book lovers welcome his addition to the group as a memorizer of books in the event of the war just going to be declared. He was assigned to memorize the book of Ecclesiastes. They soon find jets zooming on their heads and themselves finding more friends to lay the foundation of a new civilization with the help of memorized books. The story ends with the reference to the poem by William Blake’s ‘The Tyger: Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night…Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’ explaining the evolution of Montag’s fire as a symbol of both creation and destruction.
Major Themes in Fahrenheit 451
- Censorship: Censorship is the major theme of the novel with the impending issue of knowledge gained by people and the role of books in the transformation of an individual as well as a society. Guy Montag’s role of burning the books through a complete setup exposes the role of the books. The burning of the house of the Old Woman for keeping books shows that the new government does not tolerate books that play a disruptive role in society. This ruthless censorship goes on until Montag meets Clarisse who changes his outlook toward books. Finally, when Millie and her friends show their gratification through television programs and absurd conversations, it becomes urgent that censorship be eliminated. However, the meeting of Faber with Montag and their final plan with Granger’s group shows hope that books may bring change in the future civilization.
- Ignorance and Knowledge: The novel shows the significance of knowledge through the character of Guy Montag and Clarisse. Although Montag is engaged in the work of destroying knowledge. It is clear that destroying books is like destroying knowledge, it also shows that once he becomes confused through Clarisse about his task, he immediately withdraws himself until his boss, Beatty, becomes suspicious and tries to place him under house arrest. In the anti-book, Montag soon runs for his life after his wife seems to have betrayed him. When he finally escapes with the assistance of Faber, he is fighting to save knowledge until he meets Granger whose memorizing task for him is an act, they think, can save the civilization from extinction or that they can rebuild it from scratch.
- Life and Death: Fahrenheit 451 shows the theme of life and death through Mildred, Guy’s wife. She tries to take her own life by committing suicide which makes Montag think deeply about these metaphysical issues due to the impacts of Clarisse. He soon realizes that though Beatty is his supervisor, most of the work is being done by the mechanical machines that can kill or spare anybody without any conscience. When a Mechanical Hound chases him, he runs for his life despite having been injected with anesthesia. It shows that when machines take the life of their own, human beings need to be watchful about their lives as it happens that the same machines run by Guy Montag are after him and he is trying to escape from them. Several other deaths in the novel such as of Clarisse and the Old Woman show that life is in constant transformation as the final world war soon takes the life of its own and ends a few of them to rebuild the world.
- Role of Technology: The novel shows that technology, once breaks the grip of human control, can become catastrophic in that it could end civilization. Although starting from simple dissidence, it soon transpires in the new government that the poison is being spread by books and the elimination of books is possible only through technology. Then Mechanical Hounds are set upon human beings. Guy Montag runs for his life and uses the same technology to stage a coup, though, without any success. His final meeting with Granger and his gang shows that when technology has brought catastrophe, it is the human mind that can save the world through memorization.
- Alienation: The novel shows that when machines take lead, human beings become alienated like Mildred Montag who feels that her life is not only useless but also purposeless. So, she tries to end it by taking pills. Montag also suffers from depression because of the work of burning books that he thinks are taking a toll on his household as the women are only discussing this and nothing in particular. This alienation annoys him more when the Old Woman dies while her house is burning. Soon he finds himself on the run after Mildred betrays him, completing the alienation of human beings.
- Dehumanization: The dehumanization has been shown in the novel through the character of Beatty, Mildred, and other ladies that sit with her to discuss different things. Montag is dehumanized in the beginning but stays skeptical until Clarisse meets him and raises suspicions on his work. It happens that when he sees the Old Woman dying with her books in her own house; Guy’s wife betraying him as he runs for his life after trying to kill Beatty. It appears that Professor Faber has tried to humanize him through books, and it has worked. That is why he finally comes to the point that civilization could be saved through books.
- Power of Books: The power that the books wield is clear from the way Guy Montag shows the transformation in his thinking and subsequent actions after he meets Clarisse. He knows inwardly that the action of keeping books to be declared a crime is not small thinking. His duty of burning the books means that he is depriving others of knowledge. So, it is not just the power of books, but the power of knowledge that he keeping away from others. That is why he joins hands with Professor Faber to save the last remnants of knowledge by memorizing some of them left with the gang.
- Role of Media: The novel shows that media plays a critical role in shaping public thinking. When Guy Montag reaches home, he sees that Millie and all her friends are enjoying life, watching programs and advertisements on their televisions. The access of radio broadcast directed into the ears of the listeners also point to this role of media about feeding the public and showing them what the government wants. This means media is used to make the people think what the elite class at the helm of the affairs wants them to see and think.
- Loss of Individuality: The theme of the loss of one’s identity and individuality is significant in the novel in that Montag feels that he has become a machine while working with machines and that the characters like ‘Character’ are blessed with independent thinking while they are not. On the other hand, his wife, Mildred, and her friends show that they have lost their individuality.
