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Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel authored by Ray Bradbury and first published in 1953.

The novel presents a future American society in which the masses are hedonistic, and critical thought through reading is outlawed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed as a "fireman" (which, in this future, means "bookburner"). The number "451" refers to the temperature at which book paper auto-ignites. Although sources contemporary with the novel's writing gave the temperature as , Bradbury apparently thought "Fahrenheit" made for a better title. The "firemen" burn them "for the good of humanity". Written in the early years of the Cold War, the novel is a critique of what Bradbury saw as issues in American society of the era.

The concept started with Bradbury's short story "FireMan," written in 1947 but first published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1963. The original short story was reworked into the novella The Fireman, and published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. The novel was also serialized in the March, April, and May 1954 issues of Playboy magazine. Bradbury wrote the entire novel on a pay typewriter in the basement of UCLA'smarker Powell Library. His original intention in writing Fahrenheit 451 was to show his great love for books and libraries. He has often referred to Montag as an allusion to himself.

Over the years, the novel has been subject to various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship, but is a story of how television destroys interest in reading literature, leading to a replacement of knowledge with "factoids", partial information devoid of context, such as Napoleon's birth date with no explanation of who he was.

A movie version of the novel was released in 1966. At least two BBC Radio 4 dramatizations have also been aired, both of which follow the book very closely. A new movie version is in pre-production, and is scheduled for release in 2012.

Plot summary

Fahrenheit 451 takes place in an unspecified future time (dialogue on one page places it after 1990) in a hedonistic anti-intellectual Americamarker that has completely abandoned self-control. This America is filled with lawlessness in the streets ranging from teenagers crashing cars into people to firemen at a station who set their 'mechanical hound' to hunt various animals by their scent for the simple and grotesque pleasure of watching them die. Anyone caught reading or possessing books is, at the minimum, confined to a mental hospital while the books are burned by the firemen. Illegal books mainly include famous works of literature, such as Walt Whitman and William Faulkner, as well as the Bible and all historical texts.

One rainy night returning from his job, fireman Guy Montag meets his new neighbor Clarisse McClellan, whose free-thinking ideals and liberating spirit force him to question his life, his ideals, and his own perceived happiness. Clarisse would not ask how a thing was done, but why. Later, Clarisse is presumptively killed after being hit by a car.

After meeting Clarisse, Montag returns home to find his wife Mildred asleep with an empty bottle of sleeping pills next to her bed. He calls for medical help; two technicians respond by proceeding to suck out Mildred's blood with a machine and insert new blood into her. The technicians' utter disregard for Mildred forces Montag to question the state of society.

In the following days, while ransacking the book-filled house of an old woman before the inevitable burning, Montag accidentally reads a line in one of her books: "Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine". This prompts him to steal one of the books. The woman refuses to leave her house and her books, choosing instead to light a match she had concealed from the firemen's view, prematurely igniting the flammable kerosene the firemen had sprayed her house with and, in a bizarre act of martyrdom subsequently burns herself alive along with her beloved books. This disturbs Montag, who wonders why someone would die for books, which he considers to be without value.

Jarred by the woman's suicide, Montag calls for sick leave, whereupon he receives a visit from his fire chief Captain Beatty, who explains to him the political and social causes which underlie the work they perform. Captain Beatty claims that society, in its search for happiness and in an attempt to minimize cultural offenses through political correctness, brought about the suppression of literature as an act of self-censorship and that the government merely took advantage of the situation. Beatty adds that all firemen eventually steal a book out of curiosity, but all would be well if the book is turned in within 24 hours. Montag argues with his wife, Mildred, over the book he himself has stolen, showing his growing disgust for her and for his society.

It is revealed that Montag has, over the course of a year, hidden dozens of books in the ventilation shafts of his own house, and tries to memorize them to preserve their contents, but becomes frustrated that the words seem to simply fall away from his memory. He then remembers a man he had met at one time: Faber, a former English professor. Montag seeks Faber's help, whereafter Faber begins teaching Montag about the vagaries and ambiguities but overall importance of literature in its attempt to explain human existence. He also tells him what books really mean. He also gives Montag a green bullet-shaped ear-piece so that Faber can offer guidance throughout his daily activities.

