Fahrenheit 451 Summary
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of popular dystopic fiction that deals with the book burning as its main isuue.
Fahrenheit 451 revolves around the fireman, Guy Montag. Montag’s job as a fireman is not to extinguish fire rather it is to burn books. The title of the novel refers to the temperature at which paper catches fire. The firemen, under the law of the state, burn books and also the houses where books are kept hidden. Even the firemen are prohibited from keeping books.
If a fireman does not burn a book within twenty-four hours, then other firemen burn it on his behalf. However, nobody questions the strange job of firemen because people in the state are busy in their mindless consumption of massive televisions.
The first part of the novel, “The Hearth and the Salamander”, shows the transformation of the protagonist Montag; from an obedient fireman to a conscious being. Montag starts to ask questions about the fireman’s strange job and the quality of life in society.
However, this transformation does not occur suddenly. It happens after a series of events. The first is Montag’s meeting with an English professor called Faber in a park. Since then Montag has been hiding books in his home. The second is his meeting with neighbor Clarisse McClellan.
Though Clarisse is just seventeen years old, the depth of her observation on society makes Guy ponder upon his life and his surroundings. Clarisse expresses her concern about the change in people to Montag. Clarisse tells Guy that their lives have become sophisticated, and the presence of media is found almost everywhere.
As lives get sophisticated, people become lazy, and human communication decreases. People don’t talk with each other. Nobody in the society likes to discuss important topics such as life, society, etc. When Clarisse tries to initiate a conversation with her friends, they walk off or threaten her, “No one has time anymore for anyone else” (Bradbury 34).
Before Montag meets Clarisse, Montag thinks that burning books is his greatest pleasure and everything in his life is going perfectly. But when Clarisse asks her, “Are you happy?” (Bradbury 17). Montag initially ignores the unprecedented question.
However, after the meeting with Clarisse, Montag realizes that happiness is missing from his life. “He was not happy. He said the words to himself” (Bradbury 20). Montag admits before he meets Clarisse that he used to wear his happiness like a mask and Clarisse takes off his mask.
A spark of change in Montag’s outlook on life is felt. The third event is when an old woman decided to immolate herself and her books in front of firemen. The last event is the unexpected death of Clarisse. Consequently, Montag decides not to do his service as a fireman. Montag’s chief Beatty visits Montag’s house to convince him to continue his job.
Beatty tells Montag the history of the firemen. He begins the history from the early twentieth century. The way motion pictures got popular in the early twentieth century (Bradbury 71), similarly Radio, Television began to attract the mass.
There used to be a few people who were interested in books. But with the advent of the mass media, classic books were too condensed to “fifteen-minute radio shows” and “a two-minute book column” (Bradbury 72). For instance, Hamlet is shortened to one-page. The length of books started reducing but the number of pictures, cartoons keep increasing. (Bradbury 75).
People became more inclined to television and radio which could be accessed in just a few seconds by pressing the button, pulling the switch (Bradbury 73). As a result, books stopped selling, so authors stopped writing.
Nevertheless, the people kept enjoying comic-books, three-dimensional sex-magazines as these print media continued to provide pleasure and entertainment to the mass. In this way, people themselves abandoned books and welcomed mass media.
All this was done by the people themselves, “it didn’t come from the Government down” (Bradbury 76). It is only after people have become addicted to the TV parlours that a law is passed to burn the books.
Books hold the knowledge of civilization. Books are so powerful in themselves that they can make men think. On the other hand, TV parlours provide fun, pleasure and Beatty argues that this is what people seek. People are happy with the mere pleasure.
Beatty argues that books hold the potential threat that could make one think not only about oneself but also about society as a whole. Books have the power to transform one into a powerful being, powerful in the intellectual sense.
If people in Montag’s society start reading books it would not take much time to understand that the TV parlours can’t make them happy for long as books would make people think about life. Since the state does not want this to happen, therefore to ensure that people don’t confront such thoughts in books, the firemen under the guidance of the state are assigned to burn books.
The firemen stand as an opposing force that could suppress the knowledge of books. Beatty tells Montag, “We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought (Bradbury 81).
After the conversation between Beatty and Montag, Beatty leaves the house. Montag shows his wife, Mildred the books that he has been hiding for one year. He tries to make her understand that they are living in “such a mess” (Bradbury 87) but he fails, Mildred does not understand him.
In the second part, “The Sieve and the Sand”, Montag meets Faber. He goes to Faber, seeking a solution to counter the pleasure-driven media. Faber tells Montag, three things are missing in their society. First is the texture of information which means the quality of information.
The information that is presented in the media is shallow. The knowledge of books could be shared on the same TV parlours but it is not. The second is leisure. People in society have plenty of time but have no time to contemplate life and society and it leads to mistaken virtual reality as actual reality. This shows how people are engrossed in the usage of electronic media.
Faber gives Montag with an earpiece so that both can communicate with each other. Montag returns home and finds Mildred and her friends, Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps are watching something on the TV parlour. Montag becomes irritated and he plugs off the switch.
He reads an excerpt from Arnold’s “Dover Beach” to the three women with an intention to make them realize the importance of poetry but it turns out a futile attempt and Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps leave Montag’s house.
In part three, “Burning Bright”, Montag continues to keep books at his house but Beatty is informed by Mildred and her friends about Montag’s hidden books.
As a result, Montag’s house is burnt down, and when his earplugs are discovered, Beatty threatens Montag to trace the other person. In an attempt of self-defense, Montag burns Beatty and attacks his fellow firemen.
With the help of Faber Montag successfully flees from the town and meets the group of intellectuals which is led by Granger. The group has memorized books intending to pass their knowledge to the next generations.
Towards the end, an atomic bomb demolishes Montag’s city into ashes and the group begins to rebuild the city with their memorized knowledge of books.
Fahrenheit 451 Themes