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Fahrenheit 451. by Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 , the temperature at which paper catches fire. Fahrenheit 451 is a social criticism that warns against the danger of suppressing thought through censorship.

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fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451,

the temperature at which paper

catches fire . . . .

Fahrenheit 451 is a social criticism that warns against the danger of suppressing thought through censorship.
  • It uses the conventions of science fiction to convey the message that oppressive government, left unchecked, does irreparable damage to society by curtailing the creativity and freedom of its people.
  • The “dystopia” motif, popular in science fiction – that of a technocratic and totalitarian society that demands order at the expense of individual rights – is central to the novel.
Developed in the years immediately following WWII, Fahrenheit 451 condemns not only the anti-intellectualism of Nazi Germany, but more immediately America in the early 1950’s – the heyday of McCarthyism.
  • Other works of social criticism, including Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, were published in the same time period.
  • These works reveal a very real societal fear that the US might evolve into an oppressive, authoritarian society.
science fiction what is it
Science Fiction: What is it?
  • Science fiction is a form of fiction that deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals. If science concerns itself with discovery, then science fiction concerns itself with the consequences of discovery.
  • It is a testament to the visionary nature of the form that science fiction writers predicted the advent of atomic weapons and sentient machines.
  • Its enduring value, though, is in its capacity to ask probing questions of each new scientific advance, to conduct a dialogue with progress that decodes its real meaning and reveals it to us.
Isaac Asimov asserts, “Modern science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions.” [Science fiction is] “…that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings.” (1952)
fahrenheit 451 by ray bradbury 1953
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  • Time: the Future
  • Place: a City in the U.S.A.
  • This book is ablaze with the hope and despair of a writer wanting humankind to learn from its historical mistakes and from the wisdom of its writers.
  • A world where everything is sped up, where bill boards are five times bigger than ours because the speed limit is so high, where everything you see from a car is a blur, where pedestrians don’t exist.
  • A future populated by non-readers and non-thinkers, people with no sense of their history, where a totalitarian government has banned the written word.
  • This is more than just a story of dictatorial censorship; it is a story that also draws parallels between entertainment and addiction, between individual avoidance of thinking and governmental means of thought prevention.
Set in the twenty-fourth century, Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of Guy Montag, a thirty-year-old fireman whose job is to set fires, not put them out. He and his colleagues burn books, which are now considered contraband.
  • Other major characters include Guy’s wife Mildred, Guy’s seventeen-year-old neighbor Clarisse McClellan, Guy’s boss Beatty, and Guy’s friend Professor Faber.
about the author
About the Author
  • Ray Bradbury was born in 1920 in Illinois, and began reading science fiction at the age of 8. By the age of 11, he was already writing stories.
  • What 3 short science fiction stories by Bradbury did we read?
    • There Will Come Soft Rains
    • The Pedestrian
    • A Sound of Thunder
Since his career began, he has written hundreds of short stories and a number of novels, plays, and poems as well as screenplays, musicals, and operas.
  • These include Fahrenheit 451, which was made into a motion picture in 1966, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, which became a popular Disney feature film.
  • He wrote for The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and his own television show The Ray Bradbury Theater.
Bradbury is often called the world’s greatest science fiction writer, but many critics feel this description does not do him justice.
  • While his novels and stories bear the trappings of science fiction, he is much more than a teller of adventure tales set in the future.
  • Instead of emphasizing the wonders of future technology, Bradbury seems to warn us against becoming so worshipful of scientific development that moral and aesthetic concerns are sacrificed.
  • His writing concerns the negative effects technology might have on human beings and on the history of mankind.
Fahrenheit 451 has sold millions of copies and established itself as a literary classic.
  • The Library of Congress recently designated this best-known book of Bradbury’s as one of the top 100 works of American literature.
  • So many years after it first appeared on bookshelves, Ray Bradbury’s cautionary novel remains recommended reading in classrooms across the country.
  • It is even recommended reading for high school students in the nation’s new Common Core Standards for English and Language Arts, which the Ohio Department of Education has recently adopted.
  • Essential to an understanding of Fahrenheit 451 is an understanding of America in 1953, the year the novel was published.
  • In 1953 TV was just beginning to appear in average American homes. The screens were small, the black-and-white pictures often distorted, and the choice of programs limited to those broadcast by CBS, NBC, and ABC. Still, Americans of every socio-economic level fell in love with TV and managed to purchase their own sets at an astounding rate.
  • The television quickly became the focal point of millions of living rooms, while the popularity of radio and movie theaters plummeted.
  • Ray Bradbury witnessed this phenomenon, and his vision of how TV could eventually affect American life became a fundamental theme of Fahrenheit 451.
  • The world of Fahrenheit 451 is dominated by television and other electronic devices. Americans have lost interest in books and therefore in any kind of independent thinking. They are like zombies, controlled by a repressive government that keeps them ignorant of what is really happening in the world by placating them with inane and supposedly “happy” things to do.
but wait there s more
But Wait . . . There’s More:
  • Perhaps the most amazing thing about Fahrenheit 451 is that it was written in 1953, and many of the future developments Bradbury envisioned now exist. For example:
Divorce and abortion are commonplace, and many infants are sent off to day-care when they are only a few months old.
  • One of our most popular presidents was a movie star.
  • The suicide rate, especially among teenagers, is growing, and more and more children are dying because of car wrecks, gang wars, and drugs.
  • Except among those considered intellectual (and therefore somewhat “weird”), there is a growing addiction to TV, videos, electronic games, and other types of mindless and violent “fun.”
  • Gossip mongering tabloids and sex magazines that bare all are enjoyed by millions.
  • What kinds of things are censored in our society and who does so?
  • Hitler ordered his armies to burn countless books that went against Nazi doctrine.
  • Soviet Communists did the same and more.
  • What about our society?