- Passivity: The novel also shows the theme of passivity through Montag, Millie, and her friends. Montag acts quickly to get rid of the role he is playing under this government. However, it seems that all other people are satisfied with their fortune and lack of knowledge.
Major Characters Fahrenheit 451
- Guy Montag: Guy Montag is the protagonist of the novel. He is engaged in burning books, which are considered subversive in the state. As the firefighter, his role involves burning books and not considering emotions as he shows when burning the house of the Old Woman. Despite his initial satisfaction with his duties, he soon comes to a realization about the harmful impacts on society as a whole when he meets Clarisse McClellan. His mental conflict caused by this girl soon leads him to be skeptical of his role, leading him to conspire with Professor Faber and save books. Finally, he has a chance to flee and join a group when the war erupts and starts memorizing books to save civilization from eternal elimination.
- Mildred Montag: Mildred or Millie is Guy Montag’s wife. She plays an important role in showing the world how a regime ignores its own house. The ignorance shown by her and her friends when watching television shows that the main task of Guy Montag is to keep people oblivious to their real situation, though, it turns the table on him when he comes to know about his wife’s aborted suicide. Then his conversation transpires that the regime has become too heavy for such frail souls, as she leads a passive and receptive life, engaged only in sightseeing or getting bored.
- Captain Beatty: As the instrument of the regime, his duty is to captain the firefighters and ensure that they do not rebel against the state. Despite his education and knowledge, he stays loyal and becomes the victim of his loyalty when Montag turns against him. However, his obsession that knowledge causes people to be skeptical stays the same despite this accidental incident. His life takes a turn for the worse as he becomes too dangerous for Guy Montag as he struggles to make Guy accept his orders or send mechanical hounds after him.
- Clarisse McClellan: Clarisse, a young girl, brings a sea change in the behavior of Guy Montag, causing suspicion in his mind about his duty assigned to him by the regime. She bumps into him when going on his duty and impacts his thinking about the collective social oppression through his work of burning books. Her character shows a questioning mind, though, she is ignorant of the real impact of Guy Montag’s work. Her character shows unique individuals who quiz mob following and refuse to go along with the tide.
- Professor Faber: Professor Faber represents knowledge through his support of saving the books. His love for books leads him to form a resistance movement and its success lies in attracting the important state pillar, Guy Montag, who joins him after killing Beatty. Due to his independent thinking and his passion for the increase of knowledge, he soon hooks away Montag and joins a group led by Granger to save the knowledge from extinction.
- Granger: Granger is involved in saving books, a crime considered dangerous for society at this stage. When the Hound chases Montag, he runs away to the drifters where he is assigned a new job by Granger to memorize the books. Granger represents the people who know that the construction of society depends on the rise and continuance of knowledge.
- Old Woman: The Old Woman represents the old generation who loves books and also represents the state oppression against such people who want the continuation of civilization through knowledge and books. Guy Montag burns her house and the lady with it after coming to know that she keeps books, though, he himself steals the Bible when fleeing from the chasing Hound.
- Black and Stoneman: These characters serve as a model of the workers who work sans thinking. They are companions of Montag who flee when Montag threatens them after burning Beatty to death.
- Mrs. Bowels: As Millie’s friend, Mrs. Bowles represents people who only enjoy and leave other things to take care of themselves despite having been widowed twice. She is visiting Millie just to pass her time.
- Mrs. Phelps: Though a minor character in the novel, Mrs. Phelps is engaged in killing her time after losing her third husband. She, however, shows emotional outpouring after listening to poetry from Guy Montag.
Writing Style of Fahrenheit 451
The writing style of Fahrenheit 451 is descriptive, though, it becomes lyrical at some places in the novel. The first few chapters describe the characters of Guy Montag and Clarisse McClellan, including the outlines of their physical features. That is why highly figurative language has been used to make their features prominent. However, when it comes to conversation, the author employs the same technique of presenting the middle-class characters, speaking the chaste language. Overall sentence style and phrases are quite simple and direct, showing the futuristic outlook in simple diction.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in Fahrenheit 451
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises the life of Guy Montag, his responsibilities, his sense of betrayal, and his final efforts to preserve knowledge. The falling action occurs when he kills Beatty for suspecting him, while the rising action occurs when Beatty tries to arrest him but faces the flamethrower and dies.
- Anaphora: The novel shows examples of anaphora such as,
i. “No, I don’t want to, this time. I want to hold on to this funny thing. God, it’s gotten big on me. I don’t know what it is. I’m so damned unhappy, I’m so mad, and I don’t know why I feel like I’m putting on weight. I feel fat. I feel like I’ve been saving up a lot of things, and don’t know what. I might even start reading books.” (Part-I)
ii. The beetle was rushing. The beetle was roaring. The beetle raised its speed. The beetle was whining. The beetle was in high thunder. The beetle came skimming. The beetle came in a single whistling trajectory, fired from an invisible rifle. (Part-III)
iii. It was up to 120 m.p.h. It was up to 130 at least. (Part-III)
The examples show the repetitious use of “I don’t want”, “The beetle” and “It was up to.”
