Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. 1953. Del Rey, 1991.
Summary of Work
Fahrenheit 451 starts with Guy Montag coming home from work and meeting a girl, Clarisse, who is odd. She looks at people, she asks questions about the people she meets, and makes actual conversation about her surroundings and others’ lives as well as her own. It is so strange to Montag, but as he gets used to it, he looks forward to the conversation. When he comes to his house and in his bedroom, however, he finds his wife overdosed on sleeping pills, which means he has to call the emergency services to have her stomach pumped and blood cleaned. She doesn’t remember it the next morning, or at least pretends not to remember.
Guy Montag is a fireman, a man who burns books when they are found in people’s homes. Reading books is forbidden, and the firemen are in place to make sure that the books are burned, and sometimes the people with them. This happens on a job, where the woman with the books actually sets herself, and her books, afire. Montag saves a book from the pyre and sneaks it home. He is sick with the image of the burning woman. He later learns that his friend Clarisse was hit by a car and killed. It further destroys him. He misses work the next day, and his boss shows up to talk to him. After his boss explains the history of the firemen and why books are banned (the minorities and other people didn’t like that it caused people to disagree and argue about things that were best left to other, governmental figures), he tells Montag he knows that he’s taken a book, which happens sometimes, but that the goal is to look through it and then burn it if Montag values his job and life. So Montag reveals to his wife, who is a TV obsessed woman interested in spending all her time staring at the three TV screen walls on the parlor room walls, that he’s been stealing books over the last year and has twenty of them. He forces her to read them with him, and then realizes that he knows someone, a professor he met in the park, who will know what to do with the Bible, the book he stole from the woman’s home collection. He goes to Professor Faber, and they talk about the downfall of intellectuals and how many of them are living in hiding on the railroad tracks in the country.
Montag comes up with a plan to bring the system down, but fails because he gets angry at his wife’s friends and reads them poetry aloud. His wife and the women call the firemen on him. Of course, he doesn’t realize this, and goes to work, where he is forced to go back to his house and burn it with all the books in it. Afterward, when Beatty tries to take him to jail, Montag burns Beatty alive and then fights off the mechanical hound that tries to subdue him with injected chemicals. He escapes to the country right before the war officially starts, and as he is spending time with intellectuals in the country and they tell him that they have memorized books, all of them, and so they can recite the great works from history to people when they’re ready for literature again, the city of Chicago is bombed to the ground, leaving no survivors. The intellectuals talk about how now may be the time to help, and they head toward spaces they think may contain survivors. The big idea they want to drive home in themselves, though, is that they are not more important than anyone else because they contain that knowledge. They are simply knowledge receptacles, and the knowledge is important so that it can be shared with others.
Brief Note on Themes
The big themes of this novel are about how we deal with knowledge, particularly written knowledge, and what it does for people. There is also a theme about how technology changes information and often destroys its beauty and meaning in an attempt to make it more bite-sized and digestible. The dangers of having knowledge is also a big theme in the novel: what happens when we don’t do anything with the knowledge we have, act in the wrong way, or consider ourselves better than others because we have the knowledge? The work makes us consider the power of the written word and helps us to understand the different ways technology changes the way we transmit knowledge and consume knowledge, and ultimately, how people are the ones who decide how that technology changes culture, not the technology itself.