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Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian soft science fiction novel authored by Ray Bradbury and first published in 1953.

The novel presents a future American society in which the masses are hedonistic, and critical thought through reading is outlawed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed as a "fireman" (which, in this future, means "book burner"). The number "451" refers to the temperature (in Fahrenheit) at which the books burn when the "Firemen" burn them "For the good of humanity". Written in the early years of the Cold War, the novel is a critique of what Bradbury saw as an increasingly dysfunctional American society.

The concept began with Bradbury's short story "Bright Phoenix," written in 1947 but first published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1963. The original short story was reworked into the novella, The Fireman, and published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. The novel was also serialized in the March, April, and May 1954 issues of Playboy magazine. Bradbury wrote the entire novel on pay typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Powell library. His original intention in writing Fahrenheit 451 was to show his great love for books and libraries. He has often referred to Montag as an allusion to himself.

Over the years, the novel has been subject to various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship; he states that Fahrenheit 451 is a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of "factoids", partial information devoid of context, e.g. Napoleon's birth date alone, without an indication of who he was.

A movie version of the novel was released in 1966, and it is anticipated that a second version will begin filming in 2008. At least two BBC Radio 4 dramatizations have also been aired, both of which follow the book very closely.

Plot summary

Fahrenheit 451 takes place in an unspecified future time in a hedonistic anti-intellectual America that has completely abandoned self-control. This America is filled with lawlessness in the streets ranging from teenagers crashing cars into people to firemen at a station who set their 'mechanical hound' to hunt various animals for the simple and grotesque pleasure of watching them die. Anyone caught reading books is, at the minimum, confined to a mental hospital while the books are burned by the said firemen. Illegal books mainly include famous works of literature, such as Walt Whitman and William Faulkner, as well as the Bible and all historical texts.

One night returning from his job, fireman Guy Montag meets his new neighbor Clarisse McClellan, whose free-thinking ideals and liberating spirit force him to question his life, his ideals, and his own perceived happiness. Later, Clarisse is killed in a car accident.

After meeting Clarisse, Montag returns home to find his wife Mildred asleep, with an empty bottle of sleeping pills next to her bed. He calls for medical help; two technicians respond by proceeding to suck out Mildred's blood with a machine and insert new blood into her. The technicians' utter disregard for Mildred forces Montag to question the state of society.

In the following days, while ransacking the book-filled house of an old woman before the inevitable burning, Montag accidentally reads a line in one of her books: "Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine". This prompts him to steal one of the books. The woman refuses to leave her house and her books, choosing instead to light a match she had concealed from the firemen's view, prematurely igniting the kerosene and martyring herself. This disturbs Montag, who wonders why someone would die for books, which he considers to be without value.

Jarred by the woman's suicide, Montag calls for sick leave, wherein he receives a visit from his fire chief Captain Beatty, who explains to him the political and social causes which underlie the work they perform. Captain Beatty claims that society, in its search for happiness, and in an attempt to minimize cultural offenses through political correctness, brought about the suppression of literature as an act of self-censorship and that the government merely took advantage of the situation. Beatty adds that all firemen eventually steal a book out of curiosity, but all would be well if the book is turned in within 24 hours. Montag argues with his wife, Mildred, over the book he has himself stolen, showing his growing disgust for her and for his society.

It is revealed that Montag has, over the course of a year, hidden dozens of books in the ventilation shafts of his own house, and tries to memorize them to preserve their contents, but becomes frustrated that the words seem to simply fall away from his memory. He then remembers a man he had met at one time: Faber, a former English professor. Montag seeks Faber's help, whereinafter Faber begins teaching Montag about the vagaries and ambiguities but overall importance of literature in its attempt to explain human existence. He also gives Montag a green bullet-shaped ear-piece so that Faber can offer guidance throughout his daily activities.

During a card game at the firehouse, Beatty tells Montag he had a dream about him, and relates the literary argument he claims to have had in his dream. Beatty quotes many books and shows an amazing knowledge of literature to prove to Montag that books can confuse the thoughts. Then follows another call to arms; Beatty theatrically leads the crew to Montag's own home. He reveals that he knew all along of Montag's books, and orders Montag to destroy the house. Montag sees Mildred, who had betrayed his secret, moving away from the house and sets to work burning their home; not content destroying the books, he burns the televisions, beds, and other emblems of his past life. When Beatty finds Faber's earpiece, he threatens to track Faber down, whereupon Montag turns the flamethrower on Beatty, killing him, and then knocks out two other firemen. He is soon a fugitive for these crimes. When the firehouse's mechanical hound attacks him, he turns the flamethrower on it, destroying it.

He flees to Faber's house, with another firehouse's mechanical hound and television network helicopters in hot pursuit. The newscasters hope to document his escape as a spectacle, and distract the people from the oncoming threat of war, a threat that has been foreshadowed throughout the book. Faber tells Montag of vagabond book-lovers in the countryside, whereinafter Montag escapes to a local river, floats downstream and meets a group of older men who, to Montag's astonishment, have memorized entire books, preserving them orally until the law against books is overturned. They burn the books they read to prevent discovery, retaining the verbatim content (and possibly valid interpretations) in their minds. The group leader, Granger, discusses the legendary phoenix and its endless cycle of long life, death in flames, and rebirth, adding the phoenix must have some relation to mankind, which constantly repeats its mistakes.

Meanwhile, the television network helicopters surround and kill another man whom they use as a scapegoat for the missing Montag.

The war begins. Montag watches helplessly as jet bombers fly overhead and attack the city with nuclear weapons. Mildred is implied to die, though Faber is assumed to have left the city. It is implied that more cities across the country have been incinerated as well; a bitter irony in that the world that sought to burn thought is burned itself. At the moment of the explosion, the emotion of seeing the city burned causes a key phrase from the Bible to emerge from the depths of Montag's memory.

The novel is concluded with a shocking but slightly optimistic tone. It is suggested that the society Montag knew has almost completely collapsed and a new society must be built from the ashes. Whether this new society will meet the same fate is unknown, but it is implied that the book-keepers will begin to build mirror factories (a literary allusion wherein mirrors are a metaphor for books) to show people who they are, what they have become, and how they can change with time and knowledge.

Characters

  • Guy Montag is the protagonist and fireman (see above) whose metamorphosis is illustrated throughout the book and who presents the dystopia through the eyes of a loyal worker to it, a man in conflict about it, and one resolved to be free of it. Bradbury notes in his afterword that he noticed, after the book was published, that Montag is the name of a paper company. Ironically, in the years after the book was published a company called Montag (pronounced the same way as the character's name) began manufacturing paper, although no link to the book is known.
  • Faber is a former English professor who represents those who know what is being done is wrong but are too fearful to act. Bradbury notes in his afterword that Faber is part of the name of a German manufacturer of pencils, Faber-Castell.
  • Mildred Montag is Guy Montag's wife, who makes an attempt at suicide early on in the book by overdosing herself with sleeping pills. She is used symbolically as the opposite of Clarisse McClellan. She is known as Linda Montag in the 1966 film.
  • Clarisse McClellan displays every trait Mildred does not, in that she is outgoing, naturally cheerful, unorthodox, and intuitive. She serves as the wake-up call for Montag by posing the question “Why?” to him. She is unpopular among peers and disliked by teachers for (as Captain Beatty puts it) asking why instead of how and focusing on nature rather than on technology. Montag regards her as odd until she goes missing; the book gives no definitive explanation. It is said that Captain Beatty and Mildred know that Clarisse has been killed by a car. Her behavior is similar to that of Leonard Mead from Bradbury's short story The Pedestrian. Her uncle, who presumably taught her to think as she does, may be an allusion to that short story, as he was once arrested for being a pedestrian.
  • Captain Beatty is Montag's boss and the fire chief. Once an avid reader, he came to hate books as a result of life's tragedies and of the fact that they all contradict and refute each other. In a scene written years later by Bradbury for the Fahrenheit 451 play, he invites Montag to his house where he shows him walls of books which he leaves to molder on their shelves. He tries to entice Montag back into the book-burning business but is burned to death by Montag when he underestimates Montag's resolve. Montag later realizes that Beatty might have wanted to die, provoking Montag to kill him. He is the symbolic opposite of Granger.
  • Granger is the leader of a group of wandering intellectual exiles who memorize books so they will be saved. Where Beatty destroys, he preserves; where Beatty uses fire for the purpose of burning, he uses it for the purpose of warming. His acceptance of Montag is considered the final step in Montag's metamorphosis from embracing Beatty's ultimate value of happiness and complacency to embracing Granger's value of love of knowledge.
  • Mechanical Hound The mechanical hound, presumably a parody of the symbolic pet of fire-fighters, exists in the original book but not in the 1966 film. It is an emotionless, 8-legged killing machine that can be programmed to seek out and destroy free thinkers, hunting them down by scent. It can remember as many as 10,000 scents at a time. The hound is blind to anything but the destruction for which it is programmed. It has a proboscis in a sheath on its snout, which injects lethal amounts of morphine or procaine. Although Montag was able to survive such an injection, he suffered horrible pain for a short time. The first hound encountered in the novel is destroyed when Montag sets it on fire with a flamethrower. The second was programmed to find and kill a scapegoat for the amusement of the viewers of the televised chase for Montag, which in truth was unfruitful. Bradbury notes in his afterword that the hound is "my robot clone of A. Conan Doyle's great Baskerville beast", referring to the famous Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles.
  • Mildred's friends (Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps) Mildred's friends represent the average citizens in the numbed society portrayed in the novel. They are examples of the people in the society who are unhappy but do not think they are. When they are introduced to literature (Dover Beach), which symbolizes the pain and joy that has been censored from them, Mrs. Phelps is overwhelmed by the rush of emotion that she has not felt before.