- Allusion: The novel shows good use of different allusions as given in the examples below,
i. None of those books agree with each other. You’ve been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap out of it! The people in those books never lived. Come on now! (Part-I)
ii. The parlour was exploding with sound.
“We burned copies of Dante and Swift and Marcus Aurelius.” (Part-I)
iii. “Professor Faber, I have a rather odd question to ask. How many copies of the Bible are left in this country?” (Part-II)
The first example shows a reference to a historical place, the second to authors, and the third to the Bible.
- Antagonist: Captain Beatty and the regime are the antagonists of the novel as they appear to have tried their best to obstruct all avenues for Guy Montag and Professor Faber to preserve books.
- Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Guy Montag and Beatty as well the regime, while the internal conflict is going on in the mind of Guy Montag about his responsibility and his thinking about the books.
- Characters: The novel shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young girl, Clarisse and Guy Montag are dynamic characters as they show a considerable transformation in their behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Millie, Beatty, Mrs. Phelps, and Faber.
- Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when Beatty tries to burn down the house of Montag. However, he turns the flamethrower on him, turning him into ashes.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows as given in the below examples,
i. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. (Part-1)
ii. I wasn’t shouting.” He was up in bed, suddenly, enraged and flushed, shaking. The parlour roared in the hot air. “I can’t call him. I can’t tell him I’m sick. (Part-I)
The mention of ruin, shouting, and hot air shows that something is bad going to happen with Montag.
- Hyperbole: The novel shows various examples of hyperboles such as,
i. “Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. (Part-I)
ii. Montag stood there and waited for the next thing to happen. His hands, by themselves, like two men working together, began to rip the pages from the book. The hands tore the flyleaf and then the first and then the second page. (Part-II)
These examples exaggerate things as classics could not be fitted into such short shows and that hands could not have done everything automatically.
- Imagery: Fahrenheit 451 shows excellent use of imagery. A few examples are given below,
i. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electricity but-what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle. (Part-I)
ii. Montag stood looking in now at this queer house, made strange by the hour of the night, by murmuring neighbour voices, by littered glass, and there on the floor, their covers torn off and spilled out like swan-feathers, the incredible books that looked so silly and really not worth bothering with, for these were nothing but black type and yellowed paper, and ravelled binding. (Part-III)
These two examples show images of color, sound, and feelings.
- Metaphor: A few examples of various metaphors from the novel are given below,
i. Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity. (Part-I)
ii. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. (Part-II)
iii. “It’s flat,” he said, a long time later. “City looks like a heap of baking-powder. It’s gone.” (Part-III)
These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as the first shows her face compared to milk, the second shows the person compared to a robot, and the third shows a city compared to powder.
- Mood: The novel shows various moods; it starts with an intense and gloomy mood but turns somber and serious when the apocalypse seems to engulf the world and becomes optimistic when Guy Montag flees for the preservation of knowledge.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are religion, nature, and paradoxes in life.
- Narrator: The novel is narrated from the third person point of you, who happens to Ray Bradbury, the author himself.
- Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications such as,
i. He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over, and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. (Part-I)
ii. Two moonstones looked up at him in the light of his small hand-held fire; two pale moonstones buried in a creek of clear water over which the life of the world ran, not touching them. (Part-I)
iii. Across the street and down the way the other houses stood with their flat fronts. (Part-II).
These examples show as if his smile, moonstones, and houses have life and emotions of their own.
- Protagonist: Guy Montag is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry into the world and moves forward as he rebels against the regime and flees to save his life as well as knowledge.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places such as,
i. It drank up the green matter that flowed to the top in a slow boil. Did it drink of the darkness? Did it suck out all the poisons accumulated with the years? It fed in silence with an occasional sound of inner suffocation and blind searching. It had an Eye. The impersonal operator of the machine could, by wearing a special optical helmet, gaze into the soul of the person whom he was pumping out. What did the Eye see? He did not say. (Part-I)
ii. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well? Read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute. And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world (you were correct in your assumption the other night) there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. (Part-II)
This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed but different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
- Setting: The setting of the novel is somewhere in an unspecified city in the Midwest in the United States.
- Simile: The novel shows excellent use of various similes as given in the examples below,
i. There was only the girl walking with him now, her face bright as snow in the moonlight, and he knew she was working his questions around, seeking the best answers she could possibly give. (Part-I)
ii. She was beginning to shriek now, sitting there like a wax doll melting in its own heat. (Part-II)
iii. The three empty walls of the room were like the pale brows of sleeping giants now, empty of dreams. (Part-III)
These similes show that girl’s face has been compared to snow in the first, like a wax doll in the second and the walls have been compared to pale brows in the third as the use of the word “like” suggests.