Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 Rules and Order

By Ray Bradbury

Rules and Order

Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander

"More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don't have to think, eh? Organize and organize and super organize super-super sports. More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, nowhere. The gasoline refugee. Towns turn into motels, people in nomadic surges from place to place, following the moon tides, living tonight in the room where you slept this noon and I the night before." (1.610)

This need for constant motion hints at the citizens’ dissatisfaction. The system is designed to mask that discontent, not to fix it.

"It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break eggs at the smaller end."

Mildred sat across the hall from him. "What does it mean? It doesn't mean anything!" (1.882-3)

Oh, the irony. At its heart, Fahrenheit 451 is about rebellion – which is what this egg line from Gulliver’s Travels refers to. The idea is that, regardless of the rules themselves, there’s something in humans that simply rebels for the sake of rebelling. It’s just like the epigraph to the novel (see "What's Up With the Epigraph?"). There’s no need to write the other way on lined paper, but you should do it just because the human spirit doesn’t like rigidity.

Captain Beatty

"Here or there, that's bound to occur. Clarisse McClellan? We've a record on her family. We've watched them carefully. Heredity and environment are funny things. You can't rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That's why we've lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we're almost snatching them from the cradle." (1.624)

The existence of people like Clarisse McClellan – or even like Guy Montag – makes Fahrenheit 451 an optimistic novel. It’s that whole "the human spirit prevails" thing.

"Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won't stomach them for a minute." (1.614)

Beatty cites many different reasons for the abolishment of books, but this one is perhaps the most terrifying. Fear and jealousy imagine intellectualism as a weapon. Bradbury reminds us that those who can not fight with words or ideas use violence as a substitute.

Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand
Professor Faber

That was all there was to it, really. An hour of monologue, a poem, a comment, and then without even acknowledging the fact that Montag was a fireman, Faber with a certain trembling, wrote his address on a slip of paper. "For your file," he said, "in case you decide to be angry with me." (2.38)

The rules don’t even have to be enforced on the citizens in this novel – they are self-imposed.

"Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it's a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels any more. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than ‘Mr. Gimmick’ and the parlour ‘families’? If you can, you'll win your way, Montag. In any event, you're a fool. People are having fun." (2.171)

Notice that the government fights rebellion with happiness. Rather than cut down insurrection, they assure that it won’t happen in the first place. This means that they have restricted not only the actions of the citizens, but their thoughts as well.

"Sounds fine," said Mrs. Bowles. "I voted last election, same as everyone, and I laid it on the line for President Noble. I think he's one of the nicest-looking men who ever became president."

"Oh, but the man they ran against him!"

"He wasn't much, was he? Kind of small and homely and he didn't shave too close or comb his hair very well."

"What possessed the ‘Outs’ to run him? You just don't go running a little short man like that against a tall man. Besides, he mumbled. Half the time I couldn't hear a word he said. And the words I did hear I didn't understand!"

"Fat, too, and didn't dress to hide it. No wonder the landslide was for Winston Noble. Even their names helped. Compare Winston Noble to Hubert Hoag for ten seconds and you can almost figure the results." (2.284-8)

It’s clear that this election was fixed. What’s scary is that it was fixed not with guns or cheating, but by intellectual manipulation – which is more powerful and more frightening.

Part Three: Burning Bright

Somewhere the saving and putting away had to begin again and someone had to do the saving and keeping, one way or another, in books, in records, in people's heads, any way at all so long as it was safe, free from moths, silverfish, rust and dry-rot, and men with matches. The world was full of burning of all types and sizes. Now the guild of the asbestos weaver must open shop very soon. (3.243)

Montag has escaped the rigidity of the government’s rules, but he has discovered another system of order – that of nature.

Captain Beatty

"It was pretty silly, quoting poetry around free and easy like that. It was the act of a silly damn snob. Give a man a few lines of verse and he thinks he's the Lord of all Creation. You think you can walk on water with your books. Well, the world can get by just fine without them. Look where they got you, in slime up to your lip. If I stir the slime with my little finger, you'll drown!" (3.38)

It’s odd that Beatty makes so many religious references (like walking on water), given that the Bible is a banned book…

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