censorship today
Censorship Today
  • Religious groups
  • Libraries (public and school)
    • e.g. Harry Potter books & movies
  • School boards
    • text books
    • school newspapers and yearbooks
  • TV/prime time (FCC)
  • Radio (FCC)
  • Publishing companies
  • Bradbury’s use of symbolism throughout the book renders it moving and powerful and reinforces his ideas of anti-censorship.
  • Fire and burning are important symbols in Fahrenheit 451, as are salamander and phoenix.
    • Books are burned physically and “ideas are burned from the mind.”
    • A salamander is known to endure fire without getting burned. It therefore is symbolic of Montag, who works with fire and endures it.
    • A Phoenix is a multicolored bird from Arabian myth. At the end of its 500-year existence, it perches on its nest and sings until sunlight ignites its body. After the body is consumed by fire, a worm emerges and develops into the next Phoenix. This symbolizes both the rebirth after destruction by fire and the cyclical nature of things. Firemen wear the Phoenix on their uniforms and Beatty drives a Phoenix car.
foundation for fahrenheit 451
Foundation for Fahrenheit 451
  • The 1950’s Political Environment
    • McCarthyism
  • The 1950’s General Timeline
  • Censorship
communism and national security the red menace
Communism and National Security: The Red Menace
  • Due to the U.S. conflict with the Soviet Union, anti-Communism moved to the ideological center of American politics.
  • By the beginning of 1946, most of the nation’s policymakers had come to view the Soviet Union as a hostile power committed to a program of worldwide expansion that only the United States was strong enough to resist
  • What transformed the communist threat into a national obsession was the involvement of the federal government.
    • During the early years of the Cold War, the actions of the federal government helped to forge and legitimize the anti-communist consensus that enabled most Americans to condone or participate in the serious violations of civil liberties that characterized the McCarthy era.
  • Joseph McCarthy was a republican senator of Wisconsin known for attracting headlines with his charges of communist infiltration in American organizations. His accusations were usually baseless and ruined the careers of many distinguished citizens.
  • McCarthyism’s main impact may well have been in what was prevented: the social reforms that were never adopted, the diplomatic initiatives that were not pursued, the workers who were never unionized, the books that were never written, and the movies that were never filmed.
    • On the pretext of protecting the nation from communist infiltration, federal agents attacked individual rights and extended state power into movie studios, universities, labor unions, and many other ostensibly independent non-governmental institutions.
black listing careers were destroyed by knowing the wrong person
Black Listing: Careers were destroyed by knowing the wrong person.
  • McCarthyism was an effective form of political repression. The punishments were primarily economic: in the McCarthy era, roughly ten thousand people lost their jobs.
  • In the entertainment industry, the anti-communist firings and subsequent blacklisting of men and women in show business are well known. The movies had been a target of the anti-communist network since the late 1930’s, and in 1947, the Hollywood Ten hearings precipitated the blacklist.
  • By 1951, the blacklist was in full operation. It spread from writers and actors to the broadcast industry, musicians, radio, and television.
  • When the blacklist lifted in the 1960’s, its former victims were never able to fully resuscitate their careers.
  • Teachers, industrial workers, and lawyers were also affected because of their affiliation with left-wing unions or their refusal to cooperate with anti-communist investigators.
1950 s timeline
1950’s Timeline
  • 1950: President Truman approves production of the hydrogen bomb.
  • 1951: Television begins to be broadcast nationally, coast to coast; the first nuclear test occurs at the Nevada Test Site; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are convicted and sentenced to death for passing information about atomic weapons to the USSR.
  • 1952: A second US nuclear weapons lab is established; the first British atomic bomb is tested in Australia.
  • 1953: Francis Crick and James Watson discover the double helix of the DNA.
  • 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court wrote in “Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas” that racial segregation in schools is illegal; U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy begins a televised anti-communist “witch-hunt”; the first deliverable hydrogen bomb is tested; the USA threatens to use the nuclear weapons to stop Soviet aggression on Europe.
1955: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama; the Soviet Union successfully tested its first true fusion device.
  • 1956: Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby invent the microchip.
  • 1957: The first British H-bomb exploded at Christmas Island; the first underground nuclear test occurred at the Nevada Test Site; Britain successfully tested its first thermonuclear bomb; fire destroyed the core of a reactor at Britain’s Windscale nuclear complex, sending clouds of radioactivity into the atmosphere; Britain and France each become a nuclear power; TV viewing expands rapidly with the introduction of Cable television; extensive work begins on the Federal Highway system (45,000 miles of interstate highways and 2,906 miles from New York City to San Francisco via I-80); the Soviet Union launches the Sputnik, the first artificial satellite
  • 1958: the first US Polaris capable nuclear missile submarine enters into service; the first domestic jet-airline passenger service is begun by National Airlines between New York and Miami; European democracies of Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, and France found the European Union.
  • 1959: Alaska and Hawaii become the 49th and 50th states.
  • U.S. Constitution: First Amendment – Religion and Expression
    • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; of abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  • As long as humans have sought to communicate, others have sought to prevent them. Every day, some government or other group tries to restrict or control what can be said, written, sung, or broadcast. Almost every idea ever thought has proved objectionable to someone, and almost everyone has sometimes felt the world would be a better place if only “so and so” would go away.
censorship in fahrenheit 451
Censorship in Fahrenheit 451
  • Censorship is a key theme in Fahrenheit 451.
    • Books are burned because they trigger thought and discontent, two things which are unwelcome in this “happiness oriented” society.
    • What’s unexpected is that it seems to have originated with the people, not with the government’s desire to control. People were unhappy and discontented, so the government acted to remove the sources of their unhappiness and to enhance their lives with activities which would prevent them from thinking and, thus, being unhappy.
banned and challenged books
Banned and Challenged Books
  • A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.
  • A banning is the removal of those materials.
    • Challenges and bannings do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.
challenged and banned books
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

