fahrenheit 451 – ray bradbury


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (american writer – 1920 – 2012)

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian soft science fiction novel, was first published in 1953. The concept began with the 1947 short story “Bright Phoenix” that was only later published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1963.[1] 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.[2] It is a critique of what Bradbury saw as an increasingly dysfunctional American society, written in the early years of the Cold War.

The novel presents a future in which all books are restricted, individuals are anti-social and hedonistic, and critical thought is suppressed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed as a “fireman” (which, in this future, means “book burner”). The number “451” refers to the temperature (in Fahrenheit) at which a book or paper autoignites. A movie version of the novel was released in 1966, and it is anticipated that a second version will begin filming in 2008. At least two BBC Radio 4 dramatizations have also been aired, both of which follow the book very closely.

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; he states that Fahrenheit 451 is a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which ultimately leads to ignorance of total facts.[3]

Bradbury has stated that the entirety of his novel was written in the basement of UCLA’s Powell library on a pay typewriter. 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.

Plot summary – Fahrenheit 451 takes place in an unspecified future time in a hedonistic and rabidly anti-intellectual America that has completely abandoned self-control, and is filled with lawlessness in the streets, from teenagers crashing cars into people for a good time, to the firemen at Montag’s station setting their mechanical hound to hunt various animals in its kennel, for the simple and grotesque pleasure of watching them die. Anyone caught reading books is, at the minimum, confined in a mental hospital, while the books are burned. The illegal books that are found are mainly famous works of literature, such as the work of Whitman, Faulkner, and others. Also, it is stated that there is no classic artwork, only abstract, yet it is another way to destroy the intellectual. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman who is certain that his job, which includes burning books and the houses that hold them, and persecuting those who own them — is the right thing to do. He remembers a time in his early childhood when the power blew out, and his mother lit a candle, and in the darkness, the candle gave an eerie light, which gave the little Montag comfort and security. He became a fireman after his grandfather and father. One night returning from his job he meets his new neighbor, Clarisse McClellan, whose free-thinking ideals and liberating spirit cause him to question his life, his ideals, and his own perceived happiness. It is later said that Clarisse has probably been killed in a car accident. After meeting Clarisse, he returns home to find his wife Mildred (who sleeps in a separate bed) asleep with an empty bottle of sleeping pills next to her bed. He calls for medical help, and two technicians are sent who proceed to suck out Mildred’s blood with a machine and insert new blood into her. The technicians’ utter disregard for Mildred causes Montag to question the state of society. In the following days, while ransacking the book-filled house of an old woman preceding the burning, Montag accidentally reads a line in one of her books: “Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine.” This prompts him to steal a book. The woman then 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 kerosene that they had doused around the house and martyring herself in the process. This disturbs Montag greatly, and he questions why someone would kill themselves for books, unless for something great and unknown to him. While he is at home, claiming to be sick, obviously disturbed by the woman’s suicide, pondering his thoughts, he is visited by his fire Chief (see below), Captain Beatty, who elucidates for him the political and social reasons behind the existence of his occupation. Captain Beatty claims that society, in its search for happiness, brought about the suppression of literature through 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 they turn it in within 24 hours. Montag argues with his wife, Mildred, over the book, showing his growing disgust for her and for his society. It is soon revealed that Montag has hidden dozens of books in the air ventilator of his own house, which he tries to memorize 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, whereupon Faber begins teaching Montag about the general vagaries and ambiguities but overall importance of literature in the attempt to rationalize human existence. He also gives Montag a green bullet-shaped ear-piece so that Faber can guide him throughout his daily activities.

Montag returns to the fire house and gives Beatty a book. During a card game, Beatty tells Montag he had a dream about him, and relates the literary argument he says they had in his dream, and begins his subliminal messaging. He quotes many books and shows an amazing knowledge of literature, to prove to Montag the confusing messages in books. Then follows 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 charges Montag to destroy the house. Montag sees Mildred, who had betrayed his secret, moving away from the house and then goes to work, but is not content only to destroy the books, and therefore burns the televisions and other emblems of his past life. When Beatty finds Faber’s earpiece, he threatens to track Faber down. Montag then sets Beatty on fire, killing him, and then knocks out two other firemen, and is soon pursued by the authorities for these crimes. He flees to Faber’s house, with a cybernetic mechanical hound and television network helicopters in pursuit, hoping to document his escape as a spectacle with the intent of distracting the people from the oncoming threat of war, a threat that has been foreboded throughout the book. Faber tells him of vagabond book-lovers in the countryside. Montag, having washed off his scent in a local river, floats downstream and meets a group of older men who, to Montag’s astonishment, have memorized entire books, to be preserved orally until books are allowed again. They burn the books they read to prevent discovery, retaining the verbatim content (and possibly valid interpretations) in their minds. The group leader, Granger, discusses the legendary phoenix and its endless cycle of long life, death in flames, and rebirth, adding the phoenix must be some relation of mankind, constantly going back to its cycle of making mistakes, and not learning from the past, even though man can learn, different from the doomed phoenix. At this point the war begins; Montag watches helplessly as jet bombers fly overhead to attack the city. His wife, Mildred, likely died, and Faber is assumed to have left the city to visit his printer friend. It is implied that more cities across the country have collapsed as well. It is also suggested that the bombs are nuclear, a bitter irony that the world that sought to burn thought is burned itself, and a reference to the Cold War. At the moment of the explosion, the stress and emotion of seeing the city burned causes a key phrase from the Bible to emerge from the depths of his memory. Montag then rejoins the group. The novel is concluded with 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 scratch. Whether a new society may befall the same fate is unknown, but it is implied that the book people will begin to build mirror factories, a literary allusion, 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. Bradbury notes in his afterword that he noticed, after the book was published, that Montag is the name of a paper company. Ironically, in the years after the book was published a company called Montag (pronounced the same way as the character’s name) began manufacturing ovens, although no link to the book is known.

Faber is a former English professor who represents those who know what is being done is wrong, but is too fearful to act. Bradbury notes in his coda that Faber is part of the name of a German manufacturer of pencils, Faber-Castell.

Mildred Montag is Montag’s wife, who tries to hide her own emptiness and fear of questioning her surroundings or herself with meaningless chatter and a constant barrage of television. She constantly tries to reach the glorified state of happiness, but is inwardly miserable. Mildred even makes an attempt at suicide early on in the book by overdosing herself with sleeping pills. She is used symbolically as the opposite of Clarisse McClellan. She is known as Linda Montag in the 1966 film.

Clarisse McClellan displays every trait Mildred does not. She is outgoing, naturally cheerful, unorthodox, and intuitive. She serves as the wake-up call for Guy 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 technology. Montag always 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 by a car. Her behavior is similar to that of Leonard Mead from Bradbury’s short story The Pedestrian. Her uncle, who presumably taught her to think as she does, may be an allusion to that short story, as he was once arrested for being a pedestrian.

Captain Beatty is Montag’s boss and the fire chief. Once an avid reader himself, life tragedies made him hate books. He is disgusted with the idea of books and detests the fact that they all contradict and refute each other. In a scene written years later by Bradbury for the Fahrenheit 451 play, he invites Guy to his house where he shows him walls of books which he leaves to molder on their shelves. He tries to entice Guy back into the book-burning business, but is burned to death by Montag when he underestimates Montag’s resolve. Guy later realizes that Beatty might have wanted to die and provoked Guy until he did it. He is the symbolic opposite of Granger.

Granger is the leader of a group of wandering intellectual exiles, who memorize books so they will be saved. Where Beatty destroys, he preserves; where Beatty uses fire for the purpose of burning, he 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, happiness and complacency, to embracing his value of love of knowledge.

Mechanical Hound The mechanical hound exists in the original book but not in the 1966 film. It is an emotionless, 8-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 of others it is tracking down. 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 morphine or procaine. Although Montag was able to survive it, he suffered horrible pain for a short time. The first hound encountered in the novel is destroyed when Montag sets it on fire with a flamethrower. The second was programmed to find a man called Montag for the amusement of viewers of a short televised chase. 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 that is described throughout the novel. They are examples of the people in this society who are not happy, but do not think they are unhappy. When they are introduced to literature (Dover Beach), which symbolizes the pain and joy that has been censored from them, Mrs. Phelps is overwhelmed by the rush of emotion that she has not felt before.

Themes

– “the thought-destroying force” of censorship in the 1950s, the book-burnings in Nazi Germany starting in 1933 and the horrible consequences of the explosion of a nuclear weapon. Censorship and the effects of mass media

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

Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most famous literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. … Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.[5] ”

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.

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib / Republican, Mattachine / FourSquareGospel feel it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse….Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by the minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the library closed forever.

… Only six weeks ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with the censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. Judy-Lynn del Rey, one of the new Ballantine editors, is having the entire book reset and republished this summer with all the damns and hells back in place.

On another occasion, Bradbury observed that the novel touches on the alienation of people by media:

In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.[6] ”

1966 film

Main article: Fahrenheit 451 (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.[7] With the project estimated to be expensive and Gibson believing himself too old to portray the film’s protagonist Guy Montag,[8] the actor decided in 1997 to instead direct the film. By 1999, he had planned to begin filming with actor Brad Pitt in the lead role, but Gibson was forced to postpone due to Pitt’s unavailability.[7] Actor Tom Cruise was also approached for the lead role, but a deal was never made.[8] 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.[7]

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.[8] Gibson was confirmed to be involved only as a producer, and Darabont planned to complete the script by the end of 2002.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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”.[13] 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.”[14]

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