According to this question about Ray Bradbury's intentions, Ray Bradbury did not intend for Fahrenheit 451 to be about government censorship, and went so far as to say "Fuck you" to someone who argued that Fahrenheit 451 was about government censorship.

Is Bradbury right? Is Fahrenheit 451 not about government censorship? Or can an argument be made that Fahrenheit 451 can be interpreted as being about government censorship?

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    I've deleted my answer so that you can clarify your question to ask about textual analysis, as you discussed in the comments. Instead, my answer is here and I've tried to make it more general and canonical. Good luck with finding the answer you want, and sorry for misinterpreting it!
    – Aurora0001
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 19:01
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    Can I repeat here for the record, the joke that it doesn't matter what Hamlet thinks the question means? Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 1:01
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    I believe it's possible to arrive at a "correct" answer to this question through close reading of the text, without relying on Bradbury's statements of authorial intent. The accepted answer on the linked question goes a long way towards that....
    – Kevin Troy
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 3:28
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4 Answers 4


You can make an argument for anything, really. It just depends on whether it's a good argument.

I'd argue that the common interpretation of Fahrenheit 451 as being about government censorship isn't a very good interpretation. What fits much better is the one that the author himself intended:

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.

The government is merely carrying out what the people wants:

"Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumour of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: 'now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours.' Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more."

This is the purpose of the firemen: to continue what humans on their own began. Without the firemen, one could argue, the situation would be mostly the same - a few eccentrics, but the majority focused only on violence and quick entertainment.

And that's exactly the statement which Bradbury wanted to make: today, we are going down that path. School has moved away from learning and towards making school "interesting" and incorporating "technology". This point about school is also made in Fahrenheit 451:

School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored.

Censorship, I would argue, is more about the banning of discussion of specific topics. This isn't censorship. This is a complete end to real learning and thought. It's about staring, blank-eyed, at a screen - Montag's wife is almost not there by the end of the book, with the installation of the screens so she can "watch the story", though the stories are really meaningless.

It's what the people wanted. They wanted the books to go away. The government and the firemen were just a tool of the people. So, the books went up in flames.

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    Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ... 140-character instant message? Wow, talk about fiction anticipating reality.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 1:07
  • The people wanting books to go away is still censorship.
    – cmw
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 4:48

Have you been to a library recently? In olden times, libraries had books. Lots of books. That was how you learned things.

When newspapers and magazines came along, libraries added newspapers and magazines. When videotapes and DVDs came along, libraries added videotapes and DVDs. Each time they cut down on their books to make room.

When the Internet came along, libraries didn't need books or newspapers or magazines or videotapes or DVDs. All these media will go the way of the clay tablet and the papyrus scroll.

Now that we have the Internet, we can get the very best news and information, right? or at least the very best cat memes.

Bradbury extrapolated a trend. Television, a new technology in his time, could have been used to enlighten and inform. Instead it became "the idiot box," "the boob tube." The government wasn't responsible for that. Networks show what people want to watch.

Every day there's something new: spin doctors, echo chambers, infotainment, silos, alt-facts, anything to avoid reality. If it doesn't affect us directly, if it doesn't agree with our preconceived notions, let it burn.

People who read books are dangerous, therefore books are dangerous. It's not true, but it's what people want to believe. Ostensibly, Fahrenheit 451 is about destroying books. In reality it's about destroying ideas, destroying even the capacity to have ideas, and in the end destroying our minds and thus ourselves.


To me the censorship angle is there on the surface, but when you look more deeply, if you wanted to argue that it wasn't about censorship, the book itself does support that:

He does clearly say in the book that the people slowly stopped caring about books, and most didn't mind the Firemen burning the books. People just wanted to live a life of fast driving and of online distraction. He talks about how the books raised philosophical arguments, which made people argue and be unhappy.

When the main character forces one of his wife's guests to face reality after reading a poem, she simply erupts into tears. Then everyone there is SURE that the books are bad, and they are glad to see them burn. His wife (and her guests) called the firemen to come burn the books in her own home after this.

He also talks about some of the men at the end of the book, how they lost their jobs at universities because people had simply stopped enrolling in the programs.

The real genius of the book, for me, was his wife's internet "parlor" addiction, and the sleeping pills. The government didn't really cause that; the human condition did.


Firemen were analogous to The Banner in The Fountainhead - they didn't create the problem, they just capitalized on existing desires. They destroyed books because people wanted them destroyed. Firemen existed for the same reason that The Banner existed - to pander to the will of the masses.

That being said, the fact that the government was merely responding to the will of the majority - the government wasn't somehow forcing this from the top down on an unwilling population, but rather the majority was basically asking the government do do that.

Is this censorship? Well, it depends on how you define it. Wikipedia defines censorship as follows:

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or "inconvenient" as determined by government authorities or by community consensus.

The question, then, is whether anyone's speech was being suppressed. The relevant dictionary definition of "suppress" here is "forcibly put an end to." We see that there were at least a small number of people who were at least trying to preserve books (including the main character towards the end of the novel), so clearly not everyone wanted censorship. This implies that there was, in fact, a coercive element to this (even if the majority at least tacitly went along with - or even wanted - it to happen). So the minority who still wanted books were being suppressed by the will of the majority.

That being said: yeah, it's censorship. The fact that it was done at the behest of the majority rather than being imposed in a top-down fashion by the government doesn't mean that it wasn't government-imposed censorship.

The question, then, is whether that's what the novel is actually about. There are two major dynamics here: the effect (the fact that the government was censoring at the behest of the majority), and the cause (why the majority wanted the government to do the censoring in the first place). According to Ray Bradbury, the latter is actually the primary focus of the book: why did the majority do that in the first place? How did things get so bad that the majority of people wanted books to be burned? This position can easily be defended from the text.

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