Why Is It Called 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.

Imagine a world where firemen start fires and all books are forbidden. Sounds pretty awful, right? In this lesson, you will learn how Ray Bradbury's book ''Fahrenheit 451'' got its name.

Premise of the Book

Picture the world about three hundred years from now. What do you see? Maybe a few hover cars, floating cities, and people traveling with jet packs? When Ray Bradbury wrote his novel Fahrenheit 451 in 1953, he pictured a much bleaker future. Set in the 24th century, Fahrenheit 451 is about a society drastically altered by the effects of nuclear war. Today, we celebrate the unique characteristics and individuality of different people; in Bradbury's world, the individual is the enemy. Instead of acting and thinking freely, people have given up their sense of self to be a part of the collective. The government dictates what people think and what they do.

Television is no longer a mere form of entertainment; instead, it's the center of daily life. To make matters worse, Bradbury's futuristic world views books as a threat to society. Think about the books that you read for school. You probably crack open a textbook at least once a day, and you might be in the middle of a novel for your English class. What about a textbook or novel could be so dangerous or threatening to society?

Books contain information and ideas, two dangerous things for a government that wants to control the minds and wills of its people. What if the people begin to question the government? What if the people begin to question the status quo? Fahrenheit 451 explores the idea of a world in which the government tries to prevent these questions by destroying books, which can trigger independent thought.

How the Book Got Its Name

To eliminate the threat of books, firemen in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 are responsible for setting fires to destroy them. That's right ... instead of putting out fires, the firemen START the fires. So what exactly does this have to do with the title of the book?

Originally, Fahrenheit 451 was published as a short story in 1951, but under a different title: The Fireman. Publisher Ballantine Books approached Bradbury about doubling the length of his story so it could be published as a novel. The publisher, however, didn't care for the original name and asked Bradbury to change it.

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