Read this review of Fahrenheit 451 for a full summary and thoughtful analysis of this dystopian novel’s themes by which author Ray Bradbury advocated against book bans and the reliance on technology, all of which ring true today, several decades after he first published it in 1953.
Fahrenheit 451 has won awards that include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature in 1954, the Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal, the Prometheus “Hall of Fame” Award in 1984, and the “Retro” Hugo Award in 2004 for the best novel of 1953. It’s also been adapted both to film and stage.
If you haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 yet, I personally recommend reading the audiobook edition narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins because he’s such an exceptional narrator as protagonist Guy Montag, who begins to question why firemen like him are tasked with burning books. Fahrenheit 451 is a quick read, but a difficult one, as it presents a science fiction narrative that the reader must think more deeply about in order to fully understand.
This book review of Fahrenheit 451 further explains the full plot of the novel (WITH SPOILERS) and its characters and themes, as well as how they remain relevant today. Lastly, I share trailers for the film adaptations for you to watch and answer frequently asked questions about the book.
Book Review of Fahrenheit 451
- Age Rating: 13+ (but best for high school students and adults)
- Publication Date: 1953
- Genre: dystopian; science fiction
Summary of Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 is separated into 3 chapters, which are each summarized below.
NOTE: THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS SUMMARY.
Chapter 1: The Hearth and the Salamander
Fahrenheit 451 begins with one of the most famous opening lines in literature:
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
Burning refers to the burning of books and fireman Guy Montag, who lives in a futuristic society somewhere in 24th Century America, in which books are outlawed and it is his job to burn them — not to put out fires.
On the way home from work one day, Montag meets his neighbor, Clarisse McClelan, an analytical, nature-loving, and liberal-minded 17-year-old who asks him questions that force him to think, like, “Do you ever read any of the books you burn?” He’s left feeling uncomfortable yet intrigued by the encounter.
Upon entering his home, Montag finds his wife, Mildred, in bed listening to “Seashells” (earplug radios), and realizes she’s overdosed on sleeping pills. He calls the hospital and two emergency responders pump her stomach with the “Snake” and give her a blood transfusion. They tell him that doctors no longer respond to overdoses because there are so many.
The next day, Mildred has no memory of her suicide attempt and watches the interactive television that comprises three of the living room’s walls. Montag is disturbed by how disengaged she is from reality.
Back at the fire station, the Mechanical Hound, a manmade beast trained to track scents, threatens to attack Montag, and Captain Beatty tells him there’s nothing to worry about unless he is guilty, foreshadowing events to come.
Montag continues to meet with Clarisse at night, and she continues to challenge his ways of thinking — until she goes missing.
Montag then begins questioning whether firemen ever put out fires instead of starting them.
When the firemen prepare to burn the books of an elderly woman, Montag steals a Bible. Shockingly, the woman, refusing to part with her books, sets herself on fire.
Back at home, Mildred, still disengaged, reveals that Clarisse was hit by a car and died.
With the stolen Bible hidden under his pillow, Montag struggles to sleep and can only think of the Mechanical Hound.
Mildred remains consumed in the television, and Captain Beatty visits, telling Montag, who thinks he may need a break from work, about the history of censorship. He explains that, over time, people embraced technology that shortened their attention spans, and also, books caused critical thinking that made people unhappy. So, they chose to outlaw books to maintain society’s peace of mind, which changed the role of firemen from stopping fires to starting them.
Suspecting that Montag stole a book, Captain Beatty mentions that firemen have 24 hours to return books.
When he leaves, Montag reveals that he has actually stolen and hidden several books over time. Mildred wants to burn them, but Montag insists they read them first to determine whether they truly do lack value.
Chapter 2: The Sieve and the Sand
Montag tries to convince Mildred that books may solve the problems that have occurred, and the Mechanical Hound looms outside. They begin to read, but Montag struggles to understand them, and Mildred just wants to watch television.
Montag visits Faber, an old English professor from a time before censorship. Faber is fearful of educating Montag about books until Montag begins to tear his Bible apart. Then, Faber gives Montag an earpiece in order to instruct him from a distance. Faber explains that, when people have the time to spend thinking about what they read, they can find a deeper meaning in life. They hope that, in a coming war, people will rebel and book bans will cease.
Back at home, Mildred is watching television with a group of disengaged, unhappy friends. When he reads from a book, he scares them and they leave. Faber tells him to burn the book to avoid arrest.
Montag then takes a book to the firehouse and hands it to Beatty, who admits he once read books. The firemen are called to Montag’s house.
Chapter 3: Burning Bright
Montag learns that Mildred had reported him for hoarding books. She leaves silently.
Montag complies with Captain Beatty’s orders and begins to burn his home. When Beatty discovers Montag’s earpiece, he threatens to find Faber. In turn, Montag sets Beatty on fire and kills him. The Mechanical Hound injects Montag’s leg, but Montag is able to destroy it before it does him further harm.