By Mark Twain 1883

Anne Frank: The Story of a Young Girl

By Anne Frank 1967

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

By Judy Blume 1970


By Toni Morrison 1987

Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley 1932

Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger 1951

The Color Purple

By Alice Walker 1982

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury 1953

Harry Potter

By J.K. Rowling 197

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Maya Angelou 1970

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding 1954

Moby Dick

By Herman Melville 1939

Native Son

By Richard Wright 1940

A Raisin the Sun

By L. Hansberry 1959


By Kurt Vonnegut 1969

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee 1960

Challenged and Banned Books
censorship cont
Censorship, cont.
  • Books, especially public and school books and library books, are among the most visible targets of censorship. However, they are not the only target of would-be censors.
  • Free expression is constantly challenged in the arts, in broadcast media, and on the Internet.
fahrenheit 451 a dystopian novel
Fahrenheit 451: A Dystopian Novel
  • Utopia: a place, state, or condition that is ideally perfect in respect of politics, laws, customs, and conditions
  • Dystopia: a futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.
    • Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend, societal norm, or political system.
characteristics of a dystopian society
Characteristics of a Dystopian Society
  • Propaganda is used to control the citizens of society.
  • Information, independent thought, and freedom are restricted.
  • A figurehead or concept is worshipped by the citizens of the society.
  • Citizens are perceived to be under constant surveillance.
  • Citizens have a fear of the outside world.
  • Citizens live in a dehumanized state.
  • The natural world is banished and distrusted.
  • Citizens conform to uniform expectations. Individuality and dissent are bad.
  • The society is an illusion of a perfect utopian world.
types of dystopian controls
Types of Dystopian Controls
  • Most dystopian works present a world in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through one or more of the following types of controls:
    • Corporate control: corporations control society through products, advertising, and/or the media (e.g.: Minority Report).
    • Bureaucratic control: mindless bureaucracy controls society through a tangle of red tape, relentless regulations, and incompetent government officials.
    • Technological control: technology controls society through computers, robots, and/or scientific means (e.g.: The Matrix, The Terminator, I, Robot).
    • Philosophical/Religious Control: ideology controls society through a dictatorship or theocratic government.
the dystopian protagonist
The Dystopian Protagonist:
  • Often feels trapped and is struggling to escape.
  • Questions the existing social and political systems.
  • Believes or feels that something is terribly wrong with the society in which he or she lives.
  • Helps the audience recognize the negative aspects of the dystopian world through his or her perspective.
one final thought
One Final Thought . . .
  • The problem with dystopias and other cautionary forms is that their exaggeration can cause us to become complacent because things just aren’t as bad as the novels predicted. However, as long as we read them thoughtfully, understanding that they are meant to point us toward problems rather than accurately foretelling the future, they can still inspire us to work for a world which, if not utopian, is a lot better than our worst nightmares.