Fahrenheit 451 Audiobook (Unabridged) By Ray Bradbury
Narrated by: Stephen Hoye
Running Time: 5 hrs and 37 mins
“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal…”
This quote from Beatty perfectly captures the rationale behind the most thought-provoking situation in Bradbury’s iconic book, Fahrenheit 451. In the novel’s dystopian society, books have been banned. And there is a special enforcement unit called the Firemen which is tasked with finding and destroying books.
Now, these Firemen are not your usual fire-fighting types. They start fires, rather than put them out. They start those fires to destroy books. That is their mission. And if they were to discover a cache of books in a house, they would not only burn the books, they would destroy the house as well. Beatty is the captain of the Firemen, a perfect embodiment of the society which Bradbury vividly portrays in Fahrenheit 451.
Bradbury immerses the reader in midst of an unnamed city during some unspecified time period in the future. The lack of names does no injustice: the world is succinctly described in a clear, vivid language. It is a technologically advanced society, where people live lavish, hedonistic lives. They drive fast cars, and occupy themselves with mindless entertainment from television and radios. They are uncritical, unthinking sloths who live solely for emotional gratification.
Any form of critical thinking is frowned upon. Books have been outlawed because they offend people’s sensibilities (those who read them demonstrate levels of knowledge which make those around them uncomfortable). The ban is enforced with a certain degree of ferocity. It is against this background that Bradbury weaves a captivating story around Guy Montag – a fireman.
One night, while returning from work, Guy Montag runs into his new neighbor – a 17 year-old girl called Clarisse McClellan. She immediately captivates him with her warm, genial personality. She also asks him penetrating questions – questions which make him think deeply about his life and work. He walks home still deep in thought. However, when he arrives home, he is quickly jolted from his thoughts upon finding his wife, Mildred, overdosed on pills. It appears like an attempted suicide. Montag calls for help, and a team of medics arrives just in time to save Mildred.
Over the next days, Montag encounters Clarisse several times. The more he talks to her, the more he realizes that his life is empty and unhappy. He soon begins looking forward to meeting her. But one day, he arrives at their usual rendezvous, but Clarisse doesn’t show up. He begins suspecting that something is wrong.
A few days later, something happens which completely changes his life. While at work, he and his fellow Firemen are deployed to destroy a cache of books. The owner of the books is an old woman. Rather than let her books get destroyed, she lights up a match, and burns up herself together with the books. Montag is both horrified and fascinated by the woman’s suicide. He manages to steal one of her books and takes it home.
Upon reaching home, he attempts to tell Mildred about the incident, but she is disinterested. In the ensuing conversation, he realizes that Clarisse, his free thinking friend, is dead – having been hit by a speeding car. Distraught, he attempts to fall asleep. Outside, he hears a sound of sniffing – which he suspects to be “The Hound”, an eight-legged robotic creature which assists the Firemen.
The next morning, he feels sickish, so he doesn’t go to work. However, Captain Beatty, the fire chief, unexpectedly shows up at Montag’s house. He obviously knows that the latter stole a book. He tells Montag that such behavior is normal – every fireman steals a book at least once. When this happens, the fireman should hand over the book within 24 hours or risk their house being destroyed.