During a card game at the firehouse, Beatty tells Montag he had a dream about him, and relates the literary argument he claims to have had in his dream. Beatty quotes many books and shows an amazing knowledge of literature to prove to Montag that books can confuse the thoughts. Shortly after receiving an emergency dispatch, Montag follows Beatty and the crew to another call to arms; Beatty theatrically leads the crew to Montag's own home. He reveals that he knew all along of Montag's books, and orders Montag to destroy the house. Montag sees Mildred moving away from the house and sets to work burning their home; not content destroying the books, he burns the televisions, beds, and other emblems of his past life. When Beatty finds Faber's earpiece, he threatens to track Faber down, whereupon Montag turns the flamethrower on Beatty, killing him. He is soon a fugitive for these crimes. When the firehouse's mechanical hound attacks him, he turns the flamethrower on it, destroying it.

He flees to Faber's house, with another firehouse's mechanical hound and television network helicopters in hot pursuit. The newscasters hope to document his escape as a spectacle, and distract the people from the oncoming threat of war, a threat that has been foreshadowed throughout the book via the reader being repeatedly told of planes flying over the buildings that the characters are in, as well as a radio broadcast that says "this country stands ready to defend itself". Faber tells Montag of vagabond book-lovers in the countryside. Montag then escapes to a local river, floats downstream and meets a group of older men who, to Montag's astonishment, have memorized entire books, preserving them orally until the law against books is overturned. They burn the books they read to prevent discovery, retaining the verbatim content (and possibly valid interpretations) in their minds.

Meanwhile, the television network helicopters surround and kill another man (who regularly walks about) instead of Montag, to maintain the illusion of a successful hunt for the watching audience.

The war begins. Montag watches helplessly as jet bombers fly overhead and attack the city with nuclear weapons. It is implied Mildred dies, though Faber is stated to have left for St. Louismarker, to "see a retired printer there". It is implied that more cities across the country have been incinerated as well; a bitter irony in that the world that sought to burn thought is burned itself. At the moment of the explosion, the emotion of seeing the city burned causes a key phrase from the Bible to emerge from the depths of Montag's memory. The final page of the novel shows this phrase to be Revelation 22:2.

At dawn, Granger (the leader of the band) and Montag have some bacon for breakfast. During the meal, Granger discusses the legendary phoenix and its endless cycle of long life, death in flames, and rebirth, adding that the phoenix must have some relation to mankind, which constantly repeats its mistakes. After the meal is over, the band sets off back toward the city, to help rebuild what is left of it.

The novel is concluded in a shocking but slightly optimistic tone. It is suggested that the society Montag knew has almost completely collapsed and a new society must be built from the ashes. Whether this new society will meet the same fate is unknown, but it is implied that the book-keepers will begin to build mirror factories (a literary allusion wherein mirrors are a metaphor for books) to show people who they are, what they have become, and how they can change with time and knowledge.

