Ray Bradbury is a really cool guy. People usually say he is a sci-fi (Science Fiction) writer because he writes a lot of fantasy stuff and a lot of his stories take place in the future. He also had this cool TV show called the Ray Bradbury Theater. When the astronaut's landed on the moon, they named a crater after his book "Dandelion Wine"…so people really like this guy. Another cool, but pointless piece of info is he helped design a ride at Disney World. This book is takes place in the future and is about censorship. In the book, there are firemen. These firemen don't put out fires, they start them. Basically, all houses are fireproof. They have these thin layers of plastic coating that won't let them burn. So, firemen go to houses of people who collect books, and burn all the books in the house with a huge hose that sprays kerosene. Weird huh? And the whole time the book is going on, war is about to break out and no one really cares. No one thinks anymore and all they do is watch TV walls and drive around really fast.
Guy Montag: The main character in the story. He is 30 years old. He has been a fireman for 10 years and realizes he doesn't like his job.
Mildred (Millie) Montag: Montag's wife. She is not a very nice lady and only likes to sit around and watch the big TV walls in their house.
Clarisse McCellan: Montag's 16 year old neighbor. She is one month from turning 17, but she gets run over by a car. She is a free spirited girl and has a big effect on Montag's thinking.
Captain Beatty: Montag's boss, the Fire Captain. He is a smart guy who sees what Montag is going through and tries to show him how books are bad.
Some Lady: This is not her actual name. She doesn't have a name in the book. Basically, she is caught with a house full of books and when they burn her house, she won't leave…so she burns with it.
Faber: This old guy who used to be an English professor. Montag meets him in the park and turns to him to help him when he wants to try and learn.
Granger: An ex-writer who Montag meets when he runs away from the city. Granger invites Montag to join him and all the other social outcasts who have left the city.
Stoneman & Black: Montag's co-workers. These guys are also fireman but don't really do much in the book.
Mrs. Phelps & Mrs. Bowles: Millie's friends who come one time in the book to watch the TV walls with Millie. There husbands are both away at war.
Part I (The Hearth and the Salamander)
The book opens up with Montag burning books at somebody's house. He has a hose shooting kerosene and then he lights the house on fire with an igniter. On his way home this night he runs into his new next door neighbor, Clarisse, who seems to have been waiting for him by his house. She asks him about his job as a fireman and whether is true that fireman once put out fires instead of starting them. She is really curious about things and Montag is drawn to this. At the very end of the conversation, she asks him if he is happy and then runs off.
Montag gets home and goes to his bedroom. His wife is already asleep. She has these little Seashells in her ears. They are little tiny radios that play music and sounds. Mildred has had them in her ears every night for the past two years. Montag realizes that Mildred was not just sleeping. He finds a bottle of pills on the floor and realizes she has taken way too many sleeping pills. So, he calls the emergency room and they send over two guys who are technicians, not doctors. They say that this kind of thing happens all the time so doctors aren't needed to handle it anymore. They stick a tube down her throat and pump out her stomach, and also drain her blood and pump new blood in.
Montag tries to talk to Mildred the next day about her overdose, and whether she was trying to kill herself or if she was just that stupid. Mildred denies it ever happened. Montag takes off for work and runs into Clarisse again. They talk again and you can tell Montag is being affected by Clarisse's view on life. She is very spontaneous and real.
Montag arrives at the firehouse and there is this mechanical hound. You know how firehouses today have Dalmatians sometimes? The future ones have mechanical hounds. They don't look like dogs though. They are more like giant spiders. Well, the hound tracks books down and people who are criminals. Montag goes up to the hound and the hound growls at him. This is important because the hound shouldn't growl at him, but it does because Montag is changing inside and the hound can sense it.
Captain Beatty starts to suspect Montag too because Montag starts asking questions that Clarisse asked him, such as: "Didn't firemen used to put out fires and not start them?" Supposedly, firemen in America were founded to burn English influenced books in the colonies and the first fireman was Benjamin Franklin.
