Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest writers of science and fantasy fiction in the world today. Since he was 20 years old, he has published 500 short stories, novels, plays and poems. Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel first published in 1953 and is regarded as one of Bradbury’s best works. The novel presents a futuristic American society where books are outlawed, and “firemen” burn any that are found. I believe the most central themes to this novel are censorship and ignorance versus knowledge.
“Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
The lead character, Guy Montag, is a fireman who becomes disillusioned with his role of censoring literature and destroying knowledge, eventually quitting his job and committing himself to the preservation of literary and cultural writings.
Each character in the novel struggles with the concept of knowledge in a different way. While some of the characters embrace knowledge and take on the responsibility of protecting it, others reject knowledge to protect themselves and their comfort. Guy Montag is the protagonist and a fireman who presents the dystopian world in which he lives first through the eyes of a worker loyal to it, then as a man in conflict about it, and eventually as someone resolved to be free of it. Mildred is Guy’s wife; she represents society as a whole: seemingly superficially happy, deeply unhappy inside, and unable to articulate or cope with that unhappiness. Captain Beatty has devoted his life to destroying, thus maintaining society’s ignorance of books. This makes him a dangerous antagonist as, unlike other truly passive and ignorant characters, Beatty is intelligent, and he uses his intelligence to keep society ignorant. Clarisse disappears from the story very early on, but her impact is large. Professor Faber is an elderly man who was once a teacher of literature. He despises the society in which he lives in and believes strongly in the power of reading and independent thought.
The story is made to be intentionally unknown; Bradbury references major U.S. cities, like Chicago and St. Louis, so it’s safe to assume that the story takes place in the United States. The exact location of the novel is vague; however, this allows readers to picture the events of the book happening anywhere. The setting allows the themes to build in emotions and lets readers get a feel for what is actually happening.
In the book Bradbury gives the reader a brief description of how society slowly lost interest in books, first condensing them, then relying simply on titles, and finally forgetting about them all together. The government censors all books by outlawing and destroying any found. This is why Guy Montag has the job as a fireman to destroy any and all books, along with the residence if necessary. Another theme within this book would be ignorance vs knowledge; in Fahrenheit 451, firemen maintain ignorance by destroying books and with them their knowledge. I believe that the themes of censorship, ignorance versus knowledge is the main themes of this book because it is also applicable in today’s time. Censorship is when media such as books are examined, and unacceptable parts are suppressed. These themes a harrowing link between the fiction, and reality of today’s society: the true purpose of Bradbury’s work.
The book is a compelling parallel of our society today, and the society Bradbury fought to warn us of, so if you want something to captivate and ignite curiosity within, I could not recommend Fahrenheit 451 enough.