Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 Violence

By Ray Bradbury


Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander

"I'm afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always used to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I'm afraid of them and they don't like me because I'm afraid. My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn't kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different." (1.270)

That violence is so prevalent in this world reveals a flaw in the system. People must be fundamentally unhappy.

"‘Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’" (1.325)

Here is our first hint that, in this novel, fire is more than just destructive. But Montag won’t realize this until he encounters the "warming" fire at the end of the novel.

Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand

The sight of it rushed the men out and down away from the house. Captain Beatty, keeping his dignity, backed slowly through the front door, his pink face burnt and shiny from a thousand fires and night excitements. God, thought Montag, how true! Always at night the alarm comes. Never by day! Is it because the fire is prettier by night? More spectacle, a better show? (2.368)

Words like "pretty" and "beautiful" are used several times on Fahrenheit 451, and often to describe flames. Violence is not only everyone’s favorite pastime, but an art form as well

"Only a week ago, pumping a kerosene hose, I thought: God, what fun!"

The old man nodded. "Those who don't build must burn. It's as old as history and juvenile delinquents."

"So that's what I am."

"There's some of it in all of us." (2.204-7)

It’s passages like this that remind us: Fahrenheit 451 isn’t as clear-cut as it seems. This isn’t a case of good guys create, bad guys destroy. We’re reminded that both construction and destruction are part of life, and that even the good guys have predilections for both.

A minute later, Three White Cartoon Clowns chopped off each other's limbs to the accompaniment of immense incoming tides of laughter. Two minutes more and the room whipped out of town to the jet cars wildly circling an arena, bashing and backing up and bashing each other again. Montag saw a number of bodies fly in the air.

"Millie, did you see that?"

"I saw it, I saw it!" (2.259-61)

These women are as fascinated by violence as Clarisse claims her classmates to be.

Professor Faber

A bomber flight had been moving east all the time they talked, and only now did the two men stop and listen, feeling the great jet sound tremble inside themselves.

"Patience, Montag. Let the war turn off the ‘families.’ Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge."

"There has to be someone ready when it blows up."

"What? Men quoting Milton? Saying, I remember Sophocles? Reminding the survivors that man has his good side, too? They will only gather up their stones to hurl at each other. Montag, go home. Go to bed." (2.178-81)

Faber scoffs at Montag’s idealism, but really, the man has a point. It is books and knowledge that will help the world re-build "when it blows up." In fact, this is what happens at the end of the novel. Right?

Part Three: Burning Bright

The fire was gone, then back again, like a winking eye. He stopped, afraid he might blow the fire out with a single breath. But the fire was there and he approached warily, from a long way off. It took the better part of fifteen minutes before he drew very close indeed to it, and then he stood looking at it from cover. That small motion, the white and red colour, a strange fire because it meant a different thing to him.

It was not burning; it was warming. (3.270-1)

This is the first time Montag realizes that there are two parts to the cycle of life – destruction and also creation.

Far down the boulevard, four blocks away, the beetle had slowed, spun about on two wheels, and was now racing back, slanting over on the wrong side of the street, picking up speed. (3.121)

Look at the thirst for violence here, even in a car full of children. Clarisse wasn’t exaggerating…

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