TL;DR Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the height of McCarthyism. Today, with the increasing proliferation of surveillance equipment in American cities, the spread of digital books and the decline of attention spans, Fahrenheit 451 remains a startlingly relevant work of fiction today.

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About the Video

Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 at the height of McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia. In the novel, Guy Montag is employed as a fireman who burns books. The whole of American society has descended into a zombie-like stupor of instant gratification, and books are seen as challenging and disruptive relics, which must be destroyed at any cost.

Today, with the increasing proliferation of surveillance equipment in American cities, the spread of digital books and the decline of attention spans the world over, Fahrenheit 451 remains a startlingly relevant work of fiction today. Watch this video and be instantly gratified (irony alert) with your knowledge of Bradbury’s most famous novel.

Transcript

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a homogenous, futuristic, war-obsessed America, where books are outlawed, intellectualism scorned and the entire population exists in a state of dull pleasure and sensory overload. Ring any bells?

Guy Montag, the main character, is an impressionable fireman. His job is to burn books, which have been denounced as emotionally upsetting and subversive.

Montag starts to question his actions after meeting an inquisitive young woman, even going so far as to steal a book from a house as he burns it down. Montag becomes steadily more aware of his miserable life, and resolves to take action against the conformist ruling society. With the help of a former English professor, Montag learns that books allow for self-examination and independent thought.

Montag is then caught with the stolen books and must become a fugitive. After a harrowing chase, Montag escapes and joins up with a group of roving intellectuals in the countryside. They watch as enemy planes bomb the city, and the group resolves to construct a new, better civilization.

Major Characters

“Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.”

Montag: Guy Montag is a firefighter, and the book plots his movement from mindless drone to free-thinking book-lover. He struggles with independent thought, and is often swayed by people’s rhetoric, making him something of an archetypal citizen in Bradbury’s dystopian future.

Beatty: The fire chief, Beatty is brilliant, and very persuasive. He is well-read, and can quote famous literary works at will, but he finds the written word dangerous and upsetting. He represents the more fanatical side of censorship.

Faber: Faber is a former English professor who is Montag’s intellectual mentor. Faber teaches Montag that knowledge and reason are the true paths to a more fulfilling life.

Themes, Motifs and Symbols

“If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”

Fire: Fire destroys contraband, but it also entertains and delights people—Montag notices that almost all fires are at night, when they will look prettier. Eventually, Montag comes to view fire as a tool not just for destruction or entertainment, but for sustenance as well.

Mirrors: Clarisse, the young woman, is described as a mirror, and one of Montag’s eventual friends in the countryside claims the new world needs a mirror factory. Mirrors represent inquiry and self-knowledge.

Censorship: Bradbury argues that the population censors itself by ignoring truths or positions that make it uncomfortable. Reading books, he says, encourages beneficial self-examination, while overstimulation only deludes people into being superficially happy.

Analysis

“Everyone must leave something in the room or left behind when he dies.”

Farenheit 451 is a bleak satire of a world that’s too content being content. By wiping out the written word, the world is supposedly free from dissent and upsetting information, but the only thing this brings is more unhappiness. The suppression of books is the suppression of free thought, which will slowly destroy any society.

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