History of the Fireman in Fahrenheit 451

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In 'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury, the job description of firemen is very different from what it is in our society. Rather than saving homes and people from fires, the firemen burn down all houses that contain books.


Imagine a place where books are against the law. In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury writes about a dystopian society, or a fictional world that is twisted and flawed, in which firemen find homes that contain books and burn them to the ground, sometimes with the inhabitants still inside. How did firemen change from heroes to censors? Let's find out.

What would you do if firemen came to your house to burn it down?

Clarisse's Question

When Montag, the protagonist who works as a fireman in the community, meets his neighbor, Clarisse, he is instantly aware of how different she is from other people in his community. She looks him in the eye and listens to him. The first time they meet, Clarisse asks, 'Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?' Montag laughs at the odd question. Everyone knows that houses have always been fireproof! 'Strange. I heard once that a long time ago houses used to burn by accident and they needed firemen to stop the flames,' says Clarisse. While thinking she is odd, Montag enjoys talking to Clarisse and looks forward to seeing her each night on the way home from work. Until Clarisse, Montag had never really considered his job.

Montag Begins to Wonder

Montag can't help but ask his boss, Beatty, the same question, 'What-was it always like this? The firehouse, our work? I mean, well, once upon a the old days, before homes were completely fireproofed…Didn't firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?' Montag's coworkers laugh at him in much the same way that Montag had laughed at Clarisse. They pull out their rule books and show Montag the history of firemen in America which reads, 'Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin.'

Beatty's Visit

After burning an old woman with her books, Montag does not show up to work the next night. Beatty stops by to visit him and explains, 'Every fireman, sooner or later, hits this. They only need understanding, to know how the wheels run. Need to know the history of our profession.' Beatty goes on to explain that books are more controversial than television because television characters aren't as realistic. When there are realistic characters, as in books, there lies the opportunity to offend someone. Magazines, comic books, and trade journals are less offensive than books, so they remained.

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