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Why Should I Read Fahrenheit 451? | Summary, Background, and Quotes


an ai generated image of a fireman walking to a burning city

The Basic Bio

Fahrenheit 451 follows Guy Montag’s descent into freedom. He lives in the near future, where firemen burn houses and books are banned. This book is about his journey from an indoctrinated fireman to a rogue but free and knowledgeable man.


 

Story Chapters

 

A Summary of Fahrenheit 451 (No Spoilers)

There’s a fire at your neighbor’s house, but you don’t call the fire department. Instead, they’re the ones who started the fire. You see, your neighbor has been accused of having books.

In the universe of Fahrenheit 451, books are banned. The story follows the journey of Guy Montag, a fireman. His job is to burn houses that have been reported to have books. Fahrenheit 451 takes place sometime in the near future, and houses are, mostly, fireproof.

His wife is almost mindless, constantly watching and participating in a TV show displayed on the walls of the parlor. She also always has her Seashell earbuds in her ears, to the point where she’s just learned how to lip-read people rather than take her earbuds out.

Guy Montag doesn’t question his life, even though he’s unsatisfied with the way things are. But when Montag is coming home from work one night, he meets a quirky girl who pesters him with questions. This leads Montag to begin asking why his life is the way it is…



Book Burning, McCarthyism, and Ray Bradbury: The Background of Fahrenheit 451


The History of Book Burning

Book burning has been around for a long time. Emperor Qin Shi Huang burned all the documents in China, hoping that history would begin with him. In a time when not many people knew how to write and books were very scarce, burning tons of books could have a huge impact on the spread of knowledge.


An example of the impact it causes can be found in the tragic burning of the Library of Alexandria. This library reportedly had the largest collection of writings in the ancient world. However, it mysteriously burned down, and with it potentially burned vast amounts of information we will never know.


In the 1500s, Martin Luther famously burned the papal document that declared him excommunicated. 300 years later, German students would commemorate the anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses with a burning of their own. They burned anti-Nationalist and un-German books to protest for a unified Germany.



Nazis and Book Burning

Book burning would come back in the 1900s in Nazi Germany. Beginning on May 10, 1933, public burnings would once again burn "un-German" books. However, this time, it came from the Nazi government in an attempt to wipe out non-conforming ideology. In addition, because books were very commonplace and easily reproducible, book burning became more symbolic, but that didn’t stop the Nazis.


nazi hitler youth book burning

As Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels led the charge against anything that didn’t conform to Nazi ideology. Tons of artworks were destroyed because they were labeled "degenerate." And, like a century before, German students were the main soldiers of the book-burning campaign.



The Red Scare and McCarthyism

Although book burning was now a socially unacceptable practice because of the Nazis, it would come back again… in the United States. McCarthyism was taking place, and America was deathly afraid of communism. What followed was a ruthless witch hunt that would go on to heavily influence books like Fahrenheit 451 and The Crucible...


Ray Bradbury and Darkness at Noon

Ray Bradbury always loved reading more than learning in the classroom. Instead of attending college, he sold newspapers for 3¢ for four years. One day, he read Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler.

Darkness at Noon was written by Arthur Koestler in Paris on the eve of World War II. He rushed to finish the book as the German army was advancing into France. While he wrote in German, his girlfriend, Daphne Hardy, translated it into English. When finished, they sent the English copy to London, but during their escape from the Nazis, they lost the original German copy.

stalins soviet mock trial

Darkness at Noon exposed the evils of Joseph Stalin and the communists of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Focusing on the mock trials that condemned people, Darkness at Noon also showed the war Stalin waged against intellect and truth.

It also became influential in the creation of George Orwell’s 1984. In fact, it was one of the first dystopian novels ever written and influenced several other novels, including Fahrenheit 451. But tragically, the evils revealed in the book were not fiction but very real.


Writing Fahrenheit 451

Inspired by Darkness at Noon, Bradbury went through several iterations before finally writing Fahrenheit 451. A combination of the "intellectual holocaust" described in Darkness at Noon and Bradbury’s fear of the death of literature and intellect moved him to write something that explored them.

Bradbury began writing notes in 1946, but they led to a partially written draft story called Where Ignorant Armies Clash by Night. Written over the course of 1946–1947, it never led anywhere. During this time, Bradbury experimented with an upside-down world that led to dark outcomes, afraid of where humanity was headed after World War II.

The draft story featured public assassins that would burn books and Dover Beach, a poem that Montag reads, all precursors to Fahrenheit 451. The world and story Bradbury wrote about didn’t provide any hope for the characters, and eventually, it was never finished because of it.

Continuing to write other stories, Bradbury finally returned to his "burning books" idea when he wrote "The Pedestrian." After being agitated by a police officer on a late-night walk, Bradbury wrote a short story about a man who goes out for a late-night walk and is arrested. It would soon go on to inspire the character Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451.

In 1950, after nine days by himself in UCLA’s library-type room, Bradbury finally wrote "The Fireman." He was able to develop a character who could overcome the death of the truth, Guy Montag. The novella was sent to multiple different publishers but was rejected.

Eventually, he found a publisher. Instead of the proposed collection of his stories, he expanded "The Fireman." He forced himself into UCLA’s library-type room again for another nine days and emerged with a final draft. Soon, he would sit with his publisher for three days to create the final edit.


Why is Fahrenheit 451 Called Fahrenheit 451?

But Ray Bradbury needed a name. Wanting to reflect the temperature books would burn at, he came up with the titles Fahrenheit 270 and Fahrenheit 204. After calling multiple universities, he finally called the LA Fire Department, who told him that paper burned at 451°. So Bradbury had his title.



Iconic Quotes

what do we want in this country above all?, fahrenheit 451 quote
“What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn't that right?” (Pg. 56)

cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so full of facts, fahrenheit 451 quote
“Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely `brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with.” (Pg. 58)

you always dread the unfamiliar, fahrenheit 451 quote
“You always dread the unfamiliar… We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.” (Pg. 55)

it didn't come from the government down, fahrenheit 451 quote
“There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time,” (Pg. 55)


So Why Should You Read Fahrenheit 451?

Why should you read Fahrenheit 451? Fahrenheit 451 is a book that's still very relevant today with our addiction to technology. Fahrenheit 451 shows how people addicted to technology create a passive society. That passive society then brings about the rise of dictators.


So, you should read Fahrenheit 451 to see the effects of a passive, addicted society. While much of the story explains the world of Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag still has to make it out alive after he finds out the truth...


HEADS UP: There are spoilers past this point!

 

5 Key Takeaways from Fahrenheit 451

crowd gathers as hitler passes by

1. Tyranny Begins With The People

In Fahrenheit 451, books are banned not because the government was scared of new ideas or trying to suppress freedom. Books were banned because everyday people thought they were boring and inspired dangerous ideas.

Tyranny doesn’t come to power without the people letting it

a woman looks up after reading a book

2. Silence is Important

There’s a part of Fahrenheit 451 when Guy Montag realizes how noisy and repetitive life is. He’s on the train when he hears a dental ad, and it keeps singing the same jingle over and over again.

Find some quiet time in your day to just think and enjoy the silence


a man about to cliff jump

3. Do Things That Push You Out Of Your Comfort Zone

The only way to improve yourself is to do new things. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can build confidence and teach you how to do new things

4. Detach From Technology More Often

One of the big ideas of Fahrenheit 451 is how addicting technology can be. The example of this in the book is Mildred, Montag’s wife.

She loves her life in the parlor, where three wall-sized screens keep her company. She always has Seashell earbuds in, to the point where she just lip-reads people instead of taking them out.

It’s a good reminder to break out of the usual cycle of picking up your phone

5. Reading Books is Still Important

The most realistic possibility in Fahrenheit 451 is that books will be banned because they’re boring and promote dangerous ideas.

While it’s very unlikely they’ll be fully banned, some are being banned in schools for promoting bad ideas. But mainly, they are becoming more obsolete. They’re becoming less popular because they’re boring.

Despite this, books are some of the most important things humanity has created. Books have recorded ideas and experiences for centuries. So go read a book.


Personal Thoughts

Fahrenheit 451 is a book that’s scarily close to real life. Its path from democracy to tyranny is a very realistic possibility because it points to us as the cause. It’s a very powerful lesson for all of us to remember.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." — Edmund Burke

 

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