Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

March 5, 2010

fahrenheit 451 Plot summary (with spoilers): At some unspecified point in the future, books are banned and firemen, instead of being called to put out fires, are called to ignite them. This is Ray Bradbury’s vision of a dystopic United States in his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451.

The protagonist in the story is Guy Montag, a fireman whose job it is to set fire to private libraries and burn any books he comes across. The problem is, Montag is not convinced that books are a bad thing. In fact, he has been stealing them from crime scenes for a long time, and has more than 20 books hidden in his house. This is obviously a very dangerous thing to do, as he could be arrested or put to death if discovered.

One of Montag’s greatest wishes is to be able to talk to someone, to communicate deeply, as humans did before they became mindless drones like wife Mildred, who enjoys nothing more than sitting in front of the three-walled television screens all day long or listening to programs broadcast by her in-ear “Seashell” device at night. Montag finds this someone in neighbor Clarisse McClellan. They have some interesting conversations, but then suddenly the McClellans move away and Mildred tells Montag that Clarisse was killed by a car.

Later, Captain Beatty, Montag’s boss, stops by Montag’s house to talk to him. It’s clear that Beatty knows Montag has at least one book in his possession, but Beatty gives Montag an opportunity to fess up and come clean. It’s only natural, Beatty says, for firemen to become curious from time to time. Montag’s transgression will be excused if he returns the book in a couple of days.

This sets Montag off into a panic. He ends up contacting Faber, a former professor whom Montag had met a few years before. Faber is a fellow book-lover, and together they come up with a plan to try to get Montag off the hook. But things go wrong when Mildred herself turns Montag in to Captain Beatty.

Montag manages to kill Captain Beatty and a few other firemen before they could arrest him. He then escapes to St. Louis, where a group of intellectual hobos (Faber’s friends) will welcome him. Montag arrives safely, the group watches from afar as a bomb destroys the city (and presumably other parts of the country), and they decide to go help rebuild society from the rubble.

Liked:

  • I thought the idea of future firemen being used to burn books/start fires instead of put them out was an interesting one. It’s sort of scary when you think about it, which is of course what Bradbury was aiming for.
  • Guy Montag was a decent protagonist. I liked him at times, and was frustrated by his action (or inaction, as the case may be) at others. Again, I have a feeling the author intended readers to have this type of response. Montag wasn’t supposed to be a true-blue hero, but neither was he completely bad. He had his share of faults, but that just made him all the more believable.

Disliked:

  • The plot seemed pretty uneven to me. At times it was exciting, and I couldn’t put the book down. But then I’d run into a patch where the characters started talking about something completely irrelevant or boring, and I’d have to really push myself to slog through.
  • What the hell happened to Clarisse? One day she was there, the next she was gone. What was the point of her character? Was her disappearance supposed to have a larger meaning? If so, that meaning was completely lost on me. I would have liked a bit more of an explanation here.
  • I thought the book would have benefited from more detailed descriptions of the future society. We know that books are banned, but why? How did three- or four-walled interactive televisions become the norm? When did the firemen start spying on folks using video cards implanted in robotic dogs? Were the Seashells ever used for brainwashing purposes? What other kinds of jobs were there in the society? It seemed like there were firemen… and no one else. Did regular folks just sit at home watching TV?

Rating:

I know Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is considered a classic, and is the kind of book that many junior high English teachers assign to students because of the themes and symbolism it contains. Although there are hints of an interesting story with good, solid characters, I didn’t think the book ever reached its full potential. Perhaps with a bit more development, this would have been great. As it stands, though, I give it just 2 stars out of 5.

One Response to “Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury”

  1. In answer to what happened to Clarrise, I believe she and her family were either forced to move or killed. You also asked when firemen started spying on people, as to that I don’t know, but I think Beatty overheard Clarrise and Montag talking and killed her. I agree with your rating of the book in the sense that there was so much more that the story could have been developed, but on the other hand I believe that it was Bradbury’s intention to leave it so open ended. It insures that you really think about the text and forces you to garnish some real meaning from it, and really inspires conversation. Quite heated conversations.
    Excelent thoughts and summary.

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