Places: Fahrenheit 451

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1953 (expanded version of “The Fireman,” Galaxy Science Fiction, 1951)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Science fiction

Time of work: The future

Places DiscussedCity

City. Fahrenheit 451Unnamed urban center in which the protagonist, Guy Montag, lives and works. In this future world, culture is reduced to the lowest common denominator. Montag’s wife, for example, is completely dependent on her wall-sized television screens. Books are banned because they contain contradictory ideas and can confront the comfortable prejudices and ignorance that abounds. Montag himself works as a “fireman”; his job is to burn books as they are discovered hidden in people’s homes. In this world of state-sponsored book-burning, books are not simply carriers of potentially subversive messages–their very physical existence evokes a rich cultural tradition antithetical to the leveling tendencies of the mass media. When Montag discovers the joy of reading, he begins hiding books in his own house. Eventually, his wife reports him to the police, and he is sent to burn out his own house. He flees the city for his life.

Meanwhile, a constant threat of war overhangs the city, and most of its people view with suspicion anyone who lives outside carefully proscribed social boundaries. The book ends with the destruction of the cities by atomic bombs and the hope that civilization, like the mythical Phoenix, will rise again from its ashes. At the end of the story, the classical allusion to the phoenix is explained by Granger, the leader of the book people. The symbol is appropriate to their mission, he says, because like humankind, “every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up . . . But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again.”

Countryside

Countryside. The world outside the city contrasts sharply with the urban environment. Ray Bradbury is a romantic writer who often yearns for the simpler, rural life he knew as a child. When Montag is forced to run for his life from the city, the source of all the evils he has come to hate and fear, he escapes to the countryside. His journey ends when he comes upon an old railroad track, a symbol of the long-lost American past. There, he joins a new social group, made up of people who share his beliefs. Its outcast members, who have rejected society’s standards, keep literature alive by memorizing books.

River

River. Wide stream down which Montag floats until he reaches the community of book people. This river operates as a dividing line between past life and new, signifying a kind of baptism: After he began “floating in the river he knew why he must never burn again in his life.”

BibliographyGreenberg, Martin Henry, and Joseph D. Olander, eds. Ray Bradbury. New York: Taplinger, 1980 . This collection contains several essays discussing aspects of Fahrenheit 451. Extensive bibliography.Johnson, Wayne L. Ray Bradbury. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Deals with central themes related to science fiction and fantasy in Bradbury’s works.Mogen, David. Ray Bradbury. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Provides biographical background as well as analyses of major works. Sees Fahrenheit 451 as satire of the McCarthyism of the 1950’s, as well as a general attack on totalitarianism.Spencer, Susan. “The Post-Apocalyptic Library: Oral and Literate Culture in Fahrenheit 451 and A Canticle for Leibowitz.” Extrapolation 32, no. 4 (Winter, 1991): 331-342. Contrasts Bradbury’s more positive view of cultural development with the pessimistic historical determinism of Walter Miller’s post-doomsday novel.Touponce, William F. Ray Bradbury and the Poetics of Reverie: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and the Reader. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. Applies reader-response theories to Bradbury’s works. Focuses on Fahrenheit 451 as a critique of technological rationalism and the contemporary culture industry.
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