Introduction: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Book Review
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a book that I enjoyed reading. This book was once a banned book, but it is often featured on lists of must-read books. Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury is another dystopian novel. Imagine a world, where reading and possessing books is a punishable offence.
What is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury About?
The main character in the novel is Guy Montag, a fireman, one who doesn’t fight fires as we know, but fight books. That is, the responsibility of firemen is to burn books, excluding comics, trade journals and three dimensional sex magazines. We have reached the stage where houses are now fireproof.
While Guy is returning home from work, he encounters 17 year old Clarisse McClellan, a new neighbor. He walks her home. While they are walking, they talk about his job as a fireman. “It’s fine work. Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then bum the ashes. That’s our official slogan.”
It appears that she had been waiting for him. She asks him if he is happy, and that is something that Guy would later think about even though he says he is. When he reaches home, he discovers that his wife Mildred has swallowed too many sleeping tablets. He calls the emergency and they pump her stomach, and her blood, replacing it with fresh blood and serum. Emergency sends two handymen with special machines to do the deed. They get so many similar calls that only one in 10 instances an MD is ever sent out on a call where someone has swallowed too many tablets.
The next morning when Guy wakes up, Mildred is not in bed, and he finds her in the kitchen, and when he tells her she took the sleeping pills she has no recollection and asks why she would do something like that.
A world where technology reigns, people do not have meaningful conversations, and children kill each other because they do not know how to engage each other. Students have film teachers, meaning that they sit and watch video-like classes with no opportunity to ask questions. Information is fed to them, and they are not expected to question the information, otherwise you are viewed as disruptive and antisocial.
For several days, Clarisse is always waiting for Guy, and although she is young her wisdom is beyond her years, and she forces him to rethink his beliefs and ideas.
One day when the firemen go to burn books, a page from a book hangs open and Guy sees the line “Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine,” which is imprinted into his mind. One night he brings home a book and hides it under his pillar. You see the change taking place in Guy. He is developing a thirst for knowledge, and is ready to question the status quo. He needs more in his life, and he recognizes that he is not happy and hasn’t been for a while. He and his wife Mildred do not have a loving relationship. They do not communicate, and they talk at each other. Mildred is very self-absorbed, and one morning when Guy wakes up ill, she has no interest in taking care of him. When he throws up on the carpet, all she is concerned with is that it isn’t ruined.
Mildred is cold and unfeeling when Guy tells her about the woman who burned with her books.
“She’s nothing to me; she shouldn’t have had books. It was her responsibility, she should have thought of that. I hate her. She’s got you going and next thing you know we’ll be out, no house, no job, nothing.”
“You weren’t there, you didn’t see,” he said. “There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
“She was simple-minded.”
“She was as rational as you and I, more so perhaps, and we burned her.”
“That’s water under the bridge.”
“No, not water; fire. You ever seen a burned house? It smoulders for days. Well, this fire’ll last me the rest of my life. God! I’ve been trying to put it out, in my mind, all night. I’m crazy with trying.”
“You should have thought of that before becoming a fireman.”
“Thought! ” he said. “Was I given a choice? My grandfather and father were firemen. In my sleep, I ran after them.”
Guy is having a crisis of conscience. He starts to think about authors and the time they must have invested writing their books, and in a second firemen destroy them – destroy all the time and investment.
He asks Mildred to call Captain Beatty and let him know he is ill, but she refuses to. The Captain shows up at his home because he suspects that Guy is ill, it’s something that eventually happens to firemen, and it doesn’t hurt that they do not know the history of the profession. While Beatty is explaining about how the world has simplified with digests, Mildred starts to clean and wants Guy to move so that she can fluff his pillow, and he tells her to go away, but she insists and feels the outline of the book hidden there. He refuses to move so she cannot get to it.
Beatty explains that censorship of books didn’t come from the government, and people are still allowed to read comic books, confessions and trade journals. Over the years the role of the fireman has change and now they are the custodians of peace of mind. Clarisse dies and we are not sure how, and her family moves away. Beatty views her as a queer one, and you get a sense that he is partly responsible for her death.
Montag asks the question, if hypothetically a fireman takes a book what would happen, and Beatty responds that people are naturally curious, and that’s expected, but he would expect him to burn the book in 24 hours or they would burn it for him. He asks Guy if he will be coming in for a later shift. Guy hesitates, which surprises Beatty, but he agrees, thinking he will never show up for work as a fireman again.
When Beatty leaves, Guy is in a mood, and Mildred tells him that when she gets that way she takes the car out for a drive at very high speed out to the country. She tells him about hitting dogs and rabbits while speeding and you have to wonder, what kind of person would do something like this? We shouldn’t be surprised though, because we have been seeing her personality as the story in Fahrenheit 451 unfolds.
In a profound moment, he tells her that he isn’t happy and she replies that she is and goes back to watching her program. Guy turns it off and tells her that he did something that he didn’t tell her about. He pulls the grill from the air conditioning system and starts to pull out books, 20 in all. She starts to shriek and wants to burn them in the incinerator. He wants them to read the books and determine for themselves if what the Captain says is true. He wants to figure out why their lives are such a mess, and if the books do not have the answers, they’ll burn them together.
Beatty returns and the door is telling them that they have someone at the door. They decide not to answer since all the books are scattered in the room. Beatty finally leaves. Mildred has no interest in reading books, and Guy cannot consume all the information in one day without assistance. Where can he find a teacher? He scans his memory bank and comes up with an old man, Faber, who is a retired English professor. On his first encounter with Faber the old man gave Guy his address.
He calls Faber and asks how many copies of the Bible, Shakespeare and Plato are around and the old man responds none and hangs up the phone. Guy realizes that he has the only copy. He shows up unexpectedly at Faber’s house with the bible to learn how to read with understanding. Faber explains that it’s not the books that he needs, but some of the things that were in the books – look everywhere for knowledge – from old friends, old phonograph records, old motion pictures, nature. We need quality information, time to digest it, and the right to take action based on the interaction of the first two.
Guy wants to print copies of books, but Faber doesn’t want to take the risk and refuses to be a part of that plan. He jokingly talks about getting rid of the firemen first by planting books in their homes and Guy thinks it is a swell idea. People stopped reading of their own accord. Life has changed, and people are very different, they no longer think or question anything. Some of the old timers are filled with rage because they can no longer create their art.
Faber doesn’t want to assist Guy, and the fireman asks him if he would like the bible and he responds that he would give his right arm for it. Guy starts to destroy the bible, and the professor is upset and alarmed, and agrees to teach the fireman. They create a plan, and the professor gives him a device to place in his ear to evaluate conversations with Beatty based on how he answers a series of questions. The professor will be listening from his home guiding Guy. He also promises to contact an unemployed printer he knows.
Guy reads Dover Beach to Mildred, Mrs Phelps, Mrs Bowles. The women are quite upset and later report Guy to fire department without his knowledge. Later he goes to work and the alarm goes off, and they go to his house. They burn the house and are ready to arrest him. He ends up killing Captain Beatty and kills the hound when it attempts to subdue him. Mildred leaves him and he is now a wanted man, and the chase is on. The authorities get a new hound to find Guy.
He ends up at Faber’s house and they develop a plan and Guy instructs the professor on how to mask his scent to confuse the Hound. The ploy actually works. Guy leaves with some of the old man’s clothes in a suitcase and heads to the river to lose his scent. He then changes into Faber’s old clothes. The authorities are confused when they cannot find Guy, even with their sophisticated mechanical hound. Instead of losing face, they pretend that they have found him and eliminate an innocent man, making sure that they never show the victim’s face.
In the meantime, Guy comes across some men who are “brothers.” They are very learned and have memorized books. The knowledge resides in them. They have been watching the chase so they recognize and welcome him. He learns that there are thousands like them all over the country who have books in their heads so the knowledge will never die, and hopefully one day things will improve. To keep safe, they frequently move around. Some of the men have been stopped occasionally, but they are released, because they aren’t in possession of any physical books.
Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury is a very powerful book, and I preferred the last third. It reminds us that knowledge acquired is to be used and shared. Each book can teach us, if we open our minds to learn. They can beat us, but they cannot break us, unless we allow them to. The ban of books in Fahrenheit 451 is also a metaphor for all the injustices in the world. Where we live, we have the right to read, and there are a lot of rights we have that we take for granted.
Final Thoughts: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
When you read a book, commit to apply what you have learned. Then take time to also reflect on what you are reading, interacting with the words on the pages. I recommend Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. If you cannot see the comment box, click on the title of the post and it will appear. If you enjoyed this post, please share it.
Have You Read Other Dystopian Novels?