Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 which was published in 1953. It's set in a society where books are banned and firemen burn any that are found. It's set in a future US society and is a dystopian vision in the tradition of 1984, a brutal depiction by George Orwell of a surveillance society; and Brave New World, a savage satire by Aldous Huxley of a society drugged into obedience and apathy.

Has he ever hinted as to what suggested the themes to him?

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    In my last house, I was inspired to turn an old fireplace into a built-in bookshelf. Pride of place, naturally, went to Fahrenheit 451. Nov 19, 2020 at 13:17

3 Answers 3


Bradbury himself says it is all about TV making people stupid, as opposed to being about censorship by the government as all the English teachers try to tell you.

This article contains a video interview with Mr. Bradbury and quotes from it.

From the article:

“Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship,” wrote the Los Angeles Weekly‘s Amy E. Boyle Johnson in 2007. “Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands.” Rather, he meant his 1953 novel as “a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.” It’s about, as he puts it above, people “being turned into morons by TV.” Johnson quotes Bradbury describing television as a medium that “gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,” spreading “factoids” instead of knowledge. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.”

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    If this story had to be written today, it would be about social media. The scene when the fireman's wife is duped into believing she had a part in a TV fiction reminds me of all this sites where people post comments believing their thoughts can matter to someone. Oh, wait... Nov 17, 2020 at 21:59
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    @SredniVashtar: On this site, answers do matter. Some one asked a question and got an answer. The answers therefore matter to at least one person.
    – JRE
    Nov 17, 2020 at 22:02
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    Wooosh... (my comment was not directed to answers or other comments) - and by the way, the 13th vote was mine Nov 17, 2020 at 22:26
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    English teachers like Ray Bradbury? "I wrote Fahrenheit 451 to prevent book-burnings, not to induce that future into happening, or even to say that it was inevitable."
    – Shane
    Nov 18, 2020 at 3:47
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    @JRE My quote above "I wrote Fahrenheit 451 to prevent book-burnings" Ray Bradbury said that. So, in your answer, when you are talking about how people -- like english teachers -- are wrong when they try to tell you that F451 is about book-burning/censorship are you including Mr. Bradbury in the list of people who didn't understand Mr. Bradbury's work?
    – Shane
    Nov 19, 2020 at 2:59

In the Flamingo Modern Classic edition of Fahrenheit 451 published in 1993, Bradbury wrote a detailed introduction to the novel detailing the origins of the story. In brief it started with a short story called "Bonfire" which he tried (unsuccessfully) to sell to various magazines. Themes from this story were reworked in a later story called "Bright Phoenix", then again in a story called "The Exiles" and then in "Usher II" which appears in The Martian Chronicles. There are many themes of fire, book burning, censorship, authoritarian oppression and intellectual repression present in all these stories. These themes are common in many of Bradbury's stories, considering the age in which he had his childhood/adolescence: basically post World War II/McCarthyism, when description/discussion of the Nazi regime and its methods of controlling thought and idea would have been common, and suspicion of your neighbour as a communist was widespread; it becomes easy to see a common thread. To go back to the words Bradbury put down regarding the origins of Fahrenheit 451, he very specifically discusses a late-night encounter with a passing police patrol and the suspicions of wrong doing directed toward him that lead to the writing of a story called "The Pedestrian", which can be considered as the root story that lead directly to Fahrenheit 451 in the aforementioned introduction. There is also acceptable information in the Wikipedia page about Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451 developed out of a series of ideas Bradbury had visited in previously written stories. For many years, he tended to single out "The Pedestrian" in interviews and lectures as sort of a proto-Fahrenheit 451. In the Preface of his 2006 anthology Match to Flame: The Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451, he states that this is an oversimplification. The full genealogy of Fahrenheit 451 given in Match to Flame is involved. The following covers the most salient aspects.

Between 1947 and 1948, Bradbury wrote the short story "Bright Phoenix" (not published until the May 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) about a librarian who confronts a book-burning "Chief Censor" named Jonathan Barnes.

In late 1949, Bradbury was stopped and questioned by a police officer while walking late one night. When asked "What are you doing?", Bradbury wisecracked, "Putting one foot in front of another." This incident inspired Bradbury to write the 1951 short story "The Pedestrian".

In "The Pedestrian", Leonard Mead is harassed and detained by the city's remotely operated police cruiser (there's only one) for taking nighttime walks, something that has become extremely rare in this future-based setting: everybody else stays inside and watches television ("viewing screens"). Alone and without an alibi, Mead is taken to the "Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies" for his peculiar habit. Fahrenheit 451 would later echo this theme of an authoritarian society distracted by broadcast media.

