Chapter no 5

Fahrenheit 451


Ray Bradbury

ree years ago I wrote a short novel entitled “e Fire Man” which told the story of a municipal department in the year 1999 that came to your house to start fires, instead of to put them out. If your neighbors suspected you of reading a mildly subversive book, or any book at all for that matter, they simply turned in an alarm. e hose-bearing sensors then thundered up in their red engines and squirted kerosene on your books, your house, and sometimes on you. en a match was struck. is short novel was intended as science fiction.

Elsewhere in the narrative I described my Fire Man arriving home after midnight to find his wife in bed aicted with two varieties of stupor. She is in a trance, a condition so withdrawn as to resemble catatonia, compounded of equal parts liquor and a small Seashell thimble-radio tucked in her ear. e Seashell croons and murmurs its music and commercials and private little melodramas for her alone. e room is silent. e husband cannot even try to guess the communion between Seashell and wife. Awakening her is not unlike applying shock to a cataleptic.

I thought I was writing a story of prediction, describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a month ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. e woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From

this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. ere she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleepwalking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there.




is was not science fiction. is was a new fact in our changing society.

As you can see, I must start writing very fast indeed about our future world in order to stand still. I thought I had raced ahead of science, predicting the radio-induced semi-catatonic. In the long haul, science pulled abreast, tipped its hat, and fed me the dust. e woman with the radio-thimble crammed in her ear the other night symbolized my failure to count on certain psychological needs which demanded satisfaction earlier than I supposed.

Whether or not my ideas on censorship via the fire department will be old hat by this time next week, I dare not predict. When the wind is right, a faint odor of kerosene is exhaled from Senator McCarthy. . . .

So much depends, of course, on what the individual hears when he gives himself over to the electronic tides breaking on the shore of his Seashell. e voice of conscience and reason? An echo of morality? A new thought? A fresh idea? A morsel of philosophy? Or bias, hatred, fear, prejudice, nightmare, lies, half-truths, and suspicions? Or, perhaps even worse, the sound of one emptiness striking hollowly against yet another and another emptiness, broken at two-minute intervals by a jolly commercial, preferably in rhymed quatrains or couplets?

In writing a science-fiction story around such an idea, the author must consider many things. Is there, for instance, a delicate interplay where the society does not crush the individual but where the individual realizes that without his cooperation society would fly to pieces through the centrifugal force of anarchy? Is the programming on such an ear-button receiver of a caliber to enable a man to be a gyroscope, both taking from and giving to society, beautifully balanced? Does it tell him what to do every hour and every minute of every day? Or, fearing knowledge of any sort, tell him nothing, and spoonfeed him mush? e challenge and the fun come in handling all the above ideas and materials in such a way as to predict how perversely or how well man will use himself, and therefore his mechanical extensions, in the coming time of our lives. . . .

is, I think, should answer why I have more often than not written stories which, for a convenient label, are called science fiction. ere are

few literary fields, it seems to me, that deal so strikingly with themes that concern us all today; there are few more exciting genres; there are none fresher or so full of continually renewed and renewable concepts.

It is, after all, the fiction of ideas, the fiction where philosophy can be tinkered with, torn apart, and put back together again, it is the fiction of sociology and psychology and history compounded and squared by time. It is the fiction where you may set up and knock down your own political and religious and moral states. It can be a high form of Swiss watch-making. It can be poetry. It has resulted in some of the greatest writing in our past, from Plato and Lucian to Sir omas More and François Rabelais and on down through Jonathan Swift and Johannes Kepler to Poe and Edward Bellamy and George Orwell. . . .

I once strongly suspected that fun was the handmaiden, if not the progenitor, of the arts; now I know this for certain. And with a great sense of pleasure and personal well-being, I intend to continue in the field for a good many years along with those others who are interested in trying to find a bridge to cross that vast gulf of communication permanently for all of us. I do not know whether tomorrow’s street will be full of human beings with Seashell thimble-radios whispering in their ears and all the world and its problems moved away and neglected. Or whether by some miracle we may all carry supersonic stethoscopes with us on our rounds, so that each may know the sound of every other human heart. I only know that it would be interesting to walk on that street and think about it and write about it, before that evening sun goes down.



“. . . the great shadowing, motioned silence of the Hound leaping out like a moth in the raw light, finding, holding its victim, inserting the needle and going back to its kennel. . . .” Ray




Bradbury’s ink sketch of the Mechanical Hound composed in the fall of 2005. From the Albright Collection; reproduced courtesy of Donn Albright and Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury’s fiction has always been a popular subject for audio recording, but it would take almost a quarter of a century to finally record the author’s voice reading Fahrenheit 451. is transcript of Bradbury’s commentary on the making of the novel derives from the Listening Library’s 1976 two-LP recording of the author reading extensive passages from the novel. His commentary was presented extemporaneously, and reflects Bradbury’s deep-seated memories of the highly emotional motivation, spontaneous creativity, and determined originality that resulted in a timeless cautionary tale.


You'll Also Like