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Historical Context

Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, has had one of the most productive and diverse careers in American literature. Born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, he missed college due to the Depression but has always said he educated himself at the public library. He published his first short story at 21, was writing full time by his mid-twenties, and has gone on to a lifetime of acclaimed production. Along with Fahrenheit 451, his best-known works include the novels The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, and short-story collections like The Halloween Tree and The Illustrated Man. Even some of his short stories are famous -- a rare accomplishment in modern American literature. (By the time they graduate from high school, or even in elementary school, a lot of American students have encountered such Bradbury short stories as "The Veldt," "All Summer in a Day," or "A Sound of Thunder." These are about, respectively: a pair of children with a remarkable nursery wall and their fondness for lions; a girl on Venus who gets locked into a closet while the sun comes out; and a man who goes back in time for some big-game hunting and steps upon a butterfly. Do any of them sound familiar?)

Critics have always argued over whether or not to call Bradbury's work "science fiction." Some is set in outer space, some is set in the future, and all is actually about human society and human nature. Is Fahrenheit 451 "science fiction," for example? Besides working in diverse genres, Bradbury has also written for many different media: a screenplay for "Moby Dick," teleplays for "The Twilight Zone" and his own "Ray Bradbury Theatre" (plus a "Halloween Tree" adaptation which won an Emmy); stage plays like "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit" and even an opera. The classic 1953 sci-fi movie "It Came From Outer Space" is based on a Bradbury story. More weirdly, he's also been a "conceptual consultant" for such projects as Spaceship Earth in Epcot Center at Disney World; a ride called Orbitron at Euro-Disney; a pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair; and, more recently, a bunch of California shopping malls. That's diversity for you.

Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953, at the height of the campaign of terror waged by Joseph McCarthy, the hyper-paranoid U.S. Senator who thought he smelled a Communist in every highly-placed politician, and a subversive in every author and movie writer. McCarthy's influence led to the "blackballing," or forcing out of the business, of many creative people in Hollywood, and pro-censorship forces were on the rise in America. It's not hard to see the relevance of Fahrenheit 451, with its strong anti-censorship message, to this kind of cultural moment. Fahrenheit 451 has itself been threatened and censored in various school systems, mostly due to the appearance of words like "hell" and "damn" in the novel, and has now taken its proud place on the list of books which have been censored or banned in America.
(See the "Did You Know?" and "Points to Ponder" sections for more about the cultural history of Fahrenheit 451.)

Browse all book notes

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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