Characters

  • Guy Montag is the protagonist and fireman (see above) whose metamorphosis is illustrated throughout the book and who presents the dystopia through the eyes of a loyal worker to it, a man in conflict about it, and one resolved to be free of it. Through most of the book, Montag lacks knowledge and believes what he hears. Bradbury notes in his afterword that he noticed, after the book was published, that Montag is the name of a paper company.
  • Faber is a former English professor, who represents those who know what is being done is wrong, but are too fearful to act. Bradbury notes in his afterword that Faber is part of the name of a German manufacturer of pencils, Faber-Castell.
  • Mildred Montag is Guy Montag's wife, who makes an attempt at suicide early on in the book by overdosing on sleeping pills. She is used symbolically as the opposite of Clarisse McClellan. In the 1966 film, her name was changed to Linda Montag.
  • Clarisse McClellan displays every trait Mildred does not, in that she is outgoing, naturally cheerful, unorthodox, and intuitive. She serves as the wake-up call for Montag by posing the question “Why?” to him. She is unpopular among peers and disliked by teachers for (as Captain Beatty puts it) asking why instead of how and focusing on nature rather than on technology. Montag regards her as odd until she goes missing; the book gives no definitive explanation. It is said that Captain Beatty and Mildred know that Clarisse has been killed in a car accident.
  • Captain Beatty is Montag's boss and the fire chief. Once an avid reader, he has come to hate books as a result of life's tragedies and of the fact that books contradict and refute each other. Beatty tries to entice Montag back into the book-burning business but is burned to death by Montag when he underestimates Montag's resolve. Montag later realizes that Beatty might have wanted to die, purposely provoking Montag to kill him. In a scene written years later by Bradbury for the Fahrenheit 451 play, Beatty invites Montag to his house where he shows him walls of books left to molder on their shelves. Beatty is the symbolic opposite of Faber.
  • Granger is the leader of a group of wandering intellectual exiles who memorize books in order to preserve their contents. Where Beatty destroys, he preserves; where Beatty uses fire for the purpose of burning, Granger uses it for the purpose of warming. His acceptance of Montag is considered the final step in Montag's metamorphosis from embracing Beatty's ultimate value of happiness and complacency to embracing Granger's value of the love of knowledge.
  • Mechanical Hound The mechanical hound exists in the original book but not in the 1966 film. It is an emotionless, eight-legged killing machine that can be programmed to seek out and destroy free thinkers, hunting them down by scent. It can remember as many as 10,000 scents at a time. The hound is blind to anything but the destruction for which it is programmed. It has a proboscis in a sheath on its snout, which injects lethal amounts of procaine and morphine. Although Montag is able to survive a partial injection into his leg, he suffers severe discomfort and numbness for a short time. The first hound encountered in the novel is destroyed when Montag sets it on fire with a flamethrower. A second hound sent to kill Montag but loses his scent when Montag jumped into a river. The hound then goes and finds a random victim to convince the television audience that the hound never fails (and also to keep the show short enough to keep the attention of the dim-witted masses). Bradbury notes in his afterword that the hound is "my robot clone of A. Conan Doyle's great Baskerville beast", referring to the famous Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles.
  • Mildred's friends (Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps) Mildred's friends represent the average citizens in the numbed society portrayed in the novel. They are examples of the people in the society who are unhappy but do not think they are. When they are introduced to literature (Dover Beach), which symbolizes the pain and happiness that has been censored from them, Mrs. Phelps is overwhelmed by the rush of emotion that she has not felt before.


Censorship and the effects of mass media

The novel is frequently interpreted as being critical of state-sponsored censorship, but Bradbury has disputed this interpretation. He said in a 2007 interview that the book explored the effects of television and mass media on the reading of literature.

Bradbury went even further to elaborate his meaning, saying specifically that the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state - it is the people.

Yet in the paperback edition released in 1979, Bradbury wrote a new coda for the book containing multiple comments on censorship and its relation to the novel. The coda is also present in the 1987 mass market paperback, which is still in print.

In the late '50s, Bradbury observed that the novel touches on the alienation of people by media:

Bradbury directly foretells this incident early in the work:

Adaptations

1966 film

Fahrenheit 451 was a film written and directed by François Truffaut and starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. The film was released in 1966.

Future film

In July 1994, a new film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 began development with the studio Warner Bros. and actor Mel Gibson, who planned to star in the lead role. Scripts were written by Bradbury, Tony Puryear, and Terry Hayes. With the project estimated to be expensive and Gibson believing himself too old to portray the film's protagonist Guy Montag, the actor decided in 1997 to instead direct the film. By 1999, he had planned to begin filming with actor Tom Cruise in the lead role, but Gibson was forced to postpone due to Cruise's unavailability. Actor Brad Pitt was also approached for the lead role, but a deal was never made. According to Gibson, there was difficulty in finding a script that would be appropriate for the film, and that with the advent of computers, the concept of book-burning in a futuristic period may no longer work.

