Ray Bradbury wrote that fiction novel in 1953;
The book, with some plot changes, was made into a film in 1966 by Francois Truffaut, with Oskar Werner and Julie Christie as the two protagonists.

The plot presents a state ruled by a military government in which books and literature are banned – in the government’s opinion, the books containing problems and conflicting theories dispose the people to be anxious, sad or angry.
That’s what the government wants to avoid because those feelings could threaten the country’s stability: The regime is to operate without its population worrying or pondering about any political or social problems. So people are to be caught by huge TV screens and silly shows without any sense or meaning. Newspapers are no longer available on the market – and nobody wants them back and nobody misses them because it’s so easy: you dont have to think while sitting in front of the screen.
With critical thought being suppressed, it is the fire-brigade’s task to put fire on any books found in people’s houses and flats; besides, it is each loyal citizen’s official duty to denounce all owners of written literature.
The central character, Montag, is employed as a fireman (which in this case means book burner). 451 degrees Fahrenheit is stated as the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns. On his way home to the district of the town where he lives, Montag gets acquainted with a female teacher. Through this acquaintance he gets more and more critical towards his job and the regime’s political system in particular. He no longer wants to burn books, he wants to know if they have something worth experiencing.
Having hidden books in his house, he starts reading – and gets more and more fascinated with the beauty and sincerity he finds in world famous poems, novels, and manifold forms of universal literature. Montag’s psychological transformation is further released through the monotony he feels at home in the superficial relationship to his wife and the regime’s increasing acts of brutality against illoyal opponents.
In the end, Montag is bound to quit his former detestable acting for the state’s dictatorial interests and he successfully escapes from the regime’s territory. In the woods, outside the town, there is a kind of refuge for opponents of the regime: Each of them has to learn by heart one specific book of universal literature for keeping all that literary treasure alive for the future generations. Those dissidents, outside the regime’s territory, just resemble alternative robots, however, no longer able to really communicate with each other.

The novel reflects several major concerns of the time of its writing: The censorship and suppression of critical thought and ideas exercised in the United States in the 1950s as the result of McCarthyism; the burning of books in Nazi Germany starting in 1933; and the horrible consequences of an explosion of a nuclear weapon.

April 2006

Walter Leder