Fahrenheit 451…The Temperature at Which Books Burn
Fahrenheit 451 portrays censorship in the future through the fictional story of one man, Guy Montag, who undergoes an “awakening” by realizing the significance of his actions and the need to express the ideas that were bring oppressed by the future government.
Guy Montag is a fireman who appears to be heartily supportive and contributive to the burning of books, which is normal because firemen in the conformist future burn books for a living. He meets Clarisse McClellan, a sixteen year old idealist with strong convictions against the social structure that oppresses individual thinking and demands conformity. Clarisse opens his mind to new concepts and from then on he begins to perceive the world differently.
One day, Guy and the other firemen have to burn down the book-infested house of an elderly lady who refuses to leave her house and her books, so she burns to the ground with her books making Guy realize that “There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there.” (p.51) Guy sneaks two books from the lady’s home and as the time goes by, he secretly reads many books until his wife discovers his secret and turns him in. After that, Guy burns his firehouse and the men in it to evade being caught and as a result becomes the most wanted fugitive in his country. Guy escapes successfully and works with a small group of revolutionaries to restore the respect and circulation of books.
The title of the book, Fahrenheit 451…The Temperature at Which Books Burn, is significant because it is a metaphor for real life and it is used as a prominent symbol in the book. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books are burn. The firemen know this because they work with burning books everyday. The “Book People” dread this temperature because it destroys the one thing they’re trying to save. Ray Bradbury uses Fahrenheit 451 to symbolize censorship. Like the burning of books, censorship oppresses the ideas of many people. The whole book is a metaphor for what is happening with censorship in the world. Many people all over the world are being punished for not conforming and all throughout history we have seen cases of persecution just for having different beliefs.
The loss that was suffered when the firemen burned the books at Fahrenheit 451 is the same loss we suffer when we censor an idea or voice to make it more conformed. If we feel our ideas are being censored, if our “books are being burned”, we need to take a stand. Each time we let ourselves be censored, unique ideas are being destroyed and forgotten. Each time we let a “book burn”, we lose a piece of humanity. Ray Bradbury says Fahrenheit 451, censorship, is temperature at which “books burn” (we lose a piece of humanity). Bradbury wanted us to understand that when we cede to censorship, we lose a piece of humanity.
My first impression of Guy Montag was that I thought he was the antagonist. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy burning books and he didn’t even seem to have one thought of remorse. “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. Guy Montag thought”. (p.3) I noticed right away that Guy was very observant because as he walked home, he could “sense” the energy of someone else. “His inner mind, reaching out to turn the corner for him , had heard the faintest whisper. Breathing? Or was the atmosphere compressed merely by someone standing very quietly there, waiting?” (p.5) The last aspect of my first impression was that Guy Montag was a bit to proud and arrogant because when Clarisse didn’t give him what he thought was his rightful amount of respect (utmost respect, like one would give to someone who had worked many years to gain others’ respect, instead of many years of destroying books), Guy got all pouty. “Guy’s was a clenching and uncomfortable silence in which he shot her accusing glances.” Overall, I didn’t like Guy Montag at all in the beginning of the story and I was all set to hate him for the rest of the book but that didn’t happen.
The main character, Guy Montag, went through the most significant change because of his encounter with Clarisse McClellan. She asked him questions that he never contemplated before and she made him really rethink his perceptions of the world. Up until that point, no one ever asked why he became a fireman, so he never really gave it much thought. Guy just accepted his job as a part of his fate. Clarisse mad e Guy really think when she asked him if he was happy. This question made Guy seriously wonder and after that, he began to notice the personalities of others. By asking him questions, Clarisse installed a sense of curiosity in Guy which eventually led to him reading the very books he was supposed to burn. Guy became more observant and began to theorize on “why” and he really weighed out his decisions after that. If Guy had not met Clarisse, he would never have questioned the morality of burning books. He would have never questioned the logic. Clarisse lit the fire (no pun intended) of passion in Guy that burned throughout his life and gave him the strength and courage to fight for what he believed in.