Literary Qualities

Bradbury was for years science fiction’s premier literary stylist, and although his heavy use of adjectives and metaphors can seem cloying today, he remains one of the most sophisticated users of language in the genre. He is particularly fond of similes, such as the description of a book that tumbles into Montag’s hand during a raid on an old woman’s secret library: “A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon.”

Bradbury enhances his narrative with symbolism. The river into which Montag plunges to escape the Mechanical Hound serves as a symbol of rebirth as it carries him away from the violent city to a vagrant community of book memorizers. The cold river also represents an antidote to the firemen’s handiwork that threatens to destroy the last vestiges of free thought.

In the novel’s opening pages, Clarisse’s discussion with Montag about the nature of a fireman’s duties sets an ironic tone. She asks, “Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?” Montag replies that houses have always been fireproof so that there has never been a need for firemen to extinguish fires.

Fahrenheit 451 is set solidly within the tradition of dystopian literature as exemplified by such works as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Such literature portrays an imaginary world where misguided attempts to create a Utopia, or a socially and politically perfect place, result in large-scale human misery. Montag’s conversion from servant to opponent of the totalitarian state clearly parallels Winston Smith’s transformation in Orwell’s novel. Other 1950s works written in a similar vein as Fahrenheit 451 include Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (1953) and Fritz Leiber’s “Coming Attraction” (1951).