Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451” in times when television sets and mainstream media were just starting to invade American households. Insightfully predicting the danger TV broadcasts and magazine headlines pose to critical and imaginative thinking, he wrote his novel as a warning. Ironically 60 years later, this warning couldn’t be more in tune with the small-screen social media reality we live in today.
This is what makes the novel a contemporary and eye-opening read even today. And unlike most dystopian literature from the mid-20th century, it is by no means an amusing revisiting of old and outdated fears. It is rather a perfectly timed opportunity to raise healthy doubts about our present and to reevaluate the future we all have been collectively walking towards for the past decades.
In the future America of “Fahrenheit 451”, people don’t really like thinking on their own nor engaging in meaningful conversations for that matter. They would rather drive recklessly, stay all day long in front of their huge TV screens, and listen to the voice of the seashell radio sets in their ears. Books are outlawed in this bizarre reality and, even more weirdly, firemen are those who burn them down.
Guy Montag is one of these men.
One day after blissfully disposing of the last stash of confiscated books at work, he heads back home but has a puzzling encounter with the girl next door Clarisse. She is acting all strange and won’t stop asking all sorts of unusual questions, eagerly sharing her alien love for people and nature. She even openly tells Montag she’s crazy, but he is so deeply touched by her heartwarming kindness that he finds it hard to turn her down. The unusual sensation she plants in Montag’s head may have faded away if it wasn’t only the beginning of quite an extraordinary day for him.
As soon as Montag gets home, he finds his wife Mildred lying unconscious on the floor after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. He immediately calls the paramedics, but two technicians show up instead, as due to the many recent overdoses there is a severe shortage on medical staff. Mildred eventually gets detoxed and as she comes to her senses, she has no recollection of the incident at all. In fact, she stubbornly believes that she simply had a wild party last night and cheerfully moves on with her life as if nothing happened.
Montag is becoming increasingly alarmed by this highly unusual chain of events.
Eventually, he meets up with Clarisse again to find out that she has been sent to therapy for not being able to enjoy “normal” activities, preferring to spend time outside and chat with strangers instead. He sees nothing crazy in her though and the two become increasingly acquainted over time. One day, however, she simply disappears and Montag is left with the dreadful feeling that something bad happened to her.
Back at work, the events become even more extraordinary. The fire department has been signaled to dispose of an antique collection of books in the possession of an elderly woman. The lady, however, so fanatically defends her books that she sets herself on fire in front of the eyes of the firemen before seeing them confiscated. Shocked by the horrifying scene, Montag steals a copy of the Bible to try figure out why she was so willing to sacrifice herself.
He gets home and feels the desperate need to discuss the shocking experience with somebody but Mildred‘s mind has so badly regressed that she can barely have a basic conversation with him. He tries explaining about the old lady, but the only thing he gets from he is that Clarisse has been killed in a car accident a couple of days ago. This only further disturbs Montag and robs him of his sleep.
Meanwhile, his boss – Captain Beatty, suspects him of stealing books and tries to comfort him. He reminds him that the whole book burning thing started after books and their complex topics have led to mass confusion, confrontations, and unnecessary arguments between people. He stresses that every fireman has 24 hours to dispose of any confiscated books or risks of having his house burned down. Montag realizes that they are onto him.
Worried about the consequences, Montag gets back home and tells his wife that he’s been stealing books for quite some time now. She freaks out, terrified that she might lose her home, and especially her beloved TV, and quickly tries to dispose of the texts. Montag stops her and promises to do it himself if he finds no real value in them.
Reading, however, turns out to be quite a challenge for him. Desperate to make Mildred see that there is something wrong with the world, he tries to get her invested in poetry but she furiously refuses to think.
Montag realizes that he would need help and reaches out to the former English professor Faber who he once met in the park. The professor is very skeptical and distrustful at first and is reluctant to provide any help. In his frustration, Montag starts ripping the Bible apart in front of him and this is when Farber realizes that he is indeed awakening. He agrees to help and gives him an earpiece so he can teach him from a safe distance.
Montag gets home, where Mildred and her friends are having a party, and makes a dire attempt to engage them in a meaningful conversation. They, however, prove to be just as numb and thoughtless as everybody else, rendering his efforts useless. Disgusted by their soulless behavior, he starts reading them poetry despite Faber’s many pleads not to do it.
Realizing he went too far, Montag quickly burns down his entire stash of books, but it’s already too late. Mildred has reported him and the fire department is on the way. They force Montag to personally burn down his entire home himself and so he does, but his boss discovers his earpiece and threatens to kill the professor. In a rash decision, Montag kills all firemen at the scene and becomes a fugitive.
Together with Faber, they seek refuge in the nearby woods where they encounter the Drifters – a group of outcasts, each memorizing a single book in order to preserve the written knowledge in time. Soon after, bombers fly over the city and nuke the whole area.
The handful of Drifters survive the blast and with the knowledge they are holding, they start rebuilding society, giving mankind a chance to rise from the ashes and create a better world liberated from the mistakes of the past.
1. The book-burning was inspired by Adolf Hitler. When Bradbury was 15, the Nazi party publicly burned books in the streets of Berlin, terrifying the author that it may happen in other parts of the world.
2. Despite the common belief, the temperature of 451°F isn’t the burning temperature of paper but the point at which paper self-ignites.
3. The book is based on Bradbury’s 1951 short story called “The Fireman”.
4. Bradbury didn’t write “Fahrenheit 451” in 9 days as commonly believed. It was “The Fireman” that the author would later refer to as “the first version of the book”.
5. He wrote the first version of the book in a basement, spending $10 dollars on a typewriter rental. By his own estimate, he spent about 49 hours in writing.
6. The book reflects the 1950’s paranoia of communist infiltration of American values. For many, it remains a critical look at the witch hunt sparked by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy.
7. Bradbury truly feared that TV would mean the end of reading for mankind, saying: “Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was”.
8. Despite fearing the television, more than 600 of his works were adapted for the small screen.
9. “Fahrenheit 451” was reconceived as a movie, video game, radio drama, and a graphic novel.
10. Master of science fiction for many, Bradbury claims that he wrote only one sci-fi novel – “Fahrenheit 451”. Everything else he describes as fantasy, depicting the unreal.