First edition cover (clothbound)
|Published||October 19, 1953 (Ballantine Books)|
|ISBN||978-0-7432-4722-1 (current cover edition)|
|LC Class||PS3503.R167 F3 2003|
Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury, first published in 1953. It is regarded as one of his best works. The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and "firemen" burn any that are found. The book's tagline explains the title: "Fahrenheit 451 - the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns..." The lead character, Guy Montag, is a fireman who becomes disillusioned with his role of censoring literature and destroying knowledge, eventually quitting his job and committing himself to the preservation of literary and cultural writings.
The novel has been the subject of interpretations focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury said that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 because of his concerns at the time (during the McCarthy era) about the threat of book burning in the United States. In later years, he described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature.
In 1954, Fahrenheit 451 won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and the Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal. It later won the Prometheus "Hall of Fame" Award in 1984 and a "Retro" Hugo Award, one of only six Best Novel Retro Hugos ever given, in 2004. Bradbury was honored with a Spoken Word Grammy nomination for his 1976 audiobook version.
Adaptations of the novel include François Truffaut's 1966 film adaptation and a 1982 BBC Radio dramatization. Bradbury published a stage play version in 1979 and helped develop a 1984 interactive fiction computer game titled Fahrenheit 451, as well as a collection of his short stories titled A Pleasure to Burn. HBO released a television film based on the novel and written and directed by Ramin Bahrani in 2018.
Fahrenheit 451 is set in an unspecified city (likely in the American Midwest) in the year 1999 (according to Ray Bradbury's Coda), though it is written as if set in a distant future.[note 1] The earliest editions make clear that it takes place no earlier than the year 1960.[note 2]
The novel is divided into three parts: "The Hearth and the Salamander", "The Sieve and the Sand", and "Burning Bright".
Guy Montag is a "fireman" employed to burn the possessions of those who read outlawed books. He is married but has no children. One fall night while returning from work, he meets his new neighbor, a teenage girl named Clarisse McClellan, whose free-thinking ideals and liberating spirit cause him to question his life and his own perceived happiness. Montag returns home to find that his wife Mildred has overdosed on sleeping pills, and he calls for medical attention. Two uncaring EMTs pump Mildred's stomach, drain her poisoned blood, and fill her with new blood. After the EMTs leave to rescue another overdose victim, Montag goes outside and overhears Clarisse and her family talking about the way life is in this hedonistic, illiterate society. Montag's mind is bombarded with Clarisse's subversive thoughts and the memory of his wife's near-death. Over the next few days, Clarisse faithfully meets Montag each night as he walks home. She tells him about how her simple pleasures and interests make her an outcast among her peers and how she is forced to go to therapy for her behavior and thoughts. Montag looks forward to these meetings, and just as he begins to expect them, Clarisse goes missing. He senses something is wrong.
In the following days, while at work with the other firemen ransacking the book-filled house of an old woman before the inevitable burning, Montag steals a book before any of his coworkers notice. The woman refuses to leave her house and her books, choosing instead to light a match and burn herself alive. Jarred by the woman's suicide, Montag returns home and hides the stolen book under his pillow. Later, Montag wakes Mildred from her sleep and asks her if she has seen or heard anything about Clarisse McClellan. She reveals that Clarisse's family moved away after Clarisse was hit by a speeding car and died four days ago. Dismayed by her failure to mention this earlier, Montag uneasily tries to fall asleep. Outside he suspects the presence of "The Mechanical Hound", an eight-legged robotic dog-like creature that resides in the firehouse and aids the firemen in hunting book hoarders.
Montag awakens ill the next morning. Mildred tries to care for her husband but finds herself more involved in the "parlor wall" entertainment in the living room - large televisions filling the walls. Montag suggests that maybe he should take a break from being a fireman after what happened last night, and Mildred panics over the thought of losing the house and her parlor wall "family". Captain Beatty, Montag's fire chief, personally visits Montag to see how he is doing. Sensing his concerns, Beatty recounts the history of how books lost their value and how the firemen were adapted for their current role: over the course of several decades, people began to embrace new media (in this case, film and television), sports, and an ever-quickening pace of life. Books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate short attention spans while minority groups protested the controversial, outdated content they perceived in literature (yet comic books, trade papers, and sex magazines remained, as these fed into the mainstream population's desire for mindless entertainment). At the same time, advances in technology resulted in nearly all buildings being made out of fireproof materials, and the traditional role of firemen in preventing fires was no longer necessary. The government instead turned the firemen into officers of society's peace of mind: instead of putting out fires they became responsible for starting them, specifically for the purpose of burning books, which were condemned as sources of confusing and depressing thoughts that only complicated people's lives. After an awkward encounter between Millie and Montag over the book hidden under Montag's pillow, Beatty becomes suspicious and casually adds a passing threat as he leaves, telling Montag that if a fireman had a book, he would be asked to burn it within the next 24 hours. If he refused, the other firemen would come and burn his house down for him. The encounter leaves Montag shaken.
