NEA Big Read
Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

Ray Bradbury selling newspapers on the corner of Olympic and Norton, Los Angeles, c. 1938.

  1. Supplement Handout Three with additional research on Ecclesiastes. Explain why Bradbury chose Ecclesiastes to be the material that Montag would memorize. How does this expand on other themes within the novel? How might this be the right guide for Montag’s further development?
  2. Beatty’s dying words are quoted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, for I am arm’d so strong in honesty that they pass me in an idle wind, which I respect not!” Beatty mocks Montag as a “second-hand litterateur.” Explain why Bradbury would portray the fire Captain as a literary expert. Why has Bradbury chosen these final words for Beatty?
  3. Consider the symbolism of fire in the novel. Explore passages where fire significantly factors into the story. How does Montag’s understanding of fire (and/or burning) change throughout the novel? At the end of the novel Granger looks at the fire and says, “phoenix.” How does fire capture both destruction and renewal?
  4. Mildred’s leisure makes her suicidal. Faber argues for the leisure of digesting information. Near the end of "The Hearth and the Salamander" Beatty mocks how people “super organize super-super sports.” What is wrong with the concept of leisure in Montag’s world? Does Bradbury succeed in establishing a new idea of leisure by the end of the novel? Why or why not?
  5. Does Montag kill Beatty out of self-defense or to preserve something lost? Has Montag avenged the deaths of Mrs. Hudson and Clarisse? Can Montag justify murder in defense of books? Finally, do the extreme circumstances of Montag’s world justify lawless behavior to preserve the freedom to read?
  6. As noted in the reader’s guide, Bradbury has suggested the story turns on the input from a teenager, Clarisse. Explore Clarisse’s character in detail, explaining her motivations and the values she represents. Why must Clarisse be killed or silenced?
  7. Near the novel’s end, Granger tells Montag “the most important single thing we had to pound into ourselves is that we were not important.” What does he mean? How does Granger’s statement reflect a major theme of the novel?
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