Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451

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Fahrenheit 451 is a novel written by the American author Ray Bradbury in 1953, born in Waukegan, Illinois, on August 22, 1920

Synopsis and occasional summaries

Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander

Page numbers refer to the Cornelsen edition 1989

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
|   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                           
|    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    
  Describe your impressions after reading the beginning of the novel.
  What could inspire you to continue reading?

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 depressed, most of all M.

41 He comes home - a book hidden under his overall. He contemplates his relationsship 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.

Beatty's world
'''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:
               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 (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. He has kept his address and drives to his house, reading the bible in the subway.

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.

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< (W.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 a 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 picks it up. Montag seems lost now, but acts 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..."

Go on

For debating

No matter if you have read the novel completely or not, here is something to think about: Is Beatty wrong or right?

Pros and cons
"Yes, but what about the firemen, then?" asked Montag.
“What more easily explained and natural? With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers and imaginative creators, the word >intellectual<, of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally >bright<, did most of the reciting and answering. And wasn`t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it."
R. Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Cornelsen 1989, S. 58

For further notice

"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.

Ray Bradbury

  1. Use the information you can find on the internet to write a short biography of Ray Bradbury
  2. Rules: not more than five dates and five titles, in altogether 300 words!
  3. Write complete sentences.

You may start here:

See also