Fahrenheit 451

Marcelo Guimarães Lima, Purple Night, digital painting, 2023.


Published in 1953 — 70 years ago — Ray Bradbury's novel is among the works of the dystopia genre that stand out for their fictional attributes


Published in 1953 – exactly 70 years ago – the novel Fahrenheit 451, by the American Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), is among the works of the dystopia genre that stand out for their fictional attributes; the romances Admirable new world (1932), by Aldous Huxley, and 1984, by George Orwell, published in 1949, belong to this literary family.

Thus begins an article whose writing is unfinished, occupying a file folder on my computer. It would be sent to a periodical that focused on reading at school – however, at the time of the invitation, limited time did not allow it to be sent to the magazine's editorial board. As I have been teaching communication and semiotics at the Faculty of Technology of the State of São Paulo for many years and I persist, in my work plan, in including universal works (classic prose that, as a rule, does not frighten recently graduated students at first sight/ those of high school due to the large number of pages), I considered it plausible to spend notes on Fahrenheit 451.

The name (I continue) entrusted to the genus has the prefix “dis” at its root; refers, but in the opposite direction, to the concept developed by Thomas Morus in The Utopia (1516). If, in the Renaissance philosopher's account, the character Rafael is encouraged, as an ingenious orator, to speak uninterruptedly about a certain community that welcomed him for five years — there, coexistence relationships are based on ethical protocols, based on principles of equality and respect, through fair laws, without privileges for particular groups or individuals –, dystopia wastes, contrary to these paradigms, the chaos and injurious conditions resulting from autocracy and poor governance that weigh on the collective.

In fact, discussing dystopian narratives implies pointing to authoritarian states, that is, regimes that are characterized by brutal actions, imposing censorship and oppression on those who show resistance to established norms.

It is not uncommon for literary and cinematographic productions that, when portraying these state apparatuses, highlight the presence of digital technology at the service of such leaders, implemented precisely to ensure surveillance. Remember that Orwell, in the plot 1984, rightly highlights this operation: cameras installed in factories control employees suspected of antagonizing the gear from which they emerge as outraged labor.

Verbal and audiovisual texts known as dystopia undoubtedly illuminate this scenario that projects tomorrow – an eminently catastrophic future (in this setting, to a large extent, a caste of hypnotized individuals appears). However, one or more engaged subjects always appear in the productions and feature films who will discover intelligent ways to circumvent massification, aiming to revert the collapse to the dreamed normality.

There is at least one character who violates the block, rebels and tries to convince someone that it is possible to find shortcuts to react to manipulation; hence I can confirm that hope is not completely absent from this group of stories. There are, therefore, doses of utopia in dystopia. In the conception of Carlos Eduardo Ornelas Berriel, “dystopia, that is, the fiction that creates worlds immersed in social nightmare […] are utopias with a changed sign, called dystopias — and without these works we would be disarmed to understand the current world. ”.[I]

Ray Bradbury's novel houses and mobilizes these thematic-structural cells. It is based on the action of firefighters trained to locate and burn books; behold, this militia faction, provided by the State in order to safeguard discipline, carries out the seizure of men and brochures, instead of putting out fires or rescuing shipwreck survivors. This is a squad trained to, in response to complaints, invade homes, incinerate printed media and take offenders to prison. The digits 451 correspond to the exact temperature – in degrees Celsius – that burns the leaves of each specimen, strictly speaking, overcome by proud flames.

By predicting the disappearance of readers from the canon, Ray Bradbury allegorizes a sterile future (in his novel, the reading experience given to the characters is restricted to comic books, cartoons, manuals – in addition, above all, to the devoted reception of the television media). In fact, immersion in verbal aesthetics is prohibited because it encourages thought and stimulates the imagination – it brings forth in each of us, as Antonio Candido said, “the share of humanity”[ii] necessary for life in society, as it stages language and allows “to rotate knowledge”, according to Roland Barthes. Literature, highlights the professor of France secondary school, “does not say that he knows something, but that he knows something; or rather: that she knows something about things – that she knows a lot about men”.[iii]

The narrative that completes seven decades was recreated in the films of François Truffaut,[iv] 57 years ago (his Fahrenheit 451 dates from 1966), and, recently, by Ramin Bahrani,[v] in 2018, as well as in Graphic Novels (2011), adaptation illustrated by Tim Hamilton,[vi] with an introduction by Ray Bradbury himself. François Truffaut's film surpasses, due to its artistic qualities, the plot that gave rise to it. Exquisite photography and soundtrack compete in the construction of a lyrical atmosphere that, covertly, mitigates (without ever erasing) the terrifying violence alluding to Nazi-fascism, gas chambers and the Cold War.


