So, today, I am actually going to be talking about 451, not Bradbury himself or my backstory on how I came to read 451 etc etc. I don’t think I gave away any ruining plot points below, but if I did, you can feel free to kick me in the virtual shins.
The only thing, literally, that I went into knowing about 451 was that it was a dystopian novel. Which, also led me to give myself an internal wtf look, as most people that know me know, I love me a good dystopian tale. And 451 really was the father of dystopian literature that has come since (see my next section of this post for further information on this opinion). So, everything could hit me fresh. It did. Hit me.
I read this on my kindle, so if I misquote something or anything, it’s because I either wrote it down wrong or am relying on a faulty memory.
451 is divided into three sections. They’re numbered. They’re also titled. The Hearth and the Salamander=Part 1, The Sieve and the Sand=Part 2 and Burning Bright=Part 3. I am going to generalize a lot here, as I don’t want to spoil the plot too much. The main character is Guy Montag, and the book centers around him.
I feel that Part 1 could really be called “Montag’s Awakening”. Montag is a fireman, and in this future, firemen burn books. All houses have a fireproof covering so there is no fear of a house burning anymore. Firemen have been converted into book burners. He meets a neighbor girl one day who is different than others. She’s 17, her name is Clarisse, and she doesn’t race about getting the newest thrill. She wanders. She strolls. She observes leaves in the wind, holds dandelions under chins to see if someone’s in love, and really looks at people. Her uncle tells her a lot about the past, a time when people had front porches, that they’d sit on, that they have stopped making front porches because it might encourage people to slow down a moment and actually reflect on stuff. The tendrils she places in Montag slowly expand and creep past his awesome love for the flame on the books, for his feeling of excitement. The tendrils light up and Montag is able to fully see just how dark and ashy and gray his life really is. He’s married to a woman named Mildred, and I think his life could be summed up by the fact that he asks her one night how they met. Neither of them can remember. He feels that if she died, he wouldn’t even mourn. Mildred always is in the parlor, watching a 3 walled tv, and calls the people on it “family”. She is pestering Montag to get the 4th wall put in, even though they just put in the 3rd 2 months prior. Basically, Montag starts to see in himself what Clarisse tells him “It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not”. During this time, he has to burn a house down and the woman refuses to leave her books. She even pulls out a match to do the job herself when Montag hesitates and attempts to get her to leave. He begins to wonder. And he steals a book while there. During this section, two things are hinted at but not revealed. Montag looks up at his vent a few times with vague thoughts of what’s up there, and he also thinks occasionally of an incident involving a conversation with a gentleman at a park the prior year. Bradbury never tells us though during this section what is behind the vent and what was the conversation all about.
Part 2, The Sieve and the Sand, is titled because Montag eventually begins attempting to stuff information from books into his brain in the hopes that something might stick but feels it’s like pouring sand into a sieve and hoping some stays. And here’s where discussing might get a little tricky as this is where the spoiling might happen if I don’t walk the fine line. This part could be called “Montag’s Transformation”. This is where we discover that maybe Clarisse didn’t _cause_ the explosions beginning to happen in Montag’s mind and his life, but might have just teased out something that was already slowly formenting in Montag. In the first section, towards the beginning of the book, Montag comes home to discover that Mildred has taken all her sleeping pills. There are men that come out to clean out her stomach and then pump new blood into her. They basically tell Montag they get a lot of these calls, and it’s not worth it to send real doctors out on them anymore. Montag ends up thinking that his wife is two people. There is the happy, watch the parlor walls all day Mildred, and the nighttime Mildred who is depressed and suicidal. Mildred also likes to take out the “beetle” (their mode of transportation in 451) and drive reallllyy fast. I felt like Bradbury might have used the discussion of Mildred’s dichotomous self to highlight that Montag himself had a dichotomy hidden until Clarisse. There was the have fun, find it exciting fireman, and the confused, apathetic, depressed other Montag. Montag’s boss comes and talks to him and tells him that they basically know he’s stolen the book and that every fireman eventually does something similiar. Beatty (boss) tells him that they allow the fireman 24 hours to turn it in before coming to burn it. Beatty says that it’s good for them to take a look to understand further why they’re doing it. The plot furthers from here, brilliantly carrying it towards Montag’s complete rebirth through flame.
Part 3, Burning Bright, is basically the conclusion. My choice to say Montag is reborn through the flame, also came because one of the characters at the end talks about the phoenix. It ends up that between the cities, old retired professors and educated people have been memorizing books and figuring out how to recall even something they’ve read once so that eventually all the books can be written back down. They all have specific ones memorized and all know which ones others know. I didn’t like Part 3. I felt that the dialogue became way too expository. I didn’t feel that a person would talk the way one of the end characters does, or at that length. It was probably the only part of the book that I didn’t like the writing on. I also did not like the speedy way Bradbury tied everything up. It was like this beautiful book, beautiful story of a man’s self awakening amidst a world that no longer allowed slow thought and reading was suddenly just finished. I felt like a publisher told Bradbury “Hey Ray, you got 2 days to finish that book before we’re not gonna take it anymore” and Bradbury slapped the ending all together quick.
I am a person that sometimes rereads books. As I think I said in my blog about Wuthering Heights. I honestly don’t think I’d read 451 again, or if I did, I’d probably just read the first 2 sections and skip the last. I loved it, and will be buying an actual bound copy to keep on my shelf (so that it can be burned one day if necessary I guess), but can’t see myself yearning to pick it up again and re read it. However, I would recommend it to most anyone, as we will discuss tomorrow, just for the eerie “predictions” in the book. It makes me wonder what Bradbury thought in the last 20 years of his life about technology advancements, since the book was written in 1953. Which makes it the same age as my parents. Weird.