#36 – Fahrenheit 451

August 8, 2007

poets, lock up your wordsI almost certainly should have read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 by now.  I don’t know how I managed to get through high school and a damn Bachelor of Arts without it.  I mean, I’ve obviously read 1984, and Brave New World is one of my favourites, but this one somehow slipped under the radar.  Anyway, I’ve rectified the problem.  Now I just have to get through The Handmaid’s Tale to fill my classic dystopia checklist. There’s not much I can say by way of review, because this one’s a classic and we all should have really read it by now, but I’ll put some thoughts together anyway.

As far as the plot goes, Fahrenheit 451 is a pretty standard situation: man is agent of totalitarian government, man becomes dissatisfied with life under totalitarian government, man joins struggle against totalitarian government.  It’s the same template we’ve seen in Orwell, Huxley, and the movies Brazil and Equilibrium (which seems to be essentially Fahrenheit with gunkata instead of flamethrowers).  As always in these kinds of stories, it’s the premise that’s really fascinating, and this one is one of the best.  In Bradbury’s vision of America, the country’s undercurrent of anti-intellectualism has spread to a degree where books are illegal, and the novel’s hero is a fireman whose job it is to burn them.  As you can imagine, I find this setup completely chilling, and if not yet plausible then at least conceivable.  Interestingly, banning books was not a policy of fascist leaders trying to dumb down any opposition, but a natural extension of the general public’s refusal to read and fear and hatred for those that do.  It seems too devastating to even happen, but go watch Mike Judge’s Idiocracy and see what you think then.

Fahrenheit 451 is especially chilling after having just finished Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason – you can see the seeds being sown already.  While 1984‘s Big Brother kept England in a state of fear via a massive and publicized “constant war”, the American public in Fahrenheit is too distracted by TV to care about the country’s wars when they commence.  Somehow, the situation today seems to be some impossible combination of the two.  We are still talking about a work of science fiction, however; I doubt Dick Cheney is going to try and make you burn all of your books any time soon.  Although I’m sure he’d be pretty happy if you did anyway.



  1. FAHRENHEIT 451 is written with the best intentions but I do find it a bit dry. When I think of Bradbury at his best my thoughts turn to SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. One of the very first science fiction books I ever read was Bradbury’s collection THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN.
    Have you seen the film version of FAHRENHEIT? Pretty pitiful stuff…

  2. That’s true, Cliff, it did get a bit dry at parts. I never did get what was going on with his neighbour at the start, you know? It was hard to follow Montag’s motivation at times, too; but I think the story was intriguing enough to make it worthwhile. I will check out some more of Bradbury’s writing, though, thanks for the recommendation.

    Never saw the movie, and I guess I won’t bother to now. But Frank Darabont is supposed to be working on a remake with Tom Hanks, so I figure that’ll be worth a shot.

  3. Bradbury is one of my favorite authors and I highly recommend you skip the novels and read some of his short stories. If you feel like giving another novel a try, I suggest Dandelion Wine. BTW, the movie version of F. 451 is actually old school silly, you need to be under the influence to appreciate it.

  4. Thanks Anglophile, I’ll have to give some of his short stories a try. Any specific collections you’d recommend?

    Have you ever read “The Fireman”, the story Fahrenheit 451 was based on? I wonder now if it might actually be a better read than the full-length novel.

  5. check out this site for tons of titles: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/b/ray-bradbury/
    i prefer The Golden Apples of the Sun to start with as a short story collection. i would suggest reading “the fireman” you will enjoy it.

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