Themes

The novel reflects several major concerns of the time of its writing, leading many to interpret it differently than intended by Bradbury (see "Censorship and the effects of mass media" below). Among the themes attributed to the novel were what Bradbury has called "the thought-destroying force" of censorship, the book-burnings in Nazi Germany in 1933 and the horrible consequences of the explosion of a nuclear weapon. "I meant all kinds of tyrannies anywhere in the world at any time, right, left, or middle", Bradbury has said.

Other motifs attributed to the novel are:

One particularly ironic circumstance is that, unbeknownst to Bradbury, his publisher released a censored edition in 1967, omitting the words "damn" and "hell", for distribution to schools. Later editions with all words restored include a coda from the author describing this event and further thoughts on censorship and "well-meaning" revisionism.

Censorship and the effects of mass media

The novel is frequently interpreted as being critical of state-sponsored censorship, but Bradbury has disputed this interpretation. He said in a 2007 interview that the book explored the effects of television and mass media on the reading of literature.

Yet in the paperback edition released in 1979, Bradbury wrote a new coda for the book containing multiple comments on censorship and its relation to the novel. The coda is also present in the 1987 mass market paperback, which is still in print.

In the late '50s, Bradbury observed that the novel touches on the alienation of people by media:

Films

1966 film

Fahrenheit 451 was a film written and directed by François Truffaut and starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. The film was released in 1966.

Future film

In July 1994, a new film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 began development with the studio Warner Bros. and actor Mel Gibson, who planned to star in the lead role. Scripts were written by Bradbury, Tony Puryear, and Terry Hayes. With the project estimated to be expensive and Gibson believing himself too old to portray the film's protagonist Guy Montag, the actor decided in 1997 to instead direct the film. By 1999, he had planned to begin filming with actor Brad Pitt in the lead role, but Gibson was forced to postpone due to Pitt's unavailability. Actor Tom Cruise was also approached for the lead role, but a deal was never made. According to Gibson, there was difficulty in finding a script that would be appropriate for the film, and that with the advent of computers, the concept of book-burning in a futuristic period may no longer work.

In February 2001, the project was revived as director Frank Darabont entered negotiations with Warner Bros. to rewrite Terry Hayes's script and direct the film. Gibson was confirmed to be involved only as a producer, and Darabont planned to complete the script by the end of 2002. In July 2004, Darabont said that he had completed the script and hoped to begin filming Fahrenheit 451 after completing a script for Mission: Impossible III. Darabont did not begin Fahrenheit 451 immediately, instead going on to direct The Mist. The director said in November 2006 that he would do long-term preparation work for Fahrenheit 451 while filming The Mist and hoped that he would begin filming after The Mist was completed.

In August 2007, Darabont expressed his intent to film Fahrenheit 451 in the summer of 2008, and that he would place the story's setting in an "intentionally nebulous" future, approximately 50 years from the contemporary period. Darabont planned to keep certain elements from the book, such as the mechanical hound, in the film. The director did not comment on rumors of Tom Hanks as Guy Montag. The director said that the protagonist had been cast and would be announced soon. The following November, the director confirmed Hanks's involvement with the film and described the actor to be "the perfect embodiment of the regular guy". In March 2008, Hanks withdrew from the film, citing prior commitments as the reason. Darabont is now looking for a new lead, explaining the difficulty, "It needs to be somebody like Hanks who has the ability to trigger a greenlight but is also the right guy for the part. It's a narrow target. It's a short list of people.

Theatrical adaptation

The Obie Award winning off-Broadway theatre The American Place Theatre is presenting a one man show adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 as a part of their 2008-2009 Literature to Life season .

Allusions and references in other works

The title of Bradbury's book has become a well-known byword amongst those who oppose censorship, in much the way George Orwell's 1984 or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World have (although not to the same extent). As such, it has been alluded to many times, including in the ACLU's 1997 white paper Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning? and Michael Moore's 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Bradbury objected to the latter's allusion to his work, claiming that Moore "stole my title and changed the numbers without ever asking me for permission.

Artist Micah Wright used the theme "Hand all books to your local fireman for safe disposal" overlaid on a 1940s fireman propaganda poster.

Hungarian poet György Faludy includes the lines in the opening stanza of his 1983 poem "Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine": "Learn by heart this poem of mine, / Books only last a little time, / And this one will be borrowed, scarred, [...] / Or slowly brown and self-combust, / When climbing Fahrenheit has got / To 451, for that's how hot / it will be when your town burns down. / Learn by heart this poem of mine.

The rat things, cybernetic guard dogs in Neal Stephenson's cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, are closely related to Bradbury's mechanical hounds.

The theme and plot of the movie Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale and Sean Bean, draws heavily from Fahrenheit 451, as well as from 1984 and Brave New World.

Ray Bradbury also alludes to himself in his book Let's All Kill Constance as the main character, a writer, thinks about writing a book about a "hero who smells of kerosene" and muses about the possibility of books being used to start fires in the future.

The character of Sonmi~451 in David Mitchell's dystopia Cloud Atlas is likely to be a reference to Fahrenheit 451. The main theme evolving around her is the importance of literature as a cornerstone of human culture and society.

A 1986 computer text adventure revisits the story of Fahrenheit 451. The real-time strategy game StarCraft includes a flamethrower-wielding character named Gui Montag, after the protagonist of the book.

In R.O.D the TV's episode 16, all the books from jimbo-cho are gathered and burned in an event entitled operation Fahrenheit 451.

In the sixth episode of the 2008 Japanese anime, , a book referred to as "The Book of Prophecy" simply titled K505 was targeted for termination. This title alludes to Fahrenheit 451, as K505 can be read as 505 units of the Kelvin measurement of temperature that approximates 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Characters in the series' fictional, near-future setting also reference the book as being written "60 years ago" and how "a French director adapted it into a film."

Dozens of other references to the novel occur in television, music, and video games.

The music video for the Offspring's "Hammerhead" features mechanical dogs. Given the political nature of the song it is most likely representing the Mechanical Hound which hunted Montag throughout the book.

Printings

"The Fireman" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Vol. 1 No. 5, February 1951)

First edition (1953) – This edition was actually published in three formats, and included two short stories: "The Playground" and "And the Rock Cried Out"

  • Paperback (Ballantine No. 41) – The true first edition, preceding the hardcovers by six weeks.
  • Standard hardcover – Limited to about 4,500 copies.
  • Asbestos hardcover – Just over 200 copies were signed and numbered, before being bound in "Johns-Manville Quinterra", a fire resistant asbestos material.

Later editions:

  • Serialized version (Playboy, March, April, & May 1954)
  • First British hardcover edition (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954) – Title novel only.
  • Science Fiction Book Club (London, 1955) – Title novel only.
  • First British paperback edition (Corgi No. T389, 1957) – Title novel only.
  • Student edition (Bal-Hi, 1967) – Includes a two page "Note to Teachers and Parents" by Richard Tyre. Reprinted ten times through 1973.
  • Hardcover edition (Simon & Schuster, 1967) – Full contents of the first edition (novel and two short stories) with a new introduction by Bradbury.
  • Special Book Club edition (1976)
  • Hardcover edition (Del Rey Gold Seal, 1981) – Issued without a dust jacket, and includes "Investing Dimes", an afterword by Bradbury.
  • Hardcover edition (Limited Editions Club, 1982) – Issued in a slipcase without a dust jacket, and includes an original lithograph and threefold-out color plates by Joseph Mugnaini. 2000 copies were signed by Bradbury & Mugnaini.
  • Large print cloth edition (G K Hall & Co., 1988, ISBN 0745171060)
  • Hardcover edition (Buccaneer Books, 1995, ISBN 089968484X) – Issued without a dust jacket, and includes the "Investing Dimes" afterword, and a "Coda" by Bradbury.
  • 40th anniversary cloth edition (Simon & Schuster, 1996) – Limited to 7500 copies, with 500 signed and numbered by Bradbury.
  • Trade paper edition (Del Rey, 1996, ISBN 0345410017)
  • Mass-market paperback edition (Del Rey, ISBN 0345342968)In Canada:
  • First Edition - February 1963
  • Seventh Printing - October 1972

References

Notes

Bibliography

  • Tuck, Donald H. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
  • Bustard, Ned (2004), Fahrenheit 451 Comprehension Guide, Veritas Press.
  • Bradbury, Ray Fahrenheit 451, New York: Ballantine Books, 1953

External links

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