In February 2001, the project was revived as director Frank Darabont entered negotiations with Warner Bros. to rewrite Terry Hayes's script and direct the film. Gibson was confirmed to be involved only as a producer, and Darabont planned to complete the script by the end of 2002. In July 2004, Darabont said that he had completed the script and hoped to begin filming Fahrenheit 451 after completing a script for Mission: Impossible III. Darabont did not begin Fahrenheit 451 immediately, instead going on to direct The Mist. The director said in November 2006 that he would do long-term preparation work for Fahrenheit 451 while filming The Mist and hoped that he would begin filming after The Mist was completed.

In August 2007, Darabont expressed his intent to film Fahrenheit 451 in the summer of 2008, and that he would place the story's setting in an "intentionally nebulous" future, approximately 50 years from the contemporary period. Darabont planned to keep certain elements from the book, such as the mechanical hound, in the film. The director did not comment on rumors of Tom Hanks as Guy Montag. The director said that the protagonist had been cast and would be announced soon. The following November, the director confirmed Hanks's involvement with the film and described the actor to be "the perfect embodiment of the regular guy". In March 2008, Hanks withdrew from the film, citing prior commitments as the reason. Darabont is now looking for a new lead, explaining the difficulty, "It needs to be somebody like Hanks who has the ability to trigger a greenlight but is also the right guy for the part. It's a narrow target. It's a short list of people."

Theater production

The Obie Award winning off-Broadway theatre The American Place Theatre is presenting a one man show adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 as a part of their 2008-2009 Literature to Life season.

Video game

The novel was adapted into a 1986 computer text adventure game of the same name.

Graphic novel

In June 2009 a graphic novel edition of the book was published (Published by Hill and Wang). 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 Ray Bradbury himself.

Allusions and references in other works

The title of Bradbury's book has become a well-known byword amongst those who oppose censorship, in much the way George Orwell's 1984 or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World have.

As such, it has been alluded to many times, including in the ACLU's 1997 white paper Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning?.

Also in Michael Moore's 2004 film Fahrenheit 9/11. Bradbury objected to the latter's allusion to his work, claiming that Moore "stole my title and changed the numbers without ever asking me for permission."

The dystopic theatrical play Fahrenheit 56K is about freedom of speech and Internet in a fictional dictatorship.

Artist Micah Wright used the theme "Hand all books to your local fireman for safe disposal" overlaid on a 1940s fireman propaganda poster.

Hungarianmarker poet György Faludy includes the lines in the opening stanza of his 1983 poem "Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine": "Learn by heart this poem of mine, / Books only last a little time, / And this one will be borrowed, scarred, [...] / Or slowly brown and self-combust, / When climbing Fahrenheit has got / To 451, for that's how hot / it will be when your town burns down. / Learn by heart this poem of mine."

The theme and plot of the movie Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale and Sean Bean, draws heavily from Fahrenheit 451, as well as from 1984 and Brave New World.

Ray Bradbury also alludes to himself in his book Let's All Kill Constance as the main character, a writer, thinks about writing a book about a "hero who smells of kerosene" and muses about the possibility of books being used to start fires in the future.

A 1986 computer text adventure revisits the story of Fahrenheit 451.

In a Japanese light novel, manga and anime series Toshokan Sensō (lit. "Library War"), a book referred to as "The Book of Prophecy" simply titled K505 was targeted for termination. This title alludes to Fahrenheit 451, as K505 can be read as 505 units of the Kelvin measurement of temperature that approximates 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Characters in the series' fictional, near-future setting also reference the book as being written "60 years ago" and how "a French director adapted it into a film."

An episode of the anime series R.O.D. the TV is entitled Fahrenheit 451 in which the British Library burns books in Jinbo-cho.

In the season three episode of The Simpsons entitled "Dog of Death", Homer Simpson throws a series of books on a fireplace during the course of the episode. One of these is Fahrenheit 451, in which the throwing of the book on the fire is a reference to the plotline of the book itself.

