Point of View in Fahrenheit 451

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

You may know that ''Fahrenheit 451'' tells the story of fireman Guy Montag and the futuristic dystopian society he lives in… but do you know who's actually telling the story? This lesson explores the point of view of ''Fahrenheit 451''.

It Was a Pleasure to Burn...

Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 opens with a simple but striking line: 'It was a pleasure to burn'. This single statement grabs the reader's attention and immediately draws them into the story. A pleasure to burn what? Who's doing the burning? Where is this happening?

Within a few short pages, the reader comes to learn that Guy Montag, a fireman, thoroughly enjoys his job. Instead of putting out massive blazes and saving homes from destruction, he is one of the select few charged with the job of setting fires. That's right, in Bradbury's futuristic novel, firemen are the ones who start the fires with a sole purpose in mind: burn all of the society's books.

With only this knowledge in mind, the reader's first thought may be to hate Guy Montag. The guy loves burning books?! What kind of person could possibly enjoy doing that for a living? Fortunately, the reader is offered some little nuggets of insight from Montag's mind that show that maybe he's not so bad after all. But where exactly do these insights come from?

Point of View in Fahrenheit 451

The point of view of a story is the perspective from which it's being told. In other words, who is sharing all of the information with the lucky reader? In the case of Fahrenheit 451, the story is told from a third person limited omniscient point of view. At this point, you're probably wondering, 'What in the world does that even mean?' Let's break it down.

'Third person' refers to the person who's actually telling the story. In this instance, a 'third person' is an individual who is not actually a character in the story. They do not refer to themselves at all, so that means no 'I', 'me', 'you', 'we', or 'us' statements. The third person is merely an observer.

'Limited omniscient' describes how much the 'third person' actually knows. Omniscient means to be 'all-knowing'. Adding the word 'limited', however, changes exactly how 'all-knowing' the third person is. In Fahrenheit 451, the person telling the story has a general idea of what's happening in society, but is limited to only knowing what's happening in the life of Guy Montag. This means that the reader gets all sorts of juicy insights into Guy's mind, for example his thoughts about his next-door neighbor Clarisse:

'How immense a figure she was on the stage before him; what a shadow she threw on the wall with her slender body! He felt that if his eye itched, she might blink. And if the muscles of his jaws stretched imperceptibly, she would yawn long before he would.'

Within just the first chapter, the reader learns that Guy Montag loves to burn things, it's virtually second nature at this point. The reader also learns that Montag is fascinated by his bizarre neighbor Clarisse. His marriage is kind of a mess; his wife is obsessed with television, overdoses on sleeping pills, and tunes out the real world every chance she gets.

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