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Literature / Fahrenheit 451

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"It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed."

In the near future, society has become a complacent lot. Gone were the days when people would enjoy nature, think independently... let alone read books — in fact, thanks to The Government's policy of Bread and Circuses, they are now deemed dangerous sources of dissent and unhappiness. Now, it's just state-sanctioned mindless entertainment — reckless driving, three-dimensional interactive television, Fun Parks (where people commit petty crimes with abandon), and the occasional exempt book containing nothing but vapid dross (e.g. trade brochures, pornographic magazines, and caption-less comics).

With too many books to deal with, the government decided there could be only one way to dispose of them efficiently: book burning, a job delegated to firemen. Originally a dying breed in a time where all houses are insulated against common fires, firemen found a new purpose in life — making midnight community rounds in search of books. Any house containing books would be doused in kerosene and burnt as a lesson to the community (and the offending party brought to law).


Guy Montag is one such fireman — and he's pretty much been married to his job for ten years, his wife preferring to lose herself in vapid self-entertainment. His life is forever changed when he meets a young woman named Clarisse McClellan, whose energetic free spirit forces him to start questioning what's happening with the world and himself. After a house burning gone bad, Montag secretly takes a book home and soon becomes fascinated with it, despite the objections of his wife and fears of his superior Beatty finding out. Deciding he must do something to save himself and at least some books, the question now becomes: how?

Fahrenheit 451 is a classic novel by Ray Bradbury which deals with the issues of censorship, individualism versus conformity, and consumerism. Originally written in 1953, it pulls off the rare feat of becoming even more socially relevant as time goes on, and is a favorite for book clubs and literary groups in general to analyze its meaning.


It was made into a film starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie by François Truffaut in 1966, and into a stage play also written by Bradbury in the 1990s. A new adaptation by Ramin Bahrani and HBO Films was released, starring Michael B. Jordan as Montag, Michael Shannon as Captain Beatty and Sofia Boutella as Clarisse. Tropes for that adaption should go here.

The public is warned not to confuse this with the video game Fahrenheit or the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which briefly got Moore in mild legal trouble when Bradbury caught wind of the title he was planning to use and sued.

Compare Brave New World and Idiocracy. Contrast with Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This book provides examples of the following:

  • Adult Fear: For those who live in countries where certain books are banned, and especially countries where most books are banned. The fall of literacy as well as the addictiveness of non-literature media such as television also another major concern—consider the marriage of the Montags, especially Mildred's addiction to her TV walls.
  • Advert-Overloaded Future: Montag tries to read on the subway, but he's constantly distracted by a jingle for Denham's Dentifrice. He eventually screams at the radio to shut up, shocking the rest of the passengers who were singing along.
  • Arc Words: "Consider the lilies of the field..."
  • Big Bad: Captain Beatty, who is the main antagonistic force in the entire story against Montag and Faber.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Montag manages to leave his old life for good and join the Book People, but not before they witness their home city destroyed in a nuclear explosion, most likely killing everybody, including Mildred.
  • Blithe Spirit: Clarisse, arguably the most significant character due to her influence on Montag.
  • Book Burning: One of the most iconic examples in fiction.
  • Bread and Circuses: Most of the people like the vacuous entertainment, don't care about anything or anyone but themselves and being happy, and don't bother to question or talk about how corrupt the government has become, even as World War III is apparently on the horizon.
  • Central Theme: Censorship
    • Knowledge vs Ignorance
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Montag himself; starts off as a public servant who follows orders without question and later, rises above the hedonistic ideals of the society he once stood for, thus making him a hero of sorts.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Inverted. Clarisse is weird by the standards of the story, but to the modern-day reader, she's a normal girl... though still quirky.
  • Composite Character: In the 1966 film, Clarisse serves as one. This version of the character combines Clarisse and Faber.
  • Crazy-Prepared: In order for civilization to survive the coming nuclear apocalypse, the Book People dedicate themselves to memorizing every significant literary work and hand it down to their pupils.
  • Culture Police: The Firemen burns books to prevent the books' influence on society.
  • Day of the Week Name: Montag is German for Monday.
  • Death Seeker: What Montag thought of Captain Beatty's behavior. Suicides are also fairly common, apparently by those who've become utterly jaded with life and need one last thrill or escape.
  • Delinquents: Culture has been allowed to decline to the point where teenagers bully people, vandalize public property, and run down pedestrians for kicks and jollies. One closer-to-home example happens when Montag is nearly struck by a car full of teenagers and Clarisse gets trampled over by a bunch of teenage hoodlums.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Montag torches Beatty with a flamethrower.
  • Dystopia: It's a very grim world; the country (implied to be America in the novel, though the movie and a BBC radio drama had Britain in mind) is prepping for World War III (and no one knows or cares about it), the rest of the world hates it because of its hedonistic ways, empathy is extinct, schools are only concerned in pumping facts into children's heads without any form of discussion or actual learning, teenagers commit petty crimes with abandon, parlor walls air shallow programming that everyone enjoys, children and marriage are brushed off as a necessity to keep this miserable existence going rather than a joy, prescription pill overdoses are so common that medics-cum-doctors are hired to pump out the victims, and nearly everyone is a Stepford Smiler who is deeply depressed. This is a common scenario in Bradbury's works.
  • Exact Words: The law forbids people from reading any books or literature. Beatty himself owns books in his house's library — he simply never reads them.
  • Fallen Hero: Implied in Beatty's past. Adaptations and Word of God reveal that he was once a voracious reader and staunch opponent of the government, and he still maintains an extensive library — that he never uses. He can quote many classical authors from memory.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The old woman in the mansion who chose to set herself aflame with her books, and especially Captain Beatty, when Montag turns the stream of fire on him and holds it there until he stops moving.
  • Foil: Beatty to Montag; Clarisse to Mildred/Linda (the latter is emphasized in the 1966 movie, where both were played by Julie Christie [with a wig as the only difference between them]).
  • Foreshadowing: The opening quote of the page becomes very ironic when you apply it to the ending.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: Society is actively encouraged to pursue mindless, hedonistic behaviors that'll keep them occupied and smiling. People are encouraged not to think too deeply about trivial things, since that would distract them and make them unhappy, hence why books and the ideas they contain are burned with impunity.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: One of the earliest examples.
  • Heel Realization: An encounter with Clarisse slowly forces Montag to question his blissfully ignorant existence.
  • Hobos: The Book People, who live off the grid so they can read books and not be persecuted.
  • Holier Than Thou: Said word for word by Captain Beatty.
    Beatty: Alone, hell! [Clarrise] chewed around you, didn't she? One of those damn do-gooders with their shocked, holier-than-thou silences, their one talent making others feel guilty. God damn, they rise like the midnight sun to sweat you in your bed!
  • Implacable Man: The mechanical hound will stop at nothing to kill something once it is programmed to go after it.
  • Informed Attribute: The Mechanical Hound isn't much like a hound at all. Its name simply refers to its use as an artificial bloodhound. Averted in the comic book adaptation where it actually does look like a robotic dog.
  • Irony: A novel with strong anti-censorship themes is notable for its history of censorship by numerous groups.
    • Because of its use as a reading assignment in high schools, there have been numerous attempts by Moral Guardians to ban this book about banning books.
  • Karmic Death: After repeatedly humiliating and mocking Montag, it's very satisfying, though still gruesome, to see Beatty getting roasted alive, and Hoist by His Own Petard.
  • Killer Robot: The Mechanical Hound, a six legged artificial Super-Persistent Predator which is programmed to hunt down and kill offenders via lethal injection. Giving it a sparing description makes it far creepier.
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • The Firemen are killing literacy with fire.
    • Also the fate of Beatty and the Hound.
    • And the entire society... for the third time.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Clarisse for Montag. Her intuitive, unorthodox character prompts Montag to question his own lifestyle.
  • Meaningful Name: It was stated somewhere that Montag's name is a play on "Man Friday," a violent savage turned to the side of good and used as a servant. In Montag's case he is the tamed savage and Faber is the master. Furthermore, Faber's name comes from famous German pen-making company Faber-Castell, and Montag is the name of a paper company.
    • Bradbury notes that the Faber/Montag naming was unintentional but very subconscious.
    • "Faber" is Latin for "maker". Make of that what you will.
  • Monster Clown: One of Millie's "family members," her favorite TV characters, in the novel are a group of homicidal white clowns.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Firemen, especially in the movie, where it is lampshaded with a Not So Different directed at the audience. Captain Beatty, in pointing out doctrine, comments: "If you are going to burn some books... you have to burn all the books!" He does so while holding up a copy of Mein Kampf.
  • New Media Are Evil: Bradbury claims that this was the real point of the novel. The shallow, mind-numbing television programs that everyone has become hooked on are slowly destroying society. Television at the time of the novel's writing was indeed pretty shallow, serving as little more than corporate and government propaganda, with mindless sanitized entertainment designed to make you want to buy products. Ironically, Bradbury would go on to host a television show, Ray Bradbury Theater.
    • Perhaps not so ironic, as in the book, Faber makes it a point to tell Montag that television isn't the problem. It's the way people have used it:
      "You're a hopeless romantic," said Faber. "It would be funny if it were not serious. It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the 'parlor families' today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors but are not. No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us."
  • Not So Different: Captain Beatty gives Montag one of these in both the novel and the film; in the play it is significantly expanded to become his defining moment.
  • Nuke 'em: Apparently, America has fought and won two nuclear wars.
  • Painting the Medium: The film begins with an announcer reading the credits out loud over shots of TV aerials; at the end, as Montag is walking with the other Book People, the words The End appear onto the screen.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Happens to several individuals, and one quite notable one who really had it coming.
  • Peace & Love, Incorporated: Beatty sees the Firemen as protectors of everyone's peace of mind.
  • Photographic Memory:
    • The movie version ends with the main character joining a society where everyone is able to memorize an entire book.
    • In the book version they say that they developed techniques that allow a person to recall perfectly anything they ever read.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: The reason books started to be banned.
  • Porn Stash: Not porn, but contraband books.
  • Precocious Crush: Implied with Clarisse in the dandelion scene.
  • Product Placement: Very common in the government-controlled media. They even have Jesus as a spokesman.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: The film ages 17-year-old Clarisse up to 20 to make her an explicit love interest for 30-year-old Montag.
  • Quote-to-Quote Combat: Beatty claims that he had a dream about one between him and Montag, where they used quotes from Samuel Johnson, William Shakespeare and others.
  • Race Lift: In the 2018 HBO film adaptation, Guy Montag is played by black actor Michael B. Jordan.
  • Rousseau Was Right: When Montag recites classic poetry to his wife's equally vapid acquaintances, one of them cries, commenting on how she forgot that feelings like that existed (the rest of them condemn Montag for being nasty and dismiss the poem as trash for evoking awful emotions).
  • Sexless Marriage: Montag and Mildred in the novel. They sleep in separate beds, their bedroom is described as a cold tomb, Mildred can't remember when she met Montag, and Mildred only cares about her TV family and Montag going out and making money to keep the house and earn enough to get a fourth TV wall.
  • Shoot the Television: With a flamethrower.
  • Shout-Out: According to Word of God, the Mechanical Hound is Bradbury's homage to the titular beast of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Clarisse is written out of the story almost immediately, but her brief role instigates Montag's change—i.e., pretty much all the novel's events.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Clarisse in the filmnote  and play.
  • Stepford Smiler: A typical element of the story's dystopian society.
  • Stupid Future People: Dystopia variety - reading is deliberately suppressed in favor of TV watching.
  • Suicide by Cop: In the novel, at least. It's heavily implied that Beatty was belittling Montag because he wanted Montag to burn him alive.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: See under Implacable Man.
  • Teens Are Monsters: In the novel, Clarisse tells Montag about how kids her age like to bully people, smash cars, and just be generally wild and destructive — and some of Clarisse's friends and peers have died from car accidents, gun violence, and suicide.
  • There Are No Therapists: There are psychiatrists in this world, but their job is to weed out people like Clarisse who still have a shred of humanity left in them, rather than, say, help living zombies like Mildred who may have deep suicidal tendencies. Not even the "paramedics" who pumped her stomach tell Montag that she needs psychiatric help.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
    • In the movie adaptation, a flamethrower is used to start the fires.
    • In the book, entire houses are burned no matter how many books are inside. In the movie, the firemen only burn the house if there are too many books to move them all outside.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Faber is quite probably the Ur-Example for the "hidden earpiece" variety.
  • Zeerust: Though the novel merely takes place in an unspecified future time after 1990, the movie's technology is zeerust-y. However, technology like the "parlor walls" mirrors today's big, flatscreen TVs (some of which can be mounted onto walls, making them "parlor walls" to some extent), while the "seashell radios" are similar to either Bluetooth phones or iPod earbud headphones.
    • Beyond that, the entire idea that, in the 21st century, paper books would still be an institution, let alone one important enough to dedicate entire government squads to purging, has a Zeerust quality to it.
    • Special mention goes to the snake-like medical device used on Mildred that bears a heavy resemblance to an endoscope, a technology that came out four years after the book was first published.
    • The pocket transistor radio was first introduced a year or so after the novel was published. Ray Bradbury recalled seeing a woman walking down the street oblivious both to her male companion and to her surroundings as she listened to one via an earpiece, and described his shock at seeing his predictions so soon coming true.


Example of: