Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Nov. 12, 12
Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t provide a single, clear explanation of why books are banned in the future. Instead, it suggests that many different factors could combine to create this result. These factors can be broken into two groups: factors that lead to a general lack of interest in reading and factors that make people actively hostile toward books. The novel doesn’t clearly distinguish these two developments. Apparently, they simply support one another. The first group of factors includes the popularity of competing forms of entertainment such as television and radio. More broadly, Bradbury thinks that the presence of fast cars, loud music, and advertisements creates a lifestyle with too much stimulation in which no one has the time to concentrate. Also, the huge mass of published material is too overwhelming to think about, leading to a society that reads condensed books rather than the real thing. Guy Montag is a fireman in charge of burning books in a grim, futuristic United States. The book opens with a brief description of the pleasure he experiences while on the job one evening. He wears a helmet emblazoned with the numeral 451, the temperature at which paper burn, a black uniform with a salamander on the arm, and a phoenix disc on his chest. On his way home from the fire station, he feels a sense of nervous anticipation. After suspecting a lingering nearby presence, he meets his new neighbor, an inquisitive and unusual seventeen-year-old named Clarisse McClellan. She immediately recognizes him as a fireman and seems fascinated by him and his uniform. She explains that she is crazy and proceeds to suggest that the original duty of firemen was to extinguish fires rather than to light them. She asks him about his job and tells him that she comes from a strange family that does such peculiar things as talk to each other and walk places. Clarisse’s strangeness makes Guy nervous, and he laughs repeatedly and involuntarily. She reminds him in different ways of candlelight, a clock, and a mirror. He cannot help feeling somehow attracted to her. She fascinates him with her outrageous questions, unorthodox lifestyle, perceptive observations, and incredible power of identification. She asks him if he is happy and then disappears into her house. Pondering the absurd question, he enters his house and thinks about this stranger and her comprehension of his innermost trembling thought. Montag and Mildred spend the afternoon reading. The Mechanical Hound comes and sniffs at the door. Montag speculates about what it was that made Clarisse so unique. Mildred refuses to talk about someone who is dead and complains that she prefers the people and the pretty colors on her TV walls to books. Montag feels that books must somehow be able to help him out of his ignorance, but he does not understand what he is reading and decides that he must find a teacher. He thinks back to an afternoon a year before when he met an old English professor named Faber in the park. It was apparent that Faber had been reading a book of poetry before Montag arrived. The professor had tried to hide the book and run away, but after Montag reassured him that he was safe, they talked, and Faber gave him his address and phone number. Now Montag calls the professor. He asks him how many copies of the Bible, Shakespeare, or Plato are left in the country. Faber, who thinks Montag is trying to trap him, says none are left and hangs up the phone. Montag goes back to his pile of books and realizes that he took from the old woman what may be the last copy of the Bible in existence. He considers turning in a substitute to Beatty (who knows he has at least one book), but he realizes that if Beatty knows which book he took, the chief will guess that he has a whole library if he gives him a different book. He decides to have a duplicate made before that night. Mildred tells him that some of her friends are coming over to...
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