After Beatty leaves, Montag reveals to Mildred that, over the last year, he has accumulated a stash of books that he has kept hidden in the air-conditioning duct in their ceiling. In a panic, Mildred grabs a book and rushes to throw it in the kitchen incinerator. Montag subdues her and tells her that the two of them are going to read the books to see if they have value. If they do not, he promises the books will be burned and all will return to normal.
Montag and Mildred discuss the stolen books, and Mildred refuses to go along with it, questioning why she or anyone else should care about books. Montag goes on a rant about Mildred's suicide attempt, Clarisse's disappearance and death, the old woman who burned herself, and the imminent threat of war that goes ignored by the masses. He suggests that perhaps the books of the past have messages that can save society from its own destruction. The conversation is interrupted by a call from Mildred's friend, Mrs. Bowles, and they set up a date to watch the "parlor walls" that night at Mildred's house.
Montag concedes that Mildred is a lost cause and he will need help to understand the books. He remembers an old man named Faber, an English professor before books were banned, whom he once met in a park. Montag makes a subway trip to Faber's home along with a rare copy of the Bible, the book he stole at the woman's house. Once there, Montag forces the scared and reluctant Faber into helping him by methodically ripping pages from the Bible. Faber concedes and gives Montag a homemade ear-piece communicator so he can offer constant guidance.
At home, Mildred's friends, Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps, arrive to watch the "parlor walls". Not interested in this insipid entertainment, Montag turns off the walls and tries to engage the women in meaningful conversation, only for them to reveal just how indifferent, ignorant, and callous they truly are. Enraged by their idiocy, Montag leaves momentarily and returns with a book of poetry. This confuses the women and alarms Faber, who is listening remotely. Mildred tries to dismiss Montag's actions as a tradition firemen act out once a year: they find an old book and read it as a way to make fun of how silly the past is. Montag proceeds to recite the poem Dover Beach, causing Mrs. Phelps to cry. At the behest of Faber in the ear-piece, Montag burns the book. Mildred's friends leave in disgust, while Mildred takes more sleeping pills.
Montag hides his books in the backyard before returning to the firehouse late at night with just the stolen Bible. He finds Beatty playing cards with the other firemen. Montag hands Beatty a book to cover for the one he believes Beatty knows he stole the night before, which is unceremoniously tossed into the trash. Beatty tells Montag that he had a dream in which they fought endlessly by quoting books to each other. Thus Beatty reveals that, despite his disillusionment, he was once an enthusiastic reader. A fire alarm sounds, and Beatty picks up the address from the dispatcher system. They drive recklessly in the fire truck to the destination: Montag's house.
Beatty orders Montag to destroy his own house, telling him that his wife and her friends reported him after what happened the other night. Montag watches as Mildred walks out of the house, too traumatized about losing her parlor wall family to even acknowledge her husband's existence or the situation going on around her, and catches a taxi. Montag obeys the chief, destroying the home piece by piece with a flamethrower, but Beatty discovers Montag's ear-piece and plans to hunt down Faber. Montag threatens Beatty with the flamethrower and, after Beatty taunts him, burns his boss alive and knocks his coworkers unconscious. As Montag escapes the scene, the Mechanical Hound attacks him, managing to inject his leg with a tranquilizer. He destroys the Hound with the flamethrower and limps away. Before he escapes, however, he realizes that Beatty had wanted to die a long time ago and had purposely goaded Montag as well as provided him with a weapon.
Montag runs through the city streets towards Faber's house. Faber urges him to make his way to the countryside and contact the exiled book-lovers who live there. He mentions he will be leaving on an early bus heading to St. Louis and that he and Montag can rendezvous there later. On Faber's television, they watch news reports of another Mechanical Hound being released, with news helicopters following it to create a public spectacle. After wiping his scent from around the house in hopes of thwarting the Hound, Montag leaves Faber's house. He escapes the manhunt by wading into a river and floating downstream. Montag leaves the river in the countryside, where he meets the exiled drifters, led by a man named Granger. Granger shows Montag the ongoing manhunt on a portable battery TV and predicts that "Montag" will be caught within the next few minutes; as predicted, an innocent man is then caught and killed.
The drifters are all former intellectuals. They have each memorized books should the day arrive that society comes to an end and is forced to rebuild itself anew, with the survivors learning to embrace the literature of the past. Granger asks Montag what he has to contribute to the group and Montag finds that he had partially memorized the Book of Ecclesiastes. While learning the philosophy of the exiles, Montag and the group watch helplessly as bombers fly overhead and annihilate the city with nuclear weapons: the imminent war has begun and ended in the same night. While Faber would have left on the early bus, everyone else (including Mildred) is immediately killed. Montag and the group are injured and dirtied, but manage to survive the shockwave.
The following morning, Granger teaches Montag and the others about the legendary phoenix and its endless cycle of long life, death in flames, and rebirth. He adds that the phoenix must have some relationship to mankind, which constantly repeats its mistakes, but explains that man has something the phoenix does not: mankind can remember its mistakes and try never to repeat them. Granger then muses that a large factory of mirrors should be built so that people can take a long look at themselves and reflect on their lives. When the meal is over, the exiles return to the city to rebuild society.
The title page of the book explains the title as follows: Fahrenheit 451--The temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns.... On inquiring about the temperature at which paper would catch fire, Bradbury had been told that 451 °F (233 °C) was the autoignition temperature of paper. In various studies, scientists have placed the autoignition temperature at a range of temperatures between 424 and 475 °F (218 and 246 °C), depending on the type of paper.
Bradbury's lifelong passion for books began at an early age. After graduating from high school, Bradbury's family could not afford for him to attend college so Bradbury began spending time at the Los Angeles Public Library where he essentially educated himself. As a frequent visitor to his local libraries in the 1920s and 1930s, he recalls being disappointed because they did not stock popular science fiction novels, like those of H. G. Wells, because, at the time, they were not deemed literary enough. Between this and learning about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, a great impression was made on the young man about the vulnerability of books to censure and destruction. Later, as a teenager, Bradbury was horrified by the Nazi book burnings and later by Joseph Stalin's campaign of political repression, the "Great Purge", in which writers and poets, among many others, were arrested and often executed. For further details on the history of book burning, see Bonfire of the vanities.
Shortly after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the conclusion of World War II, the United States focused its concern on the Soviet atomic bomb project and the expansion of communism. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), formed in 1938 to investigate American citizens and organizations suspected of having communist ties, held hearings in 1947 to investigate alleged communist influence in Hollywood movie-making. These hearings resulted in the blacklisting of the so-called "Hollywood Ten", a group of influential screenwriters and directors. This governmental interference in the affairs of artists and creative types greatly angered Bradbury. Bradbury was bitter and concerned about the workings of his government, and a late 1949 nighttime encounter with an overzealous police officer would inspire Bradbury to write "The Pedestrian", a short story which would go on to become "The Fireman" and then Fahrenheit 451. The rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy's hearings hostile to accused communists, beginning in 1950, deepened Bradbury's contempt for government overreach.
The year HUAC began investigating Hollywood is often considered the beginning of the Cold War, as in March 1947, the Truman Doctrine was announced. By about 1950, the Cold War was in full swing, and the American public's fear of nuclear warfare and communist influence was at a feverish level. The stage was set for Bradbury to write the dramatic nuclear holocaust ending of Fahrenheit 451, exemplifying the type of scenario feared by many Americans of the time.
Bradbury's early life witnessed the Golden Age of Radio, while the transition to the Golden Age of Television began right around the time he started to work on the stories that would eventually lead to Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury saw these forms of media as a threat to the reading of books, indeed as a threat to society, as he believed they could act as a distraction from important affairs. This contempt for mass media and technology would express itself through Mildred and her friends and is an important theme in the book.
Fahrenheit 451 developed out of a series of ideas Bradbury had visited in previously written stories. For many years, he tended to single out "The Pedestrian" in interviews and lectures as sort of a proto-Fahrenheit 451. In the Preface of his 2006 anthology Match to Flame: The Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451 he states that this is an oversimplification. The full genealogy of Fahrenheit 451 given in Match to Flame is involved. The following covers the most salient aspects.
