Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, R. (1987). Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books.

LS5360 Challenged.  Though all our kids had to read this in school (and we have MULTIPLE copies), this is one of my favorite books.  I think Ray Bradbury and I could have been best buddies on the “ills” of media! 

Exposition: The story starts with main character, Guy Montag, a fireman in a futuristic United States, (sometime after 1990), where firemen start fires to burn books (and often the houses that contain them) because all books are banned. Other main characters: Mildred Montag, Clarisse McClellan, Professor Faber, Captain Beatty, Granger.

Conflict: Montag meets Clarisse McClellan, whose questioning makes Montag question himself and his purpose and forces him to confront his true unhappiness.  Montag’s wife’s attempted suicide and the surrounding events further reinforce Montag’s realizations.

Rising Action: Montag tries to coerce his wife that they need to read books for themselves and evaluate their worth, but she doesn’t respond much.  In frustration, Montag seeks out a former professor (Faber) to help him understand books. Faber guides Montag, but Montag loses control and reads poetry to several of his wife’s friends, so they become aware he has books. 

Climax:  The firemen are called to a “special” case and Montag realizes he is going to his own house.  Mildred reported Montags books, and Beatty makes Montag destroy the books. Montag destroys everything in the house and ultimately turns the fire hose on Beatty, burning him to cinders.  The Mechanical Hound is sent to attack Montag, but Montag destroys it with the fire as well and flees the scene, and a man-hunt ensues as a replacement Mechanical Hound is put on the chase.

Falling Action: Montag gets help from Faber and manages to lose the Mechanical Hound by putting on Fabers’ clothes and then floating down the river. The government kills an innocent citizen, passing him off as Montag, and the chase is over.  Montag finds a group of vagrant intellects who have each memorized a book, and Montag is accepted into the group for his knowledge of the Bible.

Resolution:  The group, camping on the outskirts of town, witnesses the destruction of the city where it is virtually reduced to ash.  An image of the phoenix rising out of the ashes for new life is mentioned by one of the Intellectuals, and it’s clear that there is hope for the future with the knowledge from books in the minds of people around the country.

Literary Elements:  Symbolism is widely used, most frequently with fire and how it cleanses, erases, and rights things.  Also, there is much symbolism in the various identity crises Montag goes through, with the final one being his stripping his “old self” naked as he jumps into the river, cleanses himself, and puts on new clothes.  Foreshadowing occurs frequently (for example, when the Mechanical Dog – a machine – growls at Montag when he pats its head), as does the use of figurative language (“Montag's hand closed like a mouth, crushed the book with wild devotion, with an insanity of mindlessness to his chest” (1.336).), but allusion is the most obvious device with the numerous references to many great pieces of literature, and mythological, religious, and historical figures.

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