In the first week of this December 2023, I highlighted these and other points of tension regarding Fahrenheit 451, after presenting François Truffaut's feature film to my students. The heat in the classroom required the fan to be on, hence the need to speak loudly and pay extra attention when listening.

In the interlocution, creative passages from the film were rescued – the inventiveness corresponding to the shuttle of a monorail that slides into position Sui generis, in a parallel march to the marriage contract and the mechanized steps of the bourgeois family; duplicity (Linda, the character who acts as the protagonist's wife, and Clarisse, the young teacher, are played by the same actress); residential space and furniture are chosen to function as book hiding places (Don Quixote appears as the first hidden title, to emerge on the chandelier in the living room of an apartment); the amazement of firefighter Guy Montag upon discovering the recording of words, written on paper, in a metaphorical condition…

It was already approaching 18pm; I needed to end the class, and the discussion around the burning of books should be linked to the invitation I had launched regarding the enjoyment of a classic — the debate was scheduled for the following week. Six works had been nominated: The death of Ivan Ilyich, The nose, The foreigner, Bartleby the Clerk, In the Penal Colony e Archaic Farming. Comments reached me through muffled voices (two students spoke about ChatGPT; one student referred to an uncle who had read The Brothers Karamazov, a work featured in the feature film, and recommended reading it to her; someone, in the background, said they read Edgar Allan Poe).

I started talking about Lolita and commented on Vladimir Nabokov's prediction about butterflies. There was laughter due to the impossibility of memorizing a novel, reciting it so as not to forget it, like the bookmen present in the final episode of François Truffaut's film.

Meanwhile, standing up, I saw backpacks on the floor and next to desks. I identified one or another edition (Archaic Farming, The death of Ivan Ilyich…), I saw a thick book in the fantasy genre, which I dislike. And the bizarre thing was that I aimed at a cracked glass cell phone resting on the cover of The nose, covering the final letters of Nikolai's surname (for who knows why, I read – instead of Gogol – Google).

I remember that at that moment a student was organizing, although unsuccessfully, a reflection that compared Gogol's story with Pinocchio; I remember trying hard, in the face of the disturbing heat, not to lose concentration and fail in the observations I was undertaking based on a chapter of The reading, by Vincent Jouve, as well as in the valuable definitional proposals by Italo Calvino in his essay Why read the classics – these two, properly: “A classic is a book that never finished saying what it had to say.” and “A classic is a book that comes before other classics; but whoever read the others first and then reads that one immediately recognizes its place in the genealogy.”[vii].

The class didn't last long. It ended at 18:30 pm.

* Ricardo Iannace He is a professor in the postgraduate program in Comparative Studies of Portuguese Language Literatures at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Murilo Rubião and the architectures of the fantastic (Edusp). [https://amzn.to/3sXgz77]


ray bradbury, Fahrenheit 451: the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns. Translation: Cid Knipel, São Paulo, Globo, 2009. [https://amzn.to/3H4kwup]


[I] Carlos Eduardo Ornelas Berriel, “Preface”, In Lucídio Bianchetti and Juares da Silva Thiesen (Eds.), Utopias and Dystopias in Modernity. Educators in Dialogue with T. Morus, F. Bacon, J. Bentham, A. Huxley and G. Orwell. Ijuí, Ed. Unijuí, 2014, p. 17.

[ii] Antonio Candido, “The Right to Literature”, Various Writings. 3rd ed. rev. and ampl. São Paulo, Duas Cidades, 1995, p. 249.

[iii] Roland Barthes, Class,trans. Leyla Perrone-Moisés, São Paulo, Cultrix, 1989, p. 19 [Author’s emphasis].

[iv] 451 FAHRENHEIT. Directed by: François Truffaut. United States, Universal, 1966 (111 min, son., color.).

[v] 451 FAHRENHEIT. Director: Ramin Bahrani. United States, HBO Films, 2018 (100 min, son., color.).

[vi] Tim Hamilton, Fahrenheit 451: a Graphic Novel Authorized by Ray Bradbury, trans. Ricardo Lísias and Renato Marques, São Paulo, Globo, 2011.

[vii] Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics”, in Why Read the Classics, trans. Nilson Moulin, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2007, pp. 11 and 14, respectively.

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