Between 1947 and 1948, Bradbury wrote the short story "Bright Phoenix" (not published until the May 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) about a librarian who confronts a book-burning "Chief Censor" named Jonathan Barnes.
In late 1949, Bradbury was stopped and questioned by a police officer while walking late one night. When asked "What are you doing?", Bradbury wisecracked, "Putting one foot in front of another." This incident inspired Bradbury to write the 1951 short story "The Pedestrian".[note 4]
In The Pedestrian, Leonard Mead is harassed and detained by the city's remotely operated police cruiser (there's only one) for taking nighttime walks, something that has become extremely rare in this future-based setting: everybody else stays inside and watches television ("viewing screens"). Alone and without an alibi, Mead is taken to the "Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies" for his peculiar habit. Fahrenheit 451 would later echo this theme of an authoritarian society distracted by broadcast media.
Bradbury expanded the book-burning premise of "Bright Phoenix" and the totalitarian future of "The Pedestrian" into "The Fireman", a novella published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. "The Fireman" was written in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library on a typewriter that he rented for a fee of ten cents per half hour. The first draft was 25,000 words long and was completed in nine days.
Urged by a publisher at Ballantine Books to double the length of his story to make a novel, Bradbury returned to the same typing room and expanded his work into Fahrenheit 451, again taking just nine days. The fixup was published by Ballantine in 1953.
The first U.S. printing was a paperback version from October 1953 by The Ballantine Publishing Group. Shortly after the paperback, a hardback version was released that included a special edition of 200 signed and numbered copies bound in asbestos. These were technically collections because the novel was published with two short stories: The Playground and And the Rock Cried Out, which have been absent in later printings. A few months later, the novel was serialized in the March, April, and May 1954 issues of nascent Playboy magazine.
Starting in January 1967, Fahrenheit 451 was subject to expurgation by its publisher, Ballantine Books with the release of the "Bal-Hi Edition" aimed at high school students. Among the changes made by the publisher were the censorship of the words "hell", "damn", and "abortion"; the modification of seventy-five passages; and the changing of two episodes.
In the one case, a drunk man became a "sick man" while cleaning fluff out of a human navel became "cleaning ears" in the other. For a while both the censored and uncensored versions were available concurrently but by 1973 Ballantine was publishing only the censored version. This continued until 1979 when it came to Bradbury's attention:
In 1979, one of Bradbury's friends showed him an expurgated copy. Bradbury demanded that Ballantine Books withdraw that version and replace it with the original, and in 1980 the original version once again became available. In this reinstated work, in the Author's Afterword, Bradbury relates to the reader that it is not uncommon for a publisher to expurgate an author's work, but he asserts that he himself will not tolerate the practice of manuscript "mutilation".
The "Bal-Hi" editions are now referred to by the publisher as the "Revised Bal-Hi" editions.
An audiobook version read by Bradbury himself was released in 1976 and received a Spoken Word Grammy nomination. Another audiobook was released in 2005 narrated by Christopher Hurt. The e-book version was released in December 2011.
In 1954, Galaxy Science Fiction reviewer Groff Conklin placed the novel "among the great works of the imagination written in English in the last decade or more." The Chicago Sunday Tribune's August Derleth described the book as "a savage and shockingly prophetic view of one possible future way of life", calling it "compelling" and praising Bradbury for his "brilliant imagination". Over half a century later, Sam Weller wrote, "upon its publication, Fahrenheit 451 was hailed as a visionary work of social commentary." Today, Fahrenheit 451 is still viewed as an important cautionary tale about conformity and the evils of government censorship.
When the novel was first published, there were those who did not find merit in the tale. Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas were less enthusiastic, faulting the book for being "simply padded, occasionally with startlingly ingenious gimmickry, ... often with coruscating cascades of verbal brilliance [but] too often merely with words." Reviewing the book for Astounding Science Fiction, P. Schuyler Miller characterized the title piece as "one of Bradbury's bitter, almost hysterical diatribes," while praising its "emotional drive and compelling, nagging detail." Similarly, The New York Times was unimpressed with the novel and further accused Bradbury of developing a "virulent hatred for many aspects of present-day culture, namely, such monstrosities as radio, TV, most movies, amateur and professional sports, automobiles, and other similar aberrations which he feels debase the bright simplicity of the thinking man's existence."
In the years since its publication, Fahrenheit 451 has occasionally been banned, censored, or redacted in some schools by parents and teaching staff either unaware of or indifferent to the inherent irony in such censorship. The following are some notable incidents:
Discussions about Fahrenheit 451 often center on its story foremost as a warning against state-based censorship. Indeed, when Bradbury wrote the novel during the McCarthy era, he was concerned about censorship in the United States. During a radio interview in 1956, Bradbury said:
I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country four years ago. Too many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time. And of course, things have changed a lot in four years. Things are going back in a very healthy direction. But at the time I wanted to do some sort of story where I could comment on what would happen to a country if we let ourselves go too far in this direction, where then all thinking stops, and the dragon swallows his tail, and we sort of vanish into a limbo and we destroy ourselves by this sort of action.
As time went by, Bradbury tended to dismiss censorship as a chief motivating factor for writing the story. Instead he usually claimed that the real messages of Fahrenheit 451 were about the dangers of an illiterate society infatuated with mass media and the threat of minority and special interest groups to books. In the late 1950s, Bradbury recounted:
In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451, I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.
This story echoes Mildred's "Seashell ear-thimbles" (i.e., a brand of in-ear headphones) that act as an emotional barrier between her and Montag. In a 2007 interview, Bradbury maintained that people misinterpret his book and that Fahrenheit 451 is really a statement on how mass media like television marginalizes the reading of literature. Regarding minorities, he wrote in his 1979 Coda:
There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women's Lib/Republican, Mattachine/Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. [...] Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever. [...] Only six weeks ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some seventy-five separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel, which, after all, deals with censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. Judy-Lynn del Rey, one of the new Ballantine editors, is having the entire book reset and republished this summer with all the damns and hells back in place.
Book-burning censorship, Bradbury would argue, was a side-effect of these two primary factors; this is consistent with Captain Beatty's speech to Montag about the history of the firemen. According to Bradbury, it is the people, not the state, who are the culprit in Fahrenheit 451. Nevertheless, the role of censorship, state-based or otherwise, is still perhaps the most frequent theme explored in the work.[better source needed]
A variety of other themes in the novel besides censorship have been suggested. Two major themes are resistance to conformity and control of individuals via technology and mass media. Bradbury explores how the government is able to use mass media to influence society and suppress individualism through book burning. The characters Beatty and Faber point out that the American population is to blame. Due to their constant desire for a simplistic, positive image, books must be suppressed. Beatty blames the minority groups, who would take offense to published works that displayed them in an unfavorable light. Faber went further to state that the American population simply stopped reading on their own. He notes that the book burnings themselves became a form of entertainment for the general public.
Bradbury described himself as "a preventor of futures, not a predictor of them." He did not believe that book burning was an inevitable part of the future; he wanted to warn against its development. In a later interview, when asked if he believes that teaching Fahrenheit 451 in schools will prevent his totalitarian vision of the future, Bradbury replied in the negative. Rather, he states that education must be at the kindergarten and first-grade level. If students are unable to read then, they will be unable to read Fahrenheit 451.
In terms of technology, Sam Weller notes that Bradbury "predicted everything from flat-panel televisions to earbud headphones and twenty-four-hour banking machines."
Playhouse 90 broadcast "A Sound of Different Drummers" on CBS in 1957, written by Robert Alan Aurthur. The play combined plot ideas from Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Bradbury sued and eventually won on appeal.
In the late 1970s Bradbury adapted his book into a play. At least part of it was performed at the Colony Theatre in Los Angeles in 1979, but it was not in print until 1986 and the official world premiere was only in November 1988 by the Fort Wayne, Indiana Civic Theatre. The stage adaptation diverges considerably from the book and seems influenced by Truffaut's movie. For example, fire chief Beatty's character is fleshed out and is the wordiest role in the play. As in the movie, Clarisse does not simply disappear but in the finale meets up with Montag as a book character (she as Robert Louis Stevenson, he as Edgar Allan Poe).
The UK premiere of Bradbury's stage adaptation was not until 2003 in Nottingham, while it took until 2006 before the Godlight Theatre Company produced and performed its New York City premiere at 59E59 Theaters. After the completion of the New York run, the production then transferred to the Edinburgh Festival where it was a 2006 Edinburgh Festival Pick of the Fringe.
In June 2009, a graphic novel edition of the book was published. Entitled Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation, the paperback graphic adaptation was illustrated by Tim Hamilton. The introduction in the novel is written by Bradbury.
Michael Moore's 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 refers to Bradbury's novel and the September 11 attacks, emphasized by the film's tagline "The temperature where freedom burns". The film takes a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media, and became the highest grossing documentary of all time. Bradbury was upset by what he considered the appropriation of his title, and wanted the film renamed.
In 2015, the Internet Engineering Steering Group approved the publication of An HTTP Status Code to Report Legal Obstacles, now RFC 7725, which specifies that websites forced to block resources for legal reasons should return a status code of 451 when users request those resources.
Centigrade 232 is a poem by Robert Calvert, published in a 1977 book and released as an album in 2007. The title alludes to Fahrenheit 451 by its metric equivalent, "signifying the writer destroying his rough drafts".
In the book 14 of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky, published in 2008, Braithe states that the name of the Place of Living Books, also called Brad, comes from an author's name: "The author's full name is not known. We call him Ray Brad. We think it's only scraps of his name but what is important is that he wrote about book burning", thus referencing Fahrenheit 451.
The first paperback edition featured illustrations by Joe Mugnaini and contained two stories in addition to the title tale: 'The Playground' and 'And The Rock Cried Out'.
While Fahrenheit 451 begins as a dystopic novel about a totalitarian government that bans reading, the novel ends with Montag relishing the book he has put to memory.
Fahrenheit 451 is considered one of Bradbury's best works.
I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country four years ago. Too many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time.
Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most famous literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953 ... Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.
...[in 1954 Bradbury received] two other awards--National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and Commonwealth Club of California Literature Gold Medal Award--for Fahrenheit 451, which is published in three installments in Playboy.
Then there was the afternoon at Huston's Irish manor when a telegram arrived to inform Bradbury that his first novel, Fahrenheit 451, a bitterly-satirical story of the book-burning future, had been awarded a grant of $1,000 from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Fahrenheit 451 is set in an unnamed city in the United States, possibly in the Midwest, in some undated future.
Fahrenheit 451 is not set in any specific locale...
Montag does not realize at first that she is gone, or that he misses her; he simply feels that something is the matter.
The Mechanical Hound is an eight-legged glass and metal contraption that serves as a surveillance tool and programmable killing machine for the firemen, who use it to track down suspected book hoarders and readers.
Montag's new neighbor, the sixteen-year-old Clarisse, appears in only a few scenes at the beginning of the novel.
(451 degrees Fahrenheit, Bradbury had been told, was the temperature at which texts went up in flames)
He called the Los Angeles fire department and asked them at what temperature paper burned. Fahrenheit 451, somebody told him. He had his title. It didn't matter if it was true or not.
He 'wept' when he learned at the age of nine that the ancient library of Alexandria had been burned.
Inspired by images of book burning by the Nazis and written at the height of Army-McCarthy 'Red Scare' hearings in America, Fahrenheit 451...
Well, we should learn from history about the destruction of books. When I was fifteen years old, Hitler burned books in the streets of Berlin. And it terrified me because I was a librarian and he was touching my life: all those great plays, all that great poetry, all those wonderful essays, all those great philosophers. So, it became very personal, didn't it? Then I found out about Russia burning the books behind the scenes. But they did it in such a way that people didn't know about it. They killed the authors behind the scenes. They burned the authors instead of the books. So I learned then how dangerously [sic] it all was.
In the movie business the Hollywood Ten were sent to prison for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and in the Screen Writers Guild Bradbury was one of the lonely voices opposing the loyalty oath imposed on its members.
'I was angry at Senator Joseph McCarthy and the people before him, like Parnell Thomas and the House Un-American Activities Committee and Bobby Kennedy, who was part of that whole bunch', Bradbury told Judith Green, San Joe Mercury News theatre critic, in the October 30, 1993, edition. 'I was angry about the blacklisting and the Hollywood 10. I was a $100 a week screenwriter, but I wasn't scared--I was angry.'
Even if many 1950s sf films seem comic to us today, they register the immediacy of the nuclear threat for their original audiences.
For many years I've told people that Fahrenheit 451 was the result of my story 'The Pedestrian' continuing itself in my life. It turns out that this is a misunderstanding of my own past. Long before 'The Pedestrian' I did all the stories that you'll find in this book and forgot about them.
Ray Bradbury calls this story, the first of the tandem, 'a curiosity. I wrote it [he says] back in 1947-48 and it remained in my files over the years, going out only a few times to quality markets like Harper's Bazaar or The Atlantic Monthly, where it was dismissed. It lay in my files and collected about it many ideas. These ideas grew large and became ...
The specific incident that sparked 'The Pedestrian' involved a similar late-night walk with a friend along Wilshire Boulevard near Western Avenue sometime in late 1949.
When I came out of a restaurant when I was thirty years old, and I went walking along Wilshire Boulevard with a friend, and a police car pulled up and the policeman got up and came up to us and said, 'What are you doing?'. I said, 'Putting one foot in front of the other' and that was the wrong answer but he kept saying, you know, 'Look in this direction and that direction: there are no pedestrians' but that give me the idea for 'The Pedestrian' and 'The Pedestrian' turned into Montag! So the police officer is responsible for the writing of Fahrenheit 451.
He writes 'The Phoenix [sic],' which he will later develop into the short story 'The Fireman,' which will eventually become Fahrenheit 451.
As Bradbury has often noted, 'The Pedestrian' marks the true flashpoint that exploded into 'The Fireman' and Fahrenheit 451.
The short story which Bradbury later expanded into the novel Fahrenheit 451, was originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction, vol. 1, no. 5 (February 1951), under the title 'The Fireman.'
In 1950 Ray Bradbury composed his 25,000-word novella 'The Fireman' in just this way, and three years later he returned to the same subterranean typing room for another nine-day stint to expand this cautionary tale into the 50,000-word novel Fahrenheit 451.
When it published the first edition in 1953, Ballantine also produced 200 signed and numbered copies bound in Johns-Manville Quintera, a form of asbestos.
Bradbury closes his 1979 'Coda' to Fahrenheit 451, one of numerous comments on the novel he has published since 1953, ...
In a 1982 afterword...
Special edition bound in asbestos--200 copies ca. 1954, $4.00 [probably Ballantine text]
200 copies were signed and numbered and bound in 'Johns-Manville Quinterra,' an asbestos material.
A special limited-edition version of the book with an asbestos cover was printed in 1953.
To fulfill his agreement with Doubleday that the book be a collection rather than a novel, the first edition of Fahrenheit 451 included two additional short stories--'The Playground' and 'And the Rock Cried Out.' (The original plan was to include eight stories plus Fahrenheit 451, but Ray didn't have time to revise all the tales.) 'The Playground' and 'And the Rock Cried Out' were removed in much later printings; in the meantime, Ray had met his contractual obligation with the first edition. Fahrenheit 451 was a short novel, but it was also a part of a collection.
A serialized version of Fahrenheit 451 appears in the March, April, and May 1954 issues of Playboy magazine.
The censorship began with a special 'Bal-Hi' edition in 1967, an edition designed for high school students...
In 1967, Ballantine Books published a special edition of the novel to be sold in high schools. Over 75 passages were modified to eliminate such words as hell, damn, and abortion, and two incidents were eliminated. The original first incident described a drunk man who was changed to a sick man in the expurgated edition. In the second incident, reference is made to cleaning fluff out of the human navel, but the expurgated edition changed the reference to cleaning ears.
After six years of simultaneous editions, the publisher ceased publication of the adult version, leaving only the expurgated version for sale from 1973 through 1979, during which neither Bradbury nor anyone else suspected the truth.
There is no mention anywhere on the Bal-Hi edition that it has been abridged, but printing histories in later Ballantine editions refer to the 'Revised Bal-Hi Editions'.
In 1992, students of Venado Middle School in Irvine, California, were issued copies of the novel with numerous words blacked out. School officials had ordered teachers to use black markers to obliterate all of the 'hells', 'damns', and other words deemed 'obscene' in the books before giving them to students as required reading. Parents complained to the school and contacted local newspapers, who sent reporters to write stories about the irony of a book that condemns bookburning and censorship being expurgated. Faced with such an outcry, school officials announced that the censored copies would no longer be used.
The main target of Fahrenheit 451 is not censorship, as is often supposed, but rather mass culture...
I am a preventor of futures, not a predictor of them. I wrote Fahrenheit 451 to prevent book-burnings, not to induce that future into happening, or even to say that it was inevitable.
FAHRENHEIT 451* (1966); written by François Truffaut from the novel by Ray Bradbury; starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie; directed by François Truffaut.
Thanks also to Ray Bradbury.