Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fahrenheit 451

Book: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Edition: Paperback, 1953
Read: February 2010
190 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

The classic book burning book. Pictures a time when firemen no longer put out fires, but start fires—particularly houses which house books. People have gotten mentally soft and complacent. Rather than work out a thought, they would rather be entertained; rather than seek knowledge, they rather have someone else think. As such, Bradbury understands our future, anticipating the effects of TV,video games and other electronic stimulation. We no longer live, but function.

Guy Montag is a fireman who is awaken by three incidents-an old man in a park; a young neighbor girl who opens his eyes to the world around him; and his wife over dosing on sleeping pills. He questions why people would want to die for their books when an old lady intentionally ignites her house, her books and herself. All of this causes Montag to awaken his sense of wanting to live instead of exist.

This leads him to being a fugitive, joining with a band of scholars who will be around to build a new civilization.

Bradbury's book is not a beautiful book. The prose are of a beginning nature. But his insight into our times is great. His ability to force us to deal with the importance of being alive in our thought is what makes the book worth reading. Book burning, while important, is not the main point. The point is the loss of thought, the loss of difference, the loss of individuality as we throw away everything which makes us unique. This gets replaced by brain-numbing chatter by fake families—on TV.

  • Kerosene is nothing but perfume to me. The modern mind, worshiping the tool. (pg 6)
  • Clairesse notices that Montag laughs when there is nothing funny, without knowing why he is laughing. I know of several people this way. Indicates a nervousness of being able to live within your own skin. (pg 8)
  • This is one of the best lines in the book—How like a mirror her face. Impossible for how many people did you know who refracted your own light to you? How much like God and how humble when you can shine other people's light back without knowing you are. (pg 11)
  • Montag recognizes his own unhappiness, his own dis-quietness. Then thinks, He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask. Sometimes a person comes along and we can no longer hide. They unmask us and show us for what we are. (pg 12)
  • In the story, there is a Mechanical hound which is a relentless killer. Montaq wonders, does the Hound think? Is the hound becoming alive? When the Captian says it is just mechanical, Montag responds that it is said because all which it ever will know is hunting, finding and killing. (pg 27)
  • Are our conversations meaningful? Do we ask questions? This is different than the current saying of Question Everything. Asking questions is a thirst for knowledge, a thirst for wisdom. But Question Everything indicates lack of trust, lack of respect. A lack of questions is another indication of lack of stimulation, or at least lack of meaningful stimulation. (pg 31)
  • That's my family. Mildred, Montag's wife says about the TV program. She is saying this to her husband who is sick. Substituting the safe fake for the real thing. How said, how safe. (pg 49)
  • Being bothered is uncomfortable. It is easier, safer to to avoid being bothered. How do we know when we are alive, unless we are bothered? (pg 52)
  • The Captain notes that even something as small as a zipper replacing buttons can have a profound effect. He more labor saving devices, the less time we have to think, to take a step back. Is progress always better? (pg 56)
  • The bigger the market, the less you want to offend. The small man can afford to offend. The large corporations, the successful authors wilt away, do not confront, do not offend. You no longer want to stir up controversy. Everything becomes vanilla tapioca. (pg 57)
  • Bradbury notes that people's chief goal is to be happy. It is not being right, it is not progress, but being happy. Implications are enormous. (pg59)
  • On page 73, Mildred, Montag's wife, at least in name, hits the problem of reading spot on. “Books aren't people. You read and I look all around, but there isn't anybody!” I think that I am having a dialogue with the author by reading his book. Even Mortimer Adler says that. But it tends to be a one-way conversation-the author presents his thoughts. I can question, react, think about what is being said. But this is not a conversation. The work is on my part, not something mutual.
  • Also on page 73, Montag says, “Why doesn't someone want to talk about it!? That is an impending war. As much as the talk radio shows are out there, we wave a tendency to scream at each other, not hear each other. We are not discussing; we bludgeon each other
  • .Mildred says, whats more important, the Bible or me (pg 76). I do not think Bradbury is making a religious point here. But I think the point could be made that Mildred did not even think of herself as much as Montag thought that a book could contain. Hy should Montag hold her in higher esteem than she held herself. Of course, Montag when he came to know the Bible might find that he was to love Mildred even more than she loved herself. Sort of ironic statement isn't? Of course, it is not every book which is as important as any other book.
  • We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren't happy. Something's missing. Bradbury understands that we individually and as a society need more than just money and things. We need to understand ourselves. We need depth to ourselves. We need a soul. What deepens us? (pg 82)
  • Faber, the retired English Lit professor who Montag turns to, says that there are three points that counts in Montag's search for understanding:
    • Importance of Books. Not so much in themselves, but because of the quality they posses. Good writers touch life often. They provide fresh and telling detail, of our lives.
    • Leisure. Bradbury differentiates between off-hours and leisure. He falls back that the purpose of leisure is to understand, to think. We are moving to a place where our time needs to be filled rather than emptied. Of course, a thinking people will be harder to govern, need reason. So instead of emptying our time to be filled with thought, we prefer to fill it with the “real”.
    • Action. Thought leads to action. It is the action which brings the thought to full blossom. Thought is not inaction, but action with meaning.
  • Bradbury calls the TV screens, idiot monsters. Not sure why. But my take on it is that the TV's were monsters because they made idiots out of people. Of course, today there are many more things which can made idiots out of us. By the way, even books, without thought, can fill in the void of thought.(pg117)
  • When a person know there is life outside of a cage, is it better to go on living? Even if the cage is very comfortable and satisfies everything which you would want? Montag realized that Beatty, his captain wanted to die. Beatty I think realized his trap, but could not kill himself. So he let Montag do the work for him. Is this what happens when we get too comfortable, we die? (pg 122)
  • I loved this phrase, the only man proving his legs! It came from a longer section where Montag is running away after murdering Beatty. All of the TV screens had been turned to his chase. Bradbury says He couldn't be missed! The only man running alone in the night city, the only man proving his legs! Strikes me as showing us what we devolve into mindless droids. Our bodies goes as well.
  • Interesting statement—Montag is looking for acceptance from the world, outside of the city. Even simple senses-a glass of milk, an apple,... (pg 143)
  • Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. (pg 150)


 This is a good read. It has excitement, it has good thoughts to think on. Its weakness is its prose. But this is a book I recommend. Even among the unbelievers-those who do not like to read—this should be a good read.

Notes from my book group:
  • A little too descriptive. Reminds me of someone who had a descriptive writing class.
  • Why the name of Beetle? Car, Helmet
  • pg 7. Does the girl make him aware of things others than himself? Is this true of any awakenings?
  • How long has Montag been saving books? Before Clarrise? Is this inconsistant with his profession? 20 books in the vent system?
  • Pg 10. Could this be a primer on evangelism?anhumility.other person. Definition of
  • Pg 11. Reflecting your own light by
  • Why the salamander?
  • Numerous legends have developed around the salamander over the centuries, many related to fire. This connection likely originates from the tendency of many salamanders to dwell inside rotting logs. When placed into a fire, the salamander would attempt to escape from the log, lending to the belief that salamanders were created from flames - a belief that gave the creature its name.[9]
  • Associations of the salamander with fire appear in the Talmud as well as in the writings of Aristotle, Pliny, Conrad Lycosthenes, Benvenuto Cellini, Ray Bradbury, David Weber, Paracelsus and Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Why so much suicide and violent death in a content and happy society?
  • pg 24. What was the mechanical hound sensing? The books? Changes in Montag? Or the sent of Clairisse?
  • Pg 25. The quote from GK on how we treat animals.
  • Pg29. Emphasis on sports—to take away our thoughts?
  • Pg 49. What is a family?
  • Pg 52. How long has it been since you have been really bothered? Why would bothersome things be ignored in a happy society?
  • Pg 56. Why does labor saving have unexected consequences? Zipper instead of button.
  • Pg 59. Is the pursuit of happiness supreme?

Good Quotes:
  • We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real? (pg 52)
  • That is the good part of dying, when you have nothing to lose, you run any risk you want. (pg 85)
  • Those who don't build must burn. (pg 89)


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