He limps away to Faber’s house, wondering if Beatty had actually wanted to die. Faber instructs him to head to the wilderness, where exiled book owners live, as there is a manhunt underway to catch him.
Downstream, he finds the group, who are led by a man named Granger and spend their time memorizing books to preserve them for future generations.
Granger and Montag watch over the television as the authorities fake his capture and execute an innocent man, rather than honestly admit their failure to catch him.
As the city is hit by a nuclear bomb, Granger’s group is far enough away to survive. Granger tells of the Phoenix that rose from the ashes of a fiery death and says that humans can do the same, righting past wrongs along the way.
Montag and his new friends head back to the city to rebuild a society where books and independent, critical thought will be valued.
Buy Fahrenheit 451:
- Guy Montag: the protagonist; a fireman in a futuristic society who burns books, which are outlawed
- Clarisse McClellan: Guys next door neighbor, an intellectual 17-year-old girl who forces Montag to think
- Mildred “Millie” Montag: Guy Montag’s wife, who is engrossed by technology and disengaged from real life
- Captain Beatty: Montag’s boss who once read books but now executes the law by burning them
- The Mechanical Hound: a manmade beast that traces the scent of books
- Professor Faber: an old English professor, who taught before books were banned and instructs Montag on his journey toward enlightenment
- Granger: the leader of a group of exiled book lovers
- Literature fosters independent thought that allows humans to find deeper meaning in life.
- Technology makes books less desirable to humans and isolates people.
- Censorship limits people from new perspectives and ideas in order to maintain the status quo.
Analysis of Themes
In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury clearly argues that it is only books that can foster the types of independent thinking that promote everything from empathy to self-discovery and innovation. While, especially today, we may want to argue in favor of technology as having these benefits, Bradbury was ahead of his time in 1953, in including in his narrative several plot points about the harms technology would cause.
As protagonist Guy Montag embarks on his journey of enlightenment from book burner to book preserver, it is his wife, Mildred, whose obsession with technology and, in turn, her disengagement from reality, make it clear that technology is a culprit. Glued to her earplug radio and massive television screens, Mildred’s life bears no discernable happiness: she’s alienated, isolated, easily manipulated, forgetful, apathetic, and even suicidal.
Sound familiar? It’s no secret that smartphones and their addictive properties have made millions of “Mildreds” out of us today. And the faster it continues to move, the more we stand to lose. Somehow, Bradbury perfectly captured the feeling of short-form videos on social media today in this snippet:
“Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes!”
Read More: Quotes From Fahrenheit 451
In recently taking my own social media detox challenge, I was forced to dig in and grapple with the kinds of questions Clarisse asked Montag, like whether he was happy. Of course, he wasn’t and neither was I. While I attempted to cling to the benefits of technology (of course, influenced by its addictive properties), I had to admit they didn’t outweigh the disadvantages. I felt overwhelmed and insufficient every time I logged on.
So, what is it about books that make for a happy society, then? According to Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, it’s that they force us to slow down and think. And when we think, we grow — intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. This growth fosters human connection and meaningful living. Diversifying literature enables people of all different subtypes to feel seen, understood, and capable.
Given Brandbury’s warnings, why are books still being banned, then (and at absolutely exorbitant rates in the United States)?
An enlightened society can feel scary, especially to people who like the status quo, which can often be those who have reaped the rewards of power in society. And as disenfranchised voices speak louder, people are also faced with examining their own mistakes and shortcomings, which feels bad.
Quite frankly, many people prefer to think and do less and have everything remain the same, then call it happiness.
It’s no small task to change the minds of those banning books at record rates today. As Bradbury said in Fahrenheit 451, “They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up under them. It can’t last.”
In the meantime, it’s up to the book lovers like Granger and independent spirits like Clarisse to encourage them to wonder, as Montag did, “There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
Read More: Quotes About Banned Books
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Fahrenheit 451 Adaptations
Watch the trailer for the 1966 adaptation:
Watch the trailer for the 2018 adaptation:
Frequently Asked Questions About Fahrenheit 451
Ironically, a book about the dangers of banning books, Fahrenheit 451, was banned because it was said to have graphic content, including violently overthrowing the government. However, underlying the bans of Fahrenheit 451 is the desire to maintain the status quo and prevent independent thinkers and disenfranchised voices from gaining knowledge and power that disrupts their control.
In Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty explains that books were banned because technology made them less desirable and because their content forced people to examine their lives, which didn’t feel good.
The main message of Fahrenheit 451 is that books foster independent thought that allows humans to find deeper meaning in life, and both technology and censorship threaten such enlightenment.
In conclusion to this review of Fahrenheit 451, I hope you take away a chilling warning about the dangers of a society devoid of critical thinking and intellectual curiosity. This novel urges us to reevaluate our own relationship with knowledge, censorship, and the importance of preserving our freedom of thought, and it is a must-read today for anyone and everyone concerned about the dramatic rise in banned books.
Buy Fahrenheit 451: