Ray Bradbury, 1953
First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a classic novel set in the future when books forbidden by a totalitarian regime are burned. The hero, a book burner, suddenly discovers that books are flesh and blood ideas that cry out silently when put to the torch.
Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires.... The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning...along with the houses in which they were hidden.
Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames...never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.
Then he met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think...and Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do! (From the publisher.)
• Aka—Leonard Douglas, William Elliott, Douglas Spaulding, Leonard Spaulding
• Birth—August 22, 1920
• Where—Waukegan, Illinois USA
• Death—June 5, 2012
• Where—Los Angeles, California
• Education—schools in Waukega and Los Angeles
• Awards—(see below)
Ray Bradbury was one of those rare individuals whose writing changed the way people think. His more than 500 published works—short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, television scripts, and verse—exemplify the American imagination at its most creative.
Once read, his words are never forgotten. His best-known and most beloved books—The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes—are masterworks that readers carry with them over a lifetime. His timeless, constant appeal to audiences young and old has proven him to be one of the truly classic authors of the 20th Century—and the 21st.
Ray Bradbury's work has been included in several Best American Short Story collections. He won countless awards and honors for his work (see below).
On the occasion of his 80th birthday in August 2000, Bradbury said, "The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me. The feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was twelve. In any event, here I am, eighty years old, feeling no different, full of a great sense of joy, and glad for the long life that has been allowed me. I have good plans for the next ten or twenty years, and I hope you'll come along.
1947 & 1948 - O. Henry Memorial Awards
1954 - Benjamin Franklin Award
1977 - World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award
1980 - World Science Fiction Convention Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy
1988 - National Book Foundation Medal
1989 - Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master
1989 - Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award
1999 - Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame induction
2000 - National Book Foundation Medal
2002 - Hollywood Walk of Fame star
2004 - National Medal of Arts
2007 - Sir Arthur Clarke Special Award
2007 - French Commandeur Ordre des Arts et des Lettres Medal
From a 2003 Barnes and Noble interview:
• I spent three years standing on a street corner, selling newspapers, making ten dollars a week. I did that job every day for three hours and the rest of the time I wrote because I was in love with writing. The answer to all writing, to any career for that matter, is love.
• I have been inspired by libraries and the magic they contain and the people that they represent.
• I hate all politics. I don't like either political party. One should not belong to them—one should be an individual, standing in the middle. Anyone that belongs to a party stops thinking.
• When asked what books most influenced his life or career as a writer—this is what he said:
The John Carter, Warlord of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which entered my life when I was ten and caused me to go out on the lawns of summer, put up my hands, and ask for Mars to take me home. Within a short time I began to write and have continued that process ever since, all because of Mr. Burroughs.
Both these novels [the review includes David Karp's mostly forgotten work One] are political-psychological fantasies about the future. Both are quite frightening in their implications. Both are declarations of faith in the ability of a few men to resist the pressure of an unimaginable powerful state and keep alive a tradition of human worth and individual dignity. Both are brilliantly effective protests against the degraded ideal of mindless happiness and slavish social conformity that their authors consider the most sinister threat to modern men. Both novels contain some amusing science-fiction gadgetry. Both are tense, dramatic, thoughtful and disturbing.
Orville Prescott - New York Times (10/23/53)
Fahrenheit 451 is set in a grim alternate-future setting ruled by a tyrannical government in which firemen as we understand them no longer exist: Here, firemen don't douse fires, they ignite them. And they do this specifically in homes that house the most evil of evils: books.
Books are illegal in Bradbury's world, but books are not what his fictional—yet extremely plausible—government fears: They fear the knowledge one pulls from books. Through the government's incessant preaching, the inhabitants of this place have come to loathe books and fear those who keep and attempt to read them. They see such people as eccentric, dangerous, and threatening to the tranquility of their state.
But one day a fireman named Montag meets a young girl who demonstrates to him the beauty of books, of knowledge, of conceiving and sharing ideas; she wakes him up, changing his life forever. When Montag's previously held ideology comes crashing down around him, he is forced to reconsider the meaning of his existence and the part he plays. After Montag discovers that "all isn't well with the world," he sets out to make things right.
A brilliant and frightening novel, Fahrenheit 451 is the classic narrative about censorship; utterly chilling in its implications, Ray Bradbury's masterwork captivates thousands of new readers each year.
Andrew LeCount - Barnes and Noble
1. Why would society make "being a pedestrian" a crime? (Clarisse tells Montag that her uncle was once arrested for this.)
2. One suicide and one near-suicide occur in this book. One woman, who shuns books but loves TV and driving fast in her car, anesthetizes herself,; "We get these cases nine or ten a night," says the medical technician. Another woman, who cherishes her books, sets herself on fire with them; "These fanatics always try suicide," says the fire captain. Why would two people who seem to be so different from each other try to take their own lives? Why does suicide happen so frequently in Montag's society?"
3. Captain Beatty quotes history, scripture, poetry, philosophy. He is obviously a well-read man. Why hasn't he been punished? And why does he view the books he's read with such contempt?
4. Beatty tells Montag that firemen are "custodians of peace of mind" and that they stand against "those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought." How well are the firemen accomplishing these objectives? Are conflicting ideas the only source of unhappiness in their society? What other sources might there be? Can conflicting ideas exist even without books that have been destroyed and outlawed?
5. Why do you think the firemen's rulebook credited Benjamin Franklin—writer, publisher, political leader, inventor, ambassador—as being the first fireman?
6. Why does Beatty program the Hound to track Montag even before Montag stole the book? Do you believe Beatty had seen him steal books before? Or is it that Beatty had detected a change in Montag's attitude or behavior? Cite incidents in the book that support your answer.
7. Montag turns to books to rescue him; instead they help demolish his life- -he loses his wife, job and home; he kills a man and is forced to be a nomad. Does he gain any benefits from books? If so, what are they?
8. Do you believe, as Montag did, that Beatty wanted to die? If so, why do you think so?
9. Since the government is so opposed to readers, thinkers, walkers, and slow drivers, why does it allow the procession of men along the railroad tracks to exist?
10. Once Montag becomes a violent revolutionary, why does the government purposely capture an innocent man in his place instead of tracking down the real Montag? Might the government believe that Montag is no longer a threat?
11. Granger, spokesperson for the group on the railroad tracks, tells Montag, "Right now we have a horrible job; we're waiting for the war to begin and, as quickly, end...When the war's over, perhaps we can be of some use in the world." Based on what you've read of the world these men live in, do you believe that the books they carry inside themselves will make a difference? Might this difference be positive or negative? Point out episodes in Fahrenheit to support your response.
12. What does Granger mean when he says, "We're going to go build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long time to look at them?" Why would "mirrors" be important in this new society? (Note: In Part 1, Clarisse is said to be "like a mirror.")
13. Although Ray Bradbury's work is often referred to as science fiction, Fahrenheit has plenty to say about the world as it is, and not as it could be. As you review the book, list examples of the themes mentioned below, as well as others you notice. Discuss how you feel about the stands the author or characters take in Fahrenheit.
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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