Fahrenheit 451

by: Ray Bradbury

Point of View

Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 from a third-person limited omniscient point of view, which means that an objective narrator has special access to the thoughts and feelings of one character. In this case, the narrator has access to Montag’s thoughts and feelings. By focusing the story through Montag’s perspective, Fahrenheit 451 develops a strong critique of society—both the society represented in the novel and Bradbury’s own contemporary society. The objective point of view allows the reader to understand how Montag’s struggles relate to social problems. An example that shows the link between Montag’s internal struggle and Bradbury’s social critique appears when Montag tries to remember the text of Ecclesiastes on the train, but cannot think because of the loud advertisements for Denham’s Dentifrice:

Trumpets blared.
“Denham’s Dentifrice.”
Shut up, thought Montag. Consider the lilies of the field.
“Denham’s Dentrifice.”
They toil not—
“Denham’s—"
Consider the lilies of the field, shut up, shut up.
“Dentifrice!”

The inescapable noise makes it impossible for Montag to think, and no doubt keeps his fellow members of society from thinking as well.

The use of a third-person limited omniscient point of view enables the dramatization of Montag’s transformation over the course of the novel. For example, the opening scene demonstrates that Montag sincerely enjoys burning books: “He wanted above all...to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch.” However, later in the book, when faced with a woman who refuses to leave her house even as the firemen ransack it, Montag experiences a moment of crisis:

A fountain of books sprang down upon Montag as he climbed shuddering up the sheer stairwell. How inconvenient! Always before it had been like snuffing a candle...You weren’t hurting anyone, you were hurting only things!...But now, tonight, someone had slipped. This woman was spoiling the ritual.

The narrator begins and ends the passage with Montag lamenting the inconvenience of the woman’s presence, but a subtle shift in perspective occurs between these laments. Even as he tells himself that he isn’t hurting anyone when he destroys their books, Montag dimly understands that his actions do, in fact, hurt people. If the woman is “spoiling the ritual,” that means she’s exposing the ritual for what it really is: violence. By recounting Montag’s experience so closely, the narrator enables the reader to understand the reasons for Montag’s change of heart.