Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012)
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Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Synopsis and occasional summaries
- Page numbers refer to the Cornelsen edtion 1989
Part One: THE HEARTH AND THE SALAMANDER
5 Famous first sentence: "It was a pleasure to burn ..."
6 Guy Montag, the main character, on his way home, meets a girl, his new neighbour, she`s 17 and a bit strange. She has such funny ideas about life. We learn about Montag, his strange profession and the world he lives in.
12 M. enters his house, still puzzled by the girl, and finds his wife unconscious: she took an overdose of sleeping pills and M. has to call two men to reanimate her by applying machines - they do it in a business-like manner, they are used to these >suicides<.
19 Mildred doesn`t remember at all what had happened to her: she is addicted to her three-wall-TV (`the parlor`), from which people (`relatives`) talk to her and give her instructions etc.
22 another meeting with the mad girl Clarissa McLellan: she is a complete outsider in this society, regularly visiting a psychologist. Montag is puzzled: Who is this `uncle` of hers? How do they live? How do they spend their evenings?
25 Back at work M. is worried by the behaviour of the >mechanical hound<, a dog-like machine which can be programmed on the >amino acids< of every living being. The machine is acting hostile and M. wonders if anyone had done anything to its programme.
29 He meets the girl again and the irritation continues
32 The girl doesn't show up again and M. is worried. He misses her and his "routine has been disturbed"(33)
THE SETTING: ------------ WHEN? In the 23rd century WHERE? In a future society WHO? Montag - a fireman (30) whose job it is to burn books Beatty - the captain of the fire brigade and Montag's boss Clarissa Mclellan - an excentric young girl (romantic & unsocial) Mildred - Montag`s wife: addicted to three-dimensional TV having just tried to commit suicide The Mechanical Hound - a dog-shaped killing machine able to trace its victims by sensing their biogenetic code ATMOSPHERE?
36 Alarm at the firehouse and the brigade is in action: In some of these old houses books are suspected and they are off to burn them: But something`s different today - the owner of the house, an old lady is still there, she has not been transported by the police in order to be out of the way when the firemen come. Her presence confuses the firemen: She is not willing to leave the place and eventually sets fire to the house, the books and herself. The firemen are irritated, most of all M.
41 He comes home - a book hidden under his overall. He contemplates his relationship towards his wife, their unability to communicate, Mildred`s empty life etc. He`s married to a stranger.
48 Chills and fever in the morning, he doesn`t go to work. His wife doesn`t understand the horror of yesterday`s experience, the burning woman, the fascination of books
52 Captain Beatty is visiting him: He has an understanding for the crisis his man is in and he gives him a `lecture` on the history and the importance of the firemen. It is also a history of mankind`s intellectual decay - people want to gain their peace of mind and don`t want to be troubled and bothered with the manifold and conflicting opinions of all those who believe they know better. All these minorities, all these quarrels, all these uncertainties - they cause unrest and hostilities, but people want to be entertained and not worried. Thus, burn the books! But Montag has a book hidden under his pillow and while Beatty is talking, his wife finds it - stunned with surprise and horror. When Beatty is gone, Montag reveals his secret: He has gathered about 20 books and is now going to read them to found out about that. The first sentence that reads is from Swift`s Guliver.
'''SHORT CULTURAL HISTORY OF MANKIND - according to Captain Beatty 19th century: culture (=books) for only few people who could afford to be different "the world was roomy", everything was "slow motion" 20th century: "Things (= TV, radio, movies) began to have mass" "The world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths" "Speed up the cameras" 21th century: etc 1. books cut shorter, classics reduced to the punch line 2. school is shortened (no philosophy, no histories no languages) 3. skills (=pressing a button) instead of knowledge Knowhow instead of know why 4. entertainment instead of information (sports etc) 5. uniformity instead of diversity (people dislike everything unfamiliar or intellectual) 6. Keep the minorities down Therefore: BURN THE BOOKS! HAIL TO THE FIREMAN - "the custodian of our peace of mind"(p58)
Part Two: THE SIEVE AND THE SAND
68 Montag starts reading like in a fever, but outside the house he senses the sniff of an electric dog. Here are the books, but where to find a teacher? Montag remembers an old man he met a year ago, a former English professor who was memorizing poetry, his name was FABER.
