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Did You Know

Who Watches the Watchers?: Fahrenheit 451 has itself been subject to censorship in various school systems. This is so ironic -- given its anti-censorship theme! -- that these instances have garnered a lot of public attention. Actually, the censorship had little to do with the book's subject matter; instead, parents have sometimes objected to the many uses of "hell" and "damn" in the original printing of the book. Fahrenheit 451 has been censored or removed from reading lists several times in the 1990s alone, in places as far-flung as Mississippi and California. (In one famous instance, students were given copies of the book with the obscenities blacked out. Can you think of a more effective way to get them to take the book's subject matter seriously?)

At the Movies: In 1966, Fahrenheit 451 was made into a movie by highly respected New Wave French film director Francois Truffaut, starring British actress Julie Christie. The film received mixed reviews: it was said to be visually interesting, but critics complained that the dialogue was too stiff. The problem, it seems, was that Truffaut and collaborator Jean-Louis Richard were so excited about the project that they insisted on writing the screenplay themselves -- before either of them had fully mastered English! They were much happier, in the end, with the French-dubbed version. How this linguistic confusion might relate to the book's theme is left as an exercise for the student. Another curiosity of the movie is that the credits are spoken aloud, instead of printed -- in an obvious but clever echo of the book's theme of forbidden writing.

Fire Symbolism: As you've noticed, Fahrenheit 451 is loaded with symbolism. One of its central "clusters" of images relates to fire: the number "451," the salamander, and the phoenix, all of which appear on Montag's fireman's shirt. (Clarisse sees them the first time she meets him, and seems to be fascinated by them.) "Fahrenheit 451," of course, is the temperature at which paper catches fire and burns. A "salamander" these days might be a little amphibious animal, but the name comes from ancient mythology: the salamander was believed to be a marvelous creature which could pass through fire without being hurt. (The firemen's fire truck is referred to as the "Salamander" a few times in the book.) And the phoenix is a bird from Asian myth, which was reputed to incinerate itself in flames every thousand years and be reborn out of its own ashes. This legend has a lot of useful symbolism for Bradbury, of course: Granger, the old man who leads the group of exiled humanists out in the wilds beyond the city, cites this myth after the city's bombing. His meaning is that humans, like the phoenix, are always burning themselves up. But we can also be reborn, and someday -- he hopes -- humans will learn enough to be able to stop the fire: to put an end to war, the destroyer of civilizations and life.

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Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Part 1 (I)
Part 1 (II)
Part 1 (III)
Part 1 (IV)
Part 1 (V)
Part 2 (I)
Part 2 (II)
Part 2 (III)
Part 3 (I)
Part 3 (II)
Part 3 (III)
Part 3 (IV)
Part 3 (V)
Part 3 (VI)


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