Description

Fahrenheit 451 was written by Ray Bradbury, an American author best known for his highly imaginative short stories and novels that blend a poetic style, nostalgia for childhood, social criticism, and an awareness of the hazards. It took Bradbury just nine days to write Fahrenheit 451—and he did it in the basement of the UCLA library on a rented typewriter. (The title of his classic novel, by the way, comes from the temperature at which paper burns without being exposed to flame.)



Review

Fahrenheit 451 published in 1953 is a classic science fiction novel and a powerful commentary on humankind’s urge to suppress what it doesn’t understand. The shadow of the Cold War looms over the plot, which may confuse some younger readers, but the truths Ray Bradbury unearths are timeless. The novel won the National Book Award and has been adapted for film, radio, stage, and graphic novel, and it’s likely to be read widely for a long time to come.


Study Questions

1. Why would society make “being a pedestrian” a crime? (Clarisse tells Montag that her uncle was once arrested for this.)

2. One suicide and one near-suicide occur in this book. Why would two people who seem to be so different from each other try to take their own lives? Why does suicide happen so frequently in Montag’s society?

3. Captain Beatty quotes history, scripture, poetry, philosophy. He is obviously a well-read man. Why hasn’t he been punished? And why does he view the books he’s read with such contempt?

4. Beatty tells Montag that firemen are “custodians of peace of mind” and that they stand against “those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought.” How well are the firemen accomplishing these objectives? Are conflicting ideas the only source of unhappiness in their society? What other sources might there be? Can conflicting ideas exist even without books that have been destroyed and outlawed?

5. Why do you think the firemen’s rulebook credited Benjamin Franklin—writer, publisher, political leader, inventor, ambassador—as being the first fireman?

6. Why does Beatty program the Hound to track Montag even before Montag stole the book?

7. Montag turns to books to rescue him; instead they help demolish his life- -he loses his wife, job and home; he kills a man and is forced to be a nomad. Does he gain any benefits from books? If so, what are they?

8. Do you believe, as Montag did, that Beatty wanted to die? If so, why do you think so?

9. Since the government is so opposed to readers, thinkers, walkers, and slow drivers, why does it allow the procession of men along the railroad tracks to exist?

10. Once Montag becomes a violent revolutionary, why does the government purposely capture an innocent man in his place?

11. Granger, spokesperson for the group on the railroad tracks, tells Montag, “Right now we have a horrible job”. Do you believe that the books they carry inside themselves will make a difference? Might this difference be positive or negative? Point out episodes in Fahrenheit to support your response.

12. What does Granger mean when he says, “We’re going to go build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors”. Why would “mirrors” be important in this new society?

13. Although Ray Bradbury’s work is often referred to as science fiction, Fahrenheit has plenty to say. Discuss how you feel about the stands the author or characters take in Fahrenheit.

(Questions issued by publisher.)


Discussion

We had a full house today April 16, 2019, except for one faithful who had a doctor’s appointment.  She finished the book but reluctantly missed the meeting to see her doctor at a time scheduled six months before.

Probably most the insightful comment of the discussion can be paraphrased “especially at first I didn’t enjoy the book so much as I valued it”. This produced the most agreeing nods of any of the comments and set the tone for the morning’s discussion. The book was thought by most to be neither fun nor uplifting, though with thought and in some cases re-reading it had a powerful message.

The original description of Clarissa was read aloud, and it was agreed that this was poetry as it described her on “a sliding walk, wearing “a dress that whispered”, with her shoes in “circling leaves”.

The book had the expected effect when it accurately predicted current preoccupation with hand held information and entertainment devices, and certain instances of violation of rights for simply walking down the street in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bradbury was stopped by a policeman in Los Angeles while he was walking and when asked what he was doing he said, “putting one foot in front of the other.”  This did not go down well. The author’s comments about the government clamping down on pedestrians is mentioned throughout the book.

Some interesting comments came out while discussing the character Beatty, the fire chief. He was considered a very learned man who bridged the divide between the old way with books and the new way burning them. It was agreed he brought on his own death by goading Montag who was in front of him with a flame thrower.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion centered around the poem “Dover Beach”  described below:

Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold is dramatic monologue lamenting the loss of true Christian faith in England during the mid-1800’s as science captured the minds of the public. The poet’s speaker, considered to be Matthew Arnold himself, begins by describing a calm and quiet sea out in the English Channel. He stands on the Dover coast and looks across to France where a small light can be seen briefly, and then vanishes. This light represents the diminishing faith of the English people, and those the world round. Throughout this poem the speaker/Arnold crafts an image of the sea receding and returning to land with the faith of the world as it changes throughout time. At this point in time though, the sea is not returning. It is receding farther out into the strait.

Today’s discussion lasted just over an hour. It was a lively session, and everybody participated in some way even to the point of saying, “I couldn’t get through it – maybe I should read some time other than midnight.”

At today’s meeting it was decided to grade the book on a scale of one to ten with ten being the best. Fahrenheit 451 received a grade of 8 overall with one 10 and one 5.