Are you studying ‘Fahrenheit 451’ for English and struggling to wrap your head around it? If you need some help understanding the text better, we’ve got you covered with an analysis of Fahrenheit 451, featuring a summary, the key themes and characters!
We’ll unpack all of these elements so that you can turn this knowledge into a killer response. We’ve also got some analysed textual examples and a sample paragraph which you can download too!
Sound good so far? Let’s dive in!
Summary of Fahrenheit 451
‘Fahrenheit 451’ is set in a future dystopian society where books are outlawed and firemen are responsible for burning them.
The novel tells the story of Guy Montag, a fireman who finds himself questioning his life and those around him after meeting his new neighbour, Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse is different from everyone else and her inquisitive, free-thinking personality leaves him rattled.
Montag meets Clarisse on his walk home for the next few days and they talk about how her thoughts and opinions isolate her from her peers. Just as Montag begins to enjoy these meetings, Clarisse goes missing and it is eventually revealed that she was hit by a car and died.
A few days later, Montag and the other firemen are sent to the house of an old woman who has been hiding books. While he is there, Montag secretly grabs a copy of the Bible. The woman, refusing to leave her books, sets the house alight while still inside, killing herself in the process.
Image sourced from Goodreads
The next day, Montag reveals to Mildred that he has a book. She is horrified and attempts to burn it, but he stops her before she can.
Montag, confused by his new feelings of dissatisfaction, reaches out to Faber — a former English professor he met many years before. He goes to Faber’s house with the stolen Bible and convinces the professor to help him better understand the importance of books. Faber gives Montag an earpiece so that they can communicate while apart.
Montag returns home to find his wife and her friends watching the parlour wall screens. After trying to engage them in conversation, Montag begins reading from a book of poetry. Mildred’s friends are shocked and disgusted. Mildred tries to cover for Montag’s actions by saying it’s an annual tradition amongst firemen — a way to remind them of the futility of books.
Montag hides the poetry book and then goes to the firehouse with the Bible, handing it over to his boss, Captain Beatty, to cover for any previous suspicions. The firehouse receives a call and Montag joins the crew as they race to the destination — his house.
Montag’s wife and her friends were the ones to report him. Following Beatty’s orders, he burns down his own house. While doing this, Beatty finds the earpiece and Montag uses a flamethrower to burn Beatty to death.
‘The Hound’, a mechanical, canine-like robot firemen use to uncover hidden books, is released on Montag. Following Faber’s instructions, Montag flees into the wilderness. There he meets a group of former intellectuals who escaped the authoritative society.
They watch from a distance as nuclear bombs are dropped onto the city. When things settle, they begin walking towards the rubble, planning to help rebuild it and reintroduce books back into society.
Key Characters in Fahrenheit 451
Now that you have a better understanding of what happens through our summary of Fahrenheit 451, it’s time to become more familiar with the characters in the novel.
Guy Montag, the protagonist of the text, is a fireman in a dystopian society where his role isn’t to put out fires, but to start them. Books have been outlawed and his job is to burn them, along with the houses of those who resist.
Over the course of the text, Montag undergoes significant character development. We are introduced to him as a loyal and unthinking member of the masses until regular meetings with his unusual new neighbour Clarisse cause him to question everything he knows to be true.
Mildred “Millie” Montag is Guy Montag’s wife. She is described as shallow and selfish, caring only for the television family on her “parlour walls”. Throughout the text, she attempts to overdose with sleeping pills twice.
Noted as being cold and distant, she is emotionally detached from Montag and everything around her. In the end, she betrays her husband by reporting his stolen books to authorities.
Clarisse is Montag’s neighbour — a free-thinking young girl whose inquisitiveness and peculiarity ostracises her from her peers. Montag and Clarisse begin to meet regularly on his walk home from work and he quickly becomes intrigued by her.
Her liberal ideas start to make him question his own life. Shortly after their first meeting, she disappears. It is later revealed that she was killed by a speeding car.
Faber is a former English professor who agrees to help Montag learn about books. Faber is scared of firemen and fears Montag is tricking him when the protagonist reaches out to the professor for assistance, but agrees to help after he realises Montag is genuine in his request.
The two communicate via a homemade earpiece. After helping Montag escape, Faber flees the city and heads to St Louis — making it out in time before the bombing.
Captain Beatty is the captain of the firehouse where Montag works. He is an older gentleman who remembers a time before books were banned and seems to know a lot about literature.
Despite this, he explains to Montag that he has come to hate books because they are confusing and cause trouble. In the end, Beatty finds out that Montag is communicating with Faber. Beatty threatens to kill the professor and Montag responds by killing Beatty with a flamethrower.
Ray Bradbury was born in 1920 and grew up in the United States.