Bradbury expanded the book-burning premise of "Bright Phoenix" and the totalitarian future of "The Pedestrian" into "The Fireman", a novella published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. "The Fireman" was written in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library on a typewriter that he rented for a fee of ten cents per half hour. The first draft was 25,000 words long and was completed in nine days.

Urged by a publisher at Ballantine Books to double the length of his story to make a novel, Bradbury returned to the same typing room and expanded his work into Fahrenheit 451, again taking just nine days. The fixup was published by Ballantine in 1953.

You can read the full Wikipedia article here.

In short, it seems to have been an ongoing dialog or commentary about how Bradbury potentially saw human society developing or falling into a trap/damaged state and the themes are recurrent in his work. They found the fullest and best articulated version in Fahrenheit 451.

To quote that introduction written by Bradbury:

"What caused my inspiration? There had to be a root system of influence, yes, that propelled me to dive head first into my type writer and come up dripping with hyperbole, metaphor, and similes about fire, print and papyrus.

Of course. There was Hitler torching books in Germany in 1934, rumours of Stalin and his match-people and tinderboxes. Plus long ago the witch hunts in Salem in 1680, where my ten-times-great grandmother Mary Bradbury was tried but escaped the burning. But then most of it was my romantic background in Roman, Greek and Egyptian mythology, starting at the age of three, Yes, three years old, three, when Tut was raised from his tomb and appeared in the weekend gazettes in all his gold panoply, and I wondered what he was and asked my folks.

So it was inevitable that I would hear or read about the triple burnings of the Alexandrian Library, two of which were accidental one on purpose. Knowing this at nine I wept. For, strange child that I was I was already an inhabitant of the high attics and haunted basements of Carnegie Library in Waukegan, Illinois".

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    He wrote a short story (the title was something about an assassin or murderer) about a man who finally gets fed up with advertising literally everywhere and starts destroying speakers and other entertainment devices to “murder” the ads that seem to have a life of their own. I have always seen that story as an ancestor or cousin of Fahrenheit 451. Nov 17, 2020 at 16:57
  • Similar sentiments are expressed by Bradbury in the introduction to the graphic novel adaptation of F451. Nov 17, 2020 at 17:59
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    There are subtle differences between motivation, intention, and inspiration. I like how this answer has directly addressed the question of inspiration, and with the author's own words.
    – Booga Roo
    Nov 18, 2020 at 1:38

Bradbury was adamant the the story is not about censorship, it is about "The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little..." (from The Golden Apples of the Sun)

When directly asked about Fahrenheit 451, he responded

I wasn't worried about freedom, I was worried about people being turned into morons by TV. We've never had censorship in this country, we've never burned books...

Fahrenheit's not about censorship, it's about the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news, the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids. All the popular programs on TV, the competition programs, they don't give you anything but factoids. They tell you when Napoleon was born, but not who he was. So it doesn't matter about the date. You should never memorize dates, to hell with it. So we moved into this period of history that I described in Fahrenheit 50 years ago.

Bradbury on Censorship/Television

But many intellectuals have misinterpreted that the book is about censorship, and Ray has some choice words to them as well:

Weller: Have you encountered academic misinterpretation of your work?

Bradbury: I was lecturing at Cal Fullerton once and they misinterpreted Fahrenheit 451, and after about half an hour of arguing with them, telling them that they were wrong, I said, “Fuck you.” I've never used that word before, and I left the classroom.

Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews

Note: I pulled the sources for these quotes from an answer to a similar question I had answered on Literature.SE

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    "This is a fantastic example of Bradbury being incapable of expressing what he meant."
    – JRE
    Nov 18, 2020 at 11:17
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    Isaac Asimov also used to tell about attending a lecture about his works, and complaining to the lecturer that he misunderstood what Asimov was saying in some story. The lecturer argued that even though Asimov was the author, he wasn't in a position to know his motivation.
    – Barmar
    Nov 18, 2020 at 17:06
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    The concept is called Death of the Author
    – Geier
    Nov 18, 2020 at 21:00
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    See also Ray Bradbury says Fahrenheit 451 isn't about censorship. Is he right? - another question at Literature SE which examines how the author's statements fit with the book itself.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 19, 2020 at 9:55
  • I don't really see a problem with an academic showing different themes in the work to what the writer intended... Of course "motivation" the reviewer cannot know; but an author intending to write an adventure story ending up with an allegory of current political forces doesn't seem strange to me. Nov 19, 2020 at 10:36

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