Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 Study Guide

The story of fireman Guy Montag first appeared in "The Fireman", a short story by Ray Bradbury published in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1951. Montag's story was expanded two years later, in 1953, and was published as Fahrenheit 451. While the novel is most often classified as a work of science fiction, it is first and foremost a social criticism warning against the danger of censorship. Fahrenheit 451 uses the genre of science fiction, which enjoyed immense popularity at the time of the book's publication, as a vehicle for his message that unchecked oppressive government irreparably damages society by limiting the creativity and freedom of its people. In particular, the "dystopia" motif popular in science fiction - a futuristic technocratic and totalitarian society that demands order and harmony at the expense of individual rights - serves the novel well.

Developed in the years following World War II, Fahrenheit 451 condemns not only the anti-intellectualism of the defeated Nazi party in Germany, but more immediately the intellectually oppressive political climate of the early 1950's - the heyday of McCarthyism. That such influential fictional social criticisms such as Orwell's Animal Farm 1984 and Skinner's Walden Two were published just a few short years prior to Fahrenheit 451 is not coincidental. These works reveal a very real apprehension of the danger of the US evolving into an oppressive, authoritarian society in the post-WWII period.

On a more personal level, Bradbury used Fahrenheit 451 as a vehicle through which to protest what he believed to be the invasiveness of editors who, through their strict control of the books they printed, impair writers' originality and creativity. Ironically, Fahrenheit 45I, itself a vehicle of protest against censorship, has often been edited for foul language.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's most popular novel, has been reprinted scores of times since initially published in 1953. The lessons of this American classic, the dangers of censorship and government control, have become increasingly important and the novel is as relevant today as it was when first written.