There are several important and related themes that are developed
throughout the novel. By describing the damage caused by a lack of books
or knowledge and by an over dependence on technology, Bradbury’s purpose
seems to be an attack on such conditions before they occur, hopefully
to prevent them.
The major theme of the book is Bradbury’s attack on censorship. In the
futuristic society he portrays, the government has banned the reading
or owning of all books and the accumulation of any knowledge. As a result,
the citizens have become nonthreatening, non-interesting humans who can
be easily led and manipulated through fear. Even though the society that
Bradbury depicts in the book is very extreme, there is a clear statement
about the danger of any kind of intellectual censorship.
Closely related to the theme of banning books is the theme of conformity. The government has disallowed the accumulation of any knowledge, from books or other sources, for it does not want any one person to be smarter than the other. If everyone is exactly alike, stripped of knowledge and interest, they will pose no threat to the dictatorial government in charge.
Bradbury also weaves in the theme of the corruption caused by excessive
reliance on machines rather than humans. Since everything in this 24th
century society is done through automation, humans have lost the
ability to do even the simplest of tasks. Apathy and ignorance are the
norm amongst the citizens and they pass their time watching boring television,
programmed by the government, and taking pills to make them sleep and
temporarily forget the miserable state of their existence. Some of the
machines are described, and they are frightening. There is the Mechanical
Hound that relentlessly pursuits and mauls a criminal who dares to have
a book in his house. There is also the Big Flue into which all bodies
are placed after death.
The tone of Fahrenheit 451 is eerily futuristic and gloomy. The
world, as it is portrayed in the novel, is a dictatorial police state,
filled with strange technological modernizations that have deprived mankind
of a purpose. Accumulation of knowledge and the possession of books are
illegal. Mechanical Hounds are programmed to hunt down and kill “criminals”,
whose bodies are then quickly destroyed in helicopter crematoriums. Although
Clarisse brings some brightness to the novel for the short time she is
around, her death is yet another gloomy and frightening reminder of the
cold and unpredictable world created by Bradbury. At the end of the novel,
war has ravaged the city in which Montag lived. The only other bright
spot occurs when he and the other exiles walk toward the destruction with
the hope of rebuilding it with freedoms.
Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, on August 22, 1920. The third son of Leonard Spaulding Bradbury and Esthere Marie Moberg Bradbury, Ray showed promise as a writer at the early age of eleven when he began writing short stories on butcher paper. As a child, he was fascinated by magic and fantasy and spent many an afternoon dreaming that he would grow up to be a magician himself. In his youth, his family moved from Illinois to Arizona, and then on to Los Angeles, where he spent most of his earlier years.
Bradbury’s first story, “Holler Bochen’s Dilemma,” was printed in 1938 in an amateur fan magazine. He went on to publish his own magazine, called Futuria Fantasia. Then in 1941, he published a short story called “Pendulum,” for which he received his first income. During the 1940’s, he dedicated himself to writing short stories and developed his own distinct literary style. Most of his subject matter was fantastic, as seen in such stories as “Uncle Einar,” a tale about a man with green wings. “The Big Black and White Game,” published in 1945, earned Bradbury a name for himself as a short story writer. In 1947, he published a collection of his short stories entitled Dark Carnival.
In 1950, Bradbury turned his attention solely to science fiction, although most of his writing had an element of social commentary in it. The Martian Chronicles reflected the prevailing anxieties of post-war America and the fascination that mankind had developed for discovering life on other planets. The book was very popular and gained Bradbury the reputation as a leading writer of science fiction in America.
Bradbury continued to write science fiction novels and is best known for Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Many of his books have been made into major motion pictures and several have won him awards, including the O’Henry Memorial Award, the Benjamin Franklin award, the Aviation Space Writers Association Award, and the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America. He was also awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Aside from his literary achievements, Bradbury served as the consultant for
United States pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. In the early
nineties, he contributed to the conception of the Orbitron space
ride at Euro Disney, France. At the present, he continues to write and
lecture on science fiction.
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