78 This is Faber`s message: Books aren`t the most important things in life but they contain three things which can enhance life:
- 1. Quality: Books show the pores in the face of life, not the poreless wax faces.
- 2. Leisure: you can shut a book and contemplate its contents, you can criticize and object to it.
- 3. Action: the right to act according to what you have gained.
Montag has an `insidious` plan: plant books in the firehouses and have them burnt one by one. But to Faber that would just be `nibbling the edges`. He recommends patience, the system will destroy itself, it will be a victim of his wars. Faber has deviced a little instrument which to put into one`s ear: Thus you can monitor and communicate at the same time, with Faber being the head quarter (The Queen Bee and the drones). This will help M. when he has to face the Captain.
89 The war is getting ready that night - propaganda everywhere - while M. is on his way home. Faber is reading the Book of Job (Bible).
91 Eating supper at home M. switches the parlor off and initiates a conversation with Mildred's friends: About the war ("always someone else`s husband dies"), about having or not having any children, about the last election - it infuriates M. so much that he frightens them out of their wits by showing a book of poetry. But that was a stupid thing to do (Faber!), so he has to turn it into a joke (once a year a fireman is allowed to ...) and starts reciting >Dover Beach< (by William Wordsworth) which moves one of the ladies to tears. Nevertheless - he has made a fool of himself.
100 On his way to the Captain M. and F. talk things over.
102 He hands the book over to Beatty and is welcomed back ("the sheep returns to the fold")- but B. is trying to provoke and confuse M. while Faber is working hard to keep Montag from reacting - eventually the alarm bell rings, they drive off until they stop in front of Montag`s house.
Part Three: BURNING BRIGHT
108 Montag sees his wife leaving the house in haste carrying her belongings in suitcase. She doesn`t respond to him. Beatty`s dark sarcasm is spilling over and M. hears Faber`s voice in his ear. M. is given the flame-thrower to do the job himself, and he destroys his house - the parlor - with some satisfaction.
112 But then he loses his earphone and Beatty opicks it up. Montag seems lost now, but he`s acting quickly: With the flame-thrower he burns the captain to char-coal and the Mechanical Hound, too. But his leg is stung by the dog. He stumbles along the alley.
116 He limps back to the burned ruins to rescue a few books and on again with this aching leg. He suddenly realizes that Beatty must have wanted to die. In his pocket he finds the seashell-radio and hears the police warnings. He is heading towards Faber`s house, two dozens of helicopters swarming like butterflies in the air.
119 "War has been declared..."
123 He plants his books in the house of his colleague-fireman Black and informs the fire brigade
124 He arrives at Faber`s house: Faber advises him to look for one of the still existing hobo camps beyond the rusting railway tracks. On TV they watch the hunt which is broadcast in full length. A new Mechanical Hound is sent on M.s trails. Wouldn`t he make a good TV appearance?
130 They say good-bye and he`s on the run again. It`s a race against the Hound, the TV and the million of watchers who are told now to watch out for him. But he reaches the river, changes his clothes for Faber`s and starts swimming. He floats upon the river into another world, meditating the new experience. He steps into the vast darkness, sensing a pair of eyes which disappear again - the Hound?
139 He walks on until he sees the fire ahead with five old men sitting by and talking - they welcome him and know his name. They watch the chase on a portable TV, it is still on, and they see an innocent person caught and killed - the show is perfect, suspense, long shot, the camera falling on the victim, shouting, snap-ending, blackout - silence. The old men are "old Harvard degrees" who all represent the book they know by heart - the classics of world literature. They too are living without books, they are the books. They are parts of a loose organisation - a quiet conspiracy - waiting for the end of the war and for the times their knowledge will be needed again.
151 Next morning the war starts and is over in a few seconds. The city is destroyed by bombers. They lie on the ground, covered with dust and earth - and after a while they recover and start their daily routine of making fire and getting food ready. The symbol of the Phoenix is conjured up - and as they walk towards the destroyed city, Montag remembers the Book of Revelation.
For further reading
- In 1966 Fahrenheit 451 - the film - was released: written and directed by François Truffaut and starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie.
- "a controversial, award-winning documentary film by American filmmaker Michael Moore that presents a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the "War on Terrorism", and its coverage in the American news media. The film holds the record for highest box office receipts by a general release documentary." (quoted from en.wikipedia.org)
- It was reported that Bradbury was extremely upset with filmmaker Michael Moore for using this title.