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Fahrenheit 451


Part 1 - Summary
Part 1 - Interpretation
Part 2 - Summary
Part 2 - Interpretation
Part 3 - Summary
Part 3 - Interpretation




Part 1 is called - The Hearth and the Salamander.  The hearth represents the home, and the cozy aspect of fire, its function to heat and cook.  The salamander is a creature, which according to ancient folklore, was able to survive fire.  The question the reader has to ask is whether Montag will be able to escape destruction as he is playing with fire by hoarding books.

It is important that the reader realizes that this book was written just after the Second World War, and this clearly had some influence on Bradbury in depicting this 24th Century world as being miserable and oppressive. 

We are faced immediately with the paradox that firemen in this world start fires and don’t put them out.  Firemen are also people of considerable power, and members of the general public are in fear of these officials as much as the police, who are not referred to extensively in this part of the book. 

The protagonist, Montag, is first influenced by his new young 17-year old neighbor, Clarisse.  She is a bright, curious girl who arouses Montag’s own latent curiosity, and gives him the ability to think again about his own life and the work that he does.  She introduces him to quite simple experiences, childlike, but this fresh approach brings light into Montag’s life of dismal routine. 

Apparently, Clarisse and her family are already known to the authorities.  She has to attend a psychiatrist and other members of her family have been arrested for minor offences. It is safe to assume that Clarisse’s inability to conform is dangerous, and as Captain Beatty says, “She was a time bomb. '' The poor girl’s better off dead '' luckily, queer ones like her don’t happen often.” 

Here we have a society that extinguishes an innocent teenager who just happens to be curious, and asks the wrong questions. If she had not been so na've, she might have survived.

The reason for books being burnt is so that everyone can be happy. They live in a world with no conflict, with no debate, where everyone is equal.  To the firemen, the books are just ‘things’, rubbish to be burnt, and they have no conscience about this. They have been conditioned to do this work.  Montag comes from a long line of firemen, and still carries out his work efficiently until he confronts the old lady who dies in the flames with her books. Montag starts to realize that the books represent people’s thoughts and views. A person may have spent their whole life writing books, and he and his men can destroy them in minutes. 

Bradbury gives us the initial picture of Montag looking at himself in the mirror and seeing his blackened face like a mask, or a minstrel.  He comments that it is the face of a “smiling fireman”, but towards the end of this part of the book, not only is the black soot a mask, but the smile is as well.

The Montags’ lives are so monotonous, they cannot even recall where or when they met.  They have no family of their own. Millie’s life revolves around her television family, in particular the interactive plays.  By collecting box tops, she can apply for scripts so that she can take part in the plays.  She just sits in front of her three wall screens and when the characters in the play look at her, she says her lines.  The reader may think that this is a sad way in which to escape from the reality of your existence.  Millie’s mind, through lack of stimulation, has become an inactive organ, and she cannot control the taking of her tranquilizers and sleeping pills.  She is found comatose by her husband who calls in the stomach pump and blood technicians who recall her back to life, and charge $50 for the service.

The next day, she cannot recount the episode and her husband realizes the sad state of their relationship.

Captain Beatty, the Fire Chief, is similar to O’Brien in Orwell’s �’.  He has to keep his men under control, and keep an eye out for any deviants. 

It seems that the Mechanical Hound senses Montag’s emerging independence and questioning attitude, which has been inspired by Clarisse. She gives the reader an insight into the lives of teenagers in this society. She describes school as a bland place where nobody asks any questions. She says that the film teachers just bombard you with the answers, “It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down a spout and out the bottom, and them telling us its wine when its not.”  In other words, education is just lots of information imposed on the students who are told that it is good, but in fact it is meaningless, and they have no opportunity to question. After school, they can go to the fun park to bully people, or break windows at the smasher place, or wreck cars at the car wrecker place with a big steel ball.

There appears to be little or no policing and it is quite common for there to be fatalities among the young.  Clarisse has lost six of her friends through shootings in the last year alone.  There are also many car crashes, and the police are only concerned that the drivers are properly insured.

So far as the Mechanical Hound is concerned, it seems to be a method for keeping pests under control, and this includes dissident firemen.  In the book we hear that the Seattle Fire Chief committed suicide by providing the Mechanical Hound with his own chemical format, and then letting it loose.

Bradbury illustrates his descriptive writing throughout the book, but perhaps one of the most striking scenes is that of the burning of the old lady’s books, “Books bombarded his shoulders, his arms, his upturned face. A book alighted, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering.  In the dim wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon.” Montag had time to read one of the lines and it said, “Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine” from Glasgow lace maker, Alexander Smith’s Collection of Essays, “Dreamthorp”.

This work is punctuated with Bradbury’s beautiful prose and illuminating dialogue, which bring to life the society that he has created in his mind. This society is based on the theory that happiness can be obtained through an absence of knowledge and individual thought. Bradbury indicates that this is achieved by indoctrinating the citizens of this world at an early age, much like Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’.  Other similar themes are the dependence on drugs as a means to escape the realities of society, and communal activities. 

Those that cannot conform are suitably punished or disposed of, as in Clarisse’s case.

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