Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury creates a world in which books are illegal and firemen start fires instead of putting them out.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 as a response to all the book banning and censorship that was going on at that time. In it, he creates a world set sometime in the future of America in which books are made illegal. It is the fireman's job, then, to set fire to these books than put fires out. The title, Fahrenheit 451, is the temperature at which books burn. Thankfully, throughout the book, a hero - a former fireman, nonetheless - emerges as the book twists and turns through this dystopia that teaches readers that censorship is a terrible thing.

The Characters

The main character of the book is Guy Montag, and he is a fireman. His father was a fireman; his father's father was a fireman. At first, he takes immense pleasure in the burning of books, but soon he meets Clarisse McClellan, his 17-year-old neighbor who does odd things like talking to strangers, taking walks, and driving slowly. She serves to make Montag think about his life and whether he is happy with his wife, Mildred, and his job. Mildred is the exact opposite of Clarisse; she isn't very smart and spends most of her time in front of the parlor walls, a wall-sized television set that takes up three of the four walls of the room. Montag begins to steal books, and is discovered by Captain Beatty, the fire captain and his boss. Beatty gives him time to turn the books in, but he does not. Rather, he reaches out to Faber, a retired English professor who coaches him through a plan to plant books in firemen's homes to start to shatter the public's view of firemen and pave the way for books to be legal again.

The Plot

Early in the story, Montag witnesses a woman burning herself alive with her books, and shortly afterwards, we find that Clarisse is killed by a speeding car and her family moves far away. Both these events serve to make Montag think about all the things Clarisse wanted him to think about, namely, whether he was happy. He discovers he is neither happy with his job nor with his wife, and looks to books for answers. Beatty assumes as much, and tries to persuade Montag to give the books up by showering him with flowery words he could have only learned from the very books he burns himself. At the firehouse, the men get a call to burn a house down, and as they pull up to the house, Montag realizes it is, in fact, his. Mildred called in an alarm when she discovered his books. Beatty makes Montag burn the house himself, and he does, but he then turns the flamethrower on Beatty, killing him. He then runs to save his life, eventually finding a group of excommunicated book lovers and decides to live with them.

The Message

There are many messages in this book, but the most important has to do with censorship. Bradbury was entirely anti-censorship throughout this book, and it shows through the firemen who try to censor books from the public by destroying them completely. In one of his long speeches, Captain Beatty describes that books were originally made illegal because too many of them offended people. Therefore, since people wanted a society in which they were not offended by anything at any time, it was easiest just to get rid of the books entirely. In this way, Bradbury was also making a case against book banning in Fahrenheit 451 and he definitely succeeded.