Fahrenheit 451

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed."

Fahrenheit 451 is a classic novel by Ray Bradbury which deals with the issues of censorship and individualism versus conformity and consumerism in society. Originally written in 1953, it pulls off the rare feat of becoming even more socially relevant as time goes on, and is a favorite for book clubs and literary groups in general to analyze its meaning.

The story centers around Guy Montag, a fireman. However, in this near future, all houses are insulated from common fires. The firemen serve a different function: namely, they exist to burn books. Thanks to The Government, all books [1] are now considered dangerous, and there can only be one way to clean them up: flames. The public is kindly encouraged to watch their three-dimensional televisions instead or go to the Fun Parks, where people commit petty crimes, like breaking windows, bullying innocent bystanders, and smashing cars. Montag, along with the rest of the crew, finds houses with books hidden in them, then soaks the offending literature and the rest of the house in kerosene from their hoses and burns it from the inside, instead.

At first, Montag is happy with his job. However, several unfortunate violent incidents [2] makes him question what's happening with the world and his life. After a house burning gone bad, Montag takes one book home, and soon becomes fascinated, despite his wife's objections and the fear that Beatty may find out about what he's been doing. Now he knows he must do something to save himself and at least some books, but how?

It was made into a film starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie by Francois Truffaut in 1966, and into a stage play also written by Bradbury in the 1990s.

Ironically, it was one of the many books which burned when Los Angeles Public Library's central branch fell victim to a devastating arson attack on 29 April 1986.

The public is warned not to confuse this with the video game Fahrenheit (2005 video game) or the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Tropes used in Fahrenheit 451 include:
  • Arc Words: "Consider the lilies of the field..."
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Book-Burning: One of the most iconic examples.
  • Bread and Circuses: Most of the people like the vacuous entertainment, don't care about anything or anyone but themselves and being happy, and don't bother to question or talk about how corrupt the government has become.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure: Television programs are interactive, with viewers playing the various cast roles, and occasionally they're able to change the outcome of a story. Perhaps averted in the film version where it is arguably implied that Linda's choices have no effect on the story and that her belief that she is auditioning for a role is false, and in fact she is simply one of many playing along but her choices and her own thinking are so limited as to avoid any real ability to influence the story.
  • Crazy Prepared: In order for civilization to survive the coming nuclear apocalypse, the Book People dedicate themselves to memorizing every significant literary work and hand it down to their pupils.
  • Culture Police: The Firemen.
  • Death Seeker: One possible interpretation of Captain Beatty's behavior. Guy himself soon comes to believe this. Suicides are fairly common, apparently by those who've become utterly jaded with life and need one last thrill or escape.
  • Delinquents: Culture has been allowed to decline to the point where teenagers bully people, vandalize public property, and run down pedestrians for kicks and jollies. This happens when Montag is nearly struck by a car full of teenagers, and it's also how Clarice died.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The robotic dog kills its master, Beatty.

Captain Beatty: Montag! L-like you would r-really...aaaaaiiiiiggghhh!

  • Dystopia: It's a grim world; the country (implied to be America in the novel, though the movie and a BBC radio play had the country implied to be England) is prepping for World War III (and no one knows or cares about it), the rest of the world hates the country because of their hedonistic ways, empathy is extinct, schools are only concerned in pumping facts into children's head without any form of discussion or actual learning, teenagers bully people and commit vandalism and vehicular homocide, the parlor walls air shallow programming that everyone enjoys, children and marriage are brushed off as a necessity to keep this miserable existence going rather than a joy, prescription pill overdoses are so common that medics-cum-doctors are hired to pump out the victims, and nearly everyone is a Stepford Smiler who is deeply depressed. This is a common scenario in Bradbury's works.
  • Exact Words: The law forbids people from reading any books or literature. This is what keeps Beatty from burning his collection of books he still keeps in his home but never reads anymore.
  • Fallen Hero: Implied in Beatty's past. Adaptations and Word of God reveal that he was once a voracious reader and staunch opponent of the government, and he still maintains an extensive library-- that he never uses.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The old woman in the mansion, who deliberately sets herself aflame with her books, and especially Captain Beatty, when Montag turns the stream of fire on him and holds it there until he stops moving.
  • Flip-Flop of God: Is the message in the book about how television, radio, and film can never replace the quality of books? Is it a cautionary tale about what happens when censoring offensive material to please the easily-offended masses gets out of hand? Is it both? The author has talked about this Aesop tons of times, but some still argue about the true message, especially because Bradbury has not been consistent on what his intended message actually was.
  • Foil: Beatty to Montag; Clarisse MacLellan to Linda (Mildred, in the novel version).
    • In the 1966 movie version, this was emphasized by having Julie Christie in a dual role as Linda and Clarisse [with a wig as the only difference between them].
  • Foreshadowing: The opening quote of the page becomes very ironic when you apply it to the ending.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Faber gives his life to save Montag when cornered by the Mechanical Hound.
  • Hobos: The Book People, who live off the grid so they can read books and not be persecuted.
  • Karmic Death: After repeatedly humiliating and mocking Montag, it's very satisfying, though still gruesome, to see Beatty getting roasted alive, and Hoist by His Own Petard.
  • Killer Robot: The Mechanical Hound, which is programmed to hunt down and kill offenders via lethal injection. Somehow, never actually showing it chasing Montag, and only giving it a sparing description, makes it far creepier.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Firemen are killing literacy with fire.
    • Also the fate of Beatty and the Hound.
    • And the entire society... for the third time
  • Meaningful Name: It was stated somewhere that Montag's name is a play on "Man Friday," a savage violent man turned to the side of good and used as a servant. In Montag's case he is the tamed savage and Faber is the master. Furthermore, Faber's name comes from the pen-making company Faber-Castell and Montag is the name of a paper company.
    • Bradbury notes that the Faber/Montag naming was unintentional but very subconscious.
  • Monster Clown: One of Millie's "family members," her favorite TV characters, in the novel are a group of homicidal white clowns.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Firemen, especially in the movie, where it is lampshaded with a Not So Different directed at the audience. Captain Beatty, in pointing out doctrine, comments: "If you are going to burn some books... you have to burn all the books!" He does so while holding up a copy of Mein Kampf.
  • New Media Are Evil: Bradbury claims that this was the real point of the novel. The shallow, mind-numbing television programs that everyone has become hooked on are slowly destroying society. Television at the time of the novel's writing was indeed pretty shallow, serving as little more than corporate and government propaganda, with mindless sanitized entertainment designed to make you want to buy products[3]. Ironically, Bradbury would go on to host a television show, Ray Bradbury Theater.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: In the movie adaptation, a flamethrower is used to start the fires.
    • In the book, entire houses are burned no matter how many books are inside. In the movie the firemen only burn the house if there are too many books to move them all outside.
  • Not Brainwashed: Clarisse and Faber are the only ones who don't watch the parlor wall TVs. Also, Montag hates to watch television, and only does it to please his wife.
  • Not So Different: Captain Beatty gives Montag one of these in both the novel and the film; in the play it is significantly expanded to become his defining moment.
  • Nuke'Em: Apparently, America has fought and won two nuclear wars.
  • The Obi-Wan: Faber, in the novel.
  • Oral Tradition: What the Book People are intent on turning all literature.
  • Painting the Medium: The film begins with an announcer reading the credits out loud over shots of TV aerials; at the end, as Montag is walking with the other Book People, the words The End appear onto the screen.
  • Peace and Love Incorporated: Beatty sees the Firemen as protectors of everyone's peace of mind.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: The reason books started to be banned.
  • Porn Stash: Not porn, but contraband books.
  • Product Placement: Very common in the government-controlled media. They even have Jesus as a spokesman.
  • Rousseau Was Right: When Montag recites classic poetry to his wife's equally vapid acquaintances, one of them cries, commenting on how she forgot that feelings like that existed (the rest of them condemn Montag for being nasty and dismiss the poem as trash for evoking awful emotions).
  • Strange Girl: Clarisse, though to a normal audience she's normal and the world is strange.
  • Stepford Smiler : A typical element of the story's dystopian society.
  • Suicide by Cop: In the novel, at least. It's heavily implied that Beatty was belittling Montag because he wanted Montag to burn him alive.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the novel, Clarisse and Faber simply disappear when running away, though Clarisse survives in the film and play versions. Bradbury said that he didn't intend for them to be dead, so he brought them back at the end of the play with the Book People.
    • Mildred tells Montag that Clarisse was hit by a car while her family moved away. Mildred didn't tell Montag about it for four days because, like most of the other people in this society, they don't care about anyone but themselves.
      • Still, the accident remains "offstage", so the movie (and play) is not quite a contradiction to the book.
    • Faber leaves town before the bombers arrive, and he is simply on a bus going "from one desolation to another" as the bombers will soon hit the next city as Montag infers. So he's alive, but he's going to have to find somewhere else to stay other than the city he was going to.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Montag's speech at the end of the novel.
  • Zeerust: Though the novel merely takes place in an unspecified future time after 1990, the movie's technology is zeerust-y. However, technology like the "parlor walls" and the "seashell radios" mirror today's big, flatscreen TVs (some of which can be mounted onto walls, making them "parlor walls" to some extent), while the seashell radios are similar to either Bluetooth phones or iPod earbud headphones.
  1. with the exception of trade magazines, pornographic magazines, and captionless comic books in the novel version
  2. his wife almost dying of a drug overdose that may or may not have been an intentional suicide, hearing that his new best friend was hit by a car [novel version only], and seeing an old woman commit self-immolation to keep from being arrested for having books in her house
  3. which, sadly, has become Truth in Television