Fahrenheit 451 was one of several books used in Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's art installation "TH.2058" in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modernmarker in London in 2008.

American power metal band Steel Prophet's 1999 album "Dark Hallucinations" has 5 songs which recount the story. The songs are Montag (Chapter One), Strange Encounter (Chapter Two), The Secret (Chapter Three), Betrayal (Chapter Four), and New Life (Chapter Five).

"Fahrenheit 451: The Graphic Novel" is an iPhone application which presents the novel in the format of a graphic novel (comic book).

The computer game Starcraft by Blizzard Entertainment has a flamethrower-wielding hero character named Gui Montag, an obvious reference to the main character.

In the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, a song entitled "The Ballad Of Maxwell Demon" contains the lyrics: "The boys from Quadrant 44 with their vicious metal hounds never come 'round here no more," referencing the book's mechanical hound.

Later on into Kathryn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, in response to a series of book burnings, futuristic anthropomorphic owls read damaged text written by an ancient scribe, "Ray Brad" (obviously an incomplete scripture of Ray Bradburry's name). The text describes outsiders met by Montag, who commit various works of literature to memory, and the society of owls does likewise, with the Legends of Ga'Hoole.

Printings

"The Fireman" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Vol. 1 No. 5, February 1951)

First edition (1953) – This edition was actually published in three formats, and included two short stories: "The Playground" and "And the Rock Cried Out"
  • Paperback (Ballantine No. 41) – The true first edition, preceding the hardcovers by six weeks.
  • Standard hardcover – Limited to about 4,500 copies.
  • Asbestos hardcover – Just over 200 copies were signed and numbered, before being bound in "Johns-Manville Quinterra", a fire resistant asbestos material.


Later editions:
  • Serialized version (Playboy, March, April, & May 1954)
  • First British hardcover edition (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954) – Title novel only.
  • Science Fiction Book Club (Londonmarker, 1955) – Title novel only.
  • First British paperback edition (Corgi No. T389, 1957) – Title novel only.
  • Softcover edition (Ballantine Books, 1962) - Issued with a new cover illustration by Joe Mugnaini.
  • Student softcover edition (Bal-Hi, 1967) – Includes a two page "Note to Teachers and Parents" by Richard Tyre and features an enlarged and revised version of the 1962 cover illustration. Reprinted ten times through 1973.
  • Hardcover edition (Simon & Schuster, 1967) – Full contents of the first edition (novel and two short stories) with a new introduction by Bradbury.
  • Softcover edition (Ballantine Books, 1969) - Issued with a new cover illustration by Bob Pepper.
  • Special Book Club edition (1976)
  • Panther science fiction (Granada Publishing, 1976, reprinted 1977, 1978) ISBN 058604356X
  • Hardcover edition (Del Rey Gold Seal, 1981) – Issued without a dust jacket, and includes "Investing Dimes", an afterword by Bradbury.
  • Hardcover edition (Limited Editions Club, 1982) – Issued in a slipcase without a dust jacket, and includes an original lithograph and threefold-out color plates by Joseph Mugnaini. 2000 copies were signed by Bradbury & Mugnaini.
  • Large print cloth edition (G K Hall & Co., 1988, ISBN 0745171060)
  • Hardcover edition (Buccaneer Books, 1995, ISBN 089968484X) – Issued without a dust jacket, and includes the "Investing Dimes" afterword, and a "Coda" by Bradbury.
  • 40th anniversary cloth edition (Simon & Schuster, 1996) – Limited to 7500 copies, with 500 signed and numbered by Bradbury.
  • Trade paper edition (Del Rey, 1996, ISBN 0345410017)
  • Mass-market paperback edition (Del Rey, ISBN 0345342968)
  • 50th anniversary edition


In Canada:
  • First Edition - February 1963
  • Seventh Printing - October 1972


Notes

References

  • Bustard, Ned (2004), Fahrenheit 451 Comprehension Guide, Veritas Press.
  • Bradbury, Ray Fahrenheit 451, New York: Ballantine Books, 1953


External links




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