Then they get an alarm in an old part of the city and they arrive at this house. The lady who lives there has all these books. So, they go to burn them, but the lady won't leave. So, they threaten to burn the lady along with her books. The lady ends up lighting the match herself and burning with her books. This really messes with Montag's mind that someone would be willing to die for books. One other thing, Montag steals a book before the house burns up.
Montag goes home and is all shaken up by the lady burning. Mildred is absorbed in her TV programs. She then tells Montag that Clarisse is dead. She got run over four days ago. Montag goes to bed and the next morning doesn't want to go to work. He says he is sick. Captain Beatty comes over to see Montag. He knows Montag is being tempted by books, so he talks to him. He tells him all firemen get tempted by books some time. Then he tells him all about history, and how firemen used to put out fires. And how people in the 20th century got sick of reading books and started watching TV and movies, and reading little magazines and short stuff….kind of like what you are reading now. And that it wasn't the government who started burning books, but people. They didn't want to read, they didn't want to think, they just wanted to have fun. So, all books started to be burnt and TV and games and fun were what people did. Also, minorities didn't like certain parts of books. Such as black people didn't like "little black sambo" and white people didn't like "Uncle Tom's Cabin" so to make everyone happy, they just burnt all the books. (This is probably one of the more important speeches in the book. If you want to get a better idea, read this speech by Captain Beatty)
Well, the Captain finishes and tells Montag that every once in a while a fireman has stolen a book, and that they have 24 hours to get rid of it. Captain Beatty knows Montag has a book from the other day when they burnt the lady. So, he is basically telling Montag to get rid of it and come back to work by that night. After the Captain leaves, Montag tries to talk to his wife about what he is thinking. She is not interested. So, Montag opens up a vent in his house and pulls out all these books he has been taking from houses they burn. Montag wants to try and read the books to find out why people are afraid of them. Mildred freaks out. Montag picks up a book and reads line from the middle of Gulliver's Travels that makes no sense.
The Sieve and the Sand
Montag and Mildred sit all afternoon and try to read. Nothing really makes sense to them since they have never learned to read books before. Montag remembers meeting this old professor guy in the park who read poetry to him. The old dude gave him his address in case Montag ever wanted it. Montag calls him up and asks him how many copies of the Bible are left in print. The old guy, Faber, tells him none. Montag ripped off a Bible so he thinks he might have the last one in print. So, Montag goes over to Faber's house with the Bible and tries to get Faber to teach him why books are important and how to understand them. Montag tells Faber how he is unhappy and thinks maybe books can help him find what is missing in his life. Montag tries to convince Faber of a plan to print extra books, and hide them in the houses of Firemen so their houses get burned down…therefore all firemen will end up destroying themselves. Faber says Montag ought to go home and forget, so Montag starts tearing out the pages of the Bible until Faber agrees to help him. Faber gives Montag a little radio to put in his ear so Faber can talk to Montag and hear what people say to him. He does it so he can help Montag argue with Captain Beatty.
The chance of war is getting closer. Montag goes home and tries to talk with his wife and her friends. They are all wrapped in their TV families (basically, you interact with these fake people on TV like a "pretend" family). Both their husbands are away for the war but they don't really care. Montag reads a poem from a book (The poem is called Dover Beach). The women are moved by the poem but don't know why and start to cry and flip out. Montag gets angry and Faber (who is communicating with Montag through his ear radio) tells Montag to settle his ass down and burn the book to calm the ladies down. Montag does it and the ladies take off all angry, and Mildred goes and downs a bunch of sleeping pills. Montag realizes that Millie has started burning some of his books, so he hides some in the backyard.
Montag goes off to work with a book to give for Captain Beatty. It isn't the one he originally ripped off (the Bible), but he hopes Captain Beatty won't notice. He gives the book to Beatty and then they play cards. Beatty watches Montag and starts quoting from books. He is very well read and he tells Montag that reading a few lines of a book makes you drunk with this power that you know something but really you are full of shit. He uses all these authors to back him up, and Montag doesn't stand a chance in this argument. Faber tries to help out, but right then the alarm rings and they take off. They get to the house to burn and Montag realizes it is his house.
Millie walks by Montag and takes off. Captain Beatty makes Montag burn his house. The fire proof plastic is cut so the whole house, books and all, burns to the ground. The whole time Beatty is calling Montag a fool and such. Then he tells Montag that he is under arrest after he is done. Montag asks if his wife turned him in and Beatty says yes and then starts mocking him out for trying to read poetry. He then hits Montag and knocks the little radio Faber has been using out of his ear. He suspected something like that and says he will do a trace and catch him too. Montag flips and burns Captain Beatty with the hose and then he knocks out the other two firemen. Then the Mechanical Hound attacks Montag and injects his leg with some serious pain killers than make it numb. Montag then burns the hound.
Montag grabbed the books he hid outside and starts to run (although his leg is all messed up and doped up so he hobbles for a while). The police are looking for him in helicopters and he is all over the news. Also, war has been declared. He keeps running and goes to the house of the Fireman Mr. Black. He hides the books in his house so he will get busted. Then he runs to Faber's house. They watch the TV and hear that a new Mechanical Hound has been put out to find Montag. Montag changes into some of Faber's old clothes to hide his scent and takes off again. Faber says he is going to St Louis and they will meet up again.
Montag escapes the Mechanical Hound by running into a river outside the city and then into the woods. He runs into some guys standing around a fire. Montag is drawn to the fire because it is a good fire that helps and that doesn't destroy. The head of these guys is named Granger and he knows Montag's name and has been expecting him. They have a little TV. He gives Montag this nasty drink that changes his perspiration so the Hound can no longer track him. Then they watch the rest of the chase on TV. They show a fake Montag get captured by the Mechanical Hound so people will feel safe. Granger then introduces Montag to everyone. Basically, everyone has a book or part of one. They knew they would be burned so they mesmerized them so they wouldn't be lost.
Then, these jets come along and bomb the shit out the city. Remember that war no one cared about? Well, it looks like the city has been leveled. Montag cries out for Millie because he know she just got nuked. He is sad, but Granger tells him about the phoenix. The bird which burns itself and then rises from it's own ashes. Granger says that they will rebuild what man has destroyed and try all over again. Montag starts to walk with them and remembers a line from the Bible which is also in that Byrds's song "Turn, Turn, Turn". That's it.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- This book takes place way in the future…the 24th century, but it is about stuff going on in the 20th century.
- Nazis in Germany burned books….isn't that a surprise.
- Montag is the name of a paper company. It is also the German word for Monday.
- Faber is the name of a pencil company.
- Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature that books burn.
- There is this quote at the beginning of the book by this Spanish guy who won the Nobel prize, Juan Ramon Jimenez. "If they give you ruled paper, right the other way"
- This quote is important because it says to question people when they tell you what to do and to question authority. This is a good quote to use to not do what your teacher tells you to do. You should try it sometime. When you have a test or paper with lined paper, write the other way. Ok…so your teacher might get pissed, but you can show off how smart you are.
- Questioning authority and the "status quo" is what this book is about. It is showing how censorship creeps into the world and how shitty it will become if we let it happen.
- Bradbury says that book burning started not because the government was trying to censor people, but because minorities (white, black, asian, women, christians, jews, and everybody else) didn't like little pieces of books so they wanted them edited. And basically, they got edited so much nothing was left.
- Bradbury had this happen to him. Book publishers would start to change his writing if certain phrases were "offensive" to certain people.
- In the 70's, they even changed this book in 75 places. It is real ironic that a book about censorship is censored. Ray got pissed and made them fix it. Ray is the man.
- There are a whole lot of references to other books in this book. A lot if imagery too.
- A big image is the phoenix. It is supposed to show how mankind builds itself up and then burns himself and then does it all over again.
- The third part called "Burning Bright" is in reference to William Blake's poem, The Tyger. "Tyger Tyger, burning bright….etc"
- The guy Granger makes some important points about books. Books aren't the important things really. They are just paper and words. It's the ideas in the books that are most important.
- You can burn books, but you can't burn ideas. Don't let people censor your ideas and don't let people tell you what to think…or not to think.