During his teenage years, he learnt about tragedies such as book burning in Germany under the Nazi regime, and the Soviet Union’s arrest and execution of writers, politicians and academics who questioned Stalin’s rule. He developed a strong affinity for books at a young age and was therefore deeply affected by these events.
Image sourced from Bundesarchiv
After high school, Bradbury did not receive any further formal education. Instead, he spent much of his time reading and writing at the local library.
As an adult, he witnessed the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945, as well as the US government’s blacklisting of screenwriters and directors with speculated links to the Communist Party. In addition to this, Bradbury’s own experience in 1949 when he was questioned by police while walking with a friend contributed to his anger over authoritative government interference in creative affairs.
He began writing ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in 1950 — roughly at the same time as a series of other texts, including ‘The Fireman’ and ‘The Pedestrian’. They all share a similar futuristic, dystopian universe where individualism is suppressed and mass media corrupts society. This echoes Bradbury’s own context and the concerns he had regarding television and its growing popularity during that time.
You’ve gained some clarity about what happens in the novel as well as what has impacted Bradbury to write Fahrenheit 451 with our summary, as well as our identification of key characters and the context. To help you figure out which aspects you should explore in your analysis of Fahrenheit 451, here are some themes you may want to look into.
‘Fahrenheit 451’ explores some pretty heavy (some may say pessimistic) themes about society and human nature. Familiarising yourself with major concepts is super important, as you can use these to form your thesis and frame your analysis of the text.
Some of the key ideas include:
- Knowledge versus Ignorance
- The power of literature
How to Analyse Fahrenheit 451 in 3 Steps
Often students will try to start with their thesis when trying to answer an essay question. Instead, start with your analysis! You need to equip yourself with the knowledge of your text before you can answer anything about it.
After you’ve analysed your text, you can draw ideas from it, then you can build your thesis!
We’re going to walk you through creating an analysis for Fahrenheit 451 in three simple steps!
Step 1: Choose your example
When trying to choose an example, you should go about doing this by looking for techniques. The best examples are those where the author has used strong literary techniques to convey their overarching theme.
Techniques point to deeper meaning in the text and are therefore really important for later analysis.
We have chosen to look at two quotes to compare the characters of Clarisse and Mildred respectively:
“Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity.”
“Two pale moonstones buried in a creek of clear water”
Step 2: Identify your technique(s)
When looking for techniques, don’t get caught up trying to find the fanciest or most obscure one possible. On the flip side, don’t go choosing random ones just for the sake of it.
Strong responses feature techniques that help to explain your thesis or idea. The techniques chosen should assist in building your argument to make it as compelling and interesting as possible.
A quick tip: try to focus on finding examples with techniques that uncover deeper meaning. For example, keep an eye out for any metaphors, similes, figurative language, connotations, symbolism, and recurring motifs!
We have identified 3 techniques in the two quotes above: contrast, metaphor, and personification.
If you can, always try to find an example with multiple techniques — this shows markers you’ve made considered decisions about your choice of quotes.
Step 3: Write the analysis
When it comes to writing the actual analysis, remember to focus on what the effect of the technique is. Technique labelling is something that should be avoided at all costs! Below is an example of what NOT to do:
The description of Clarisse’s face as showing “a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity” in contrast to the metaphor for Mildred’s eyes, “two pale moonstones buried in a creek of clear water”, demonstrates the difference between knowledge and ignorance.
The analysis of an essay should flesh out an idea by delving into exactly what the techniques are doing and why it is important. If we do this, our analysis will look something like this:
Bradbury introduces Clarisse as having “… a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity”. This personification of “hunger”, is used to describe Clarisse’s insatiable life-force. In contrast, an otherworldly metaphor used to describe Mildred’s eyes as “two pale moonstones buried in a creek of clear water”, expresses detachment. This contrast between Clarisse’s viscerality and Mildred’s disconnection highlights the difference between binaries of knowledge and ignorance.
There you have it!
That’s our analysis of Fahrenheit 451, delving into the summary, key characters, themes and context! We hope this helps you develop a more comprehensive understanding of the text and allows you to get some awesome marks in English!
Are you looking for some extra help with your Fahrenheit 451 analysis?
We have an incredible team of QCE tutors and mentors!
We can help you master your analysis of Fahrenheit 451 by taking you through the summary, key characters and themes. We’ll also help you ace your upcoming English assessments with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or online!
We’ve supported over 8,000 students over the last 11 years, and on average our students score mark improvements of over 20%!
To find out more and get started with an inspirational QCE tutor and mentor, get in touch today or give us a ring on 1300 267 888!
Jessica Arentz is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney where she studies a Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies (Media and Communications) (Marketing). She currently volunteers at 2SER community radio station as a producer and newsroom reader. When not writing, you can find Jess searching the web for cheap flights or spending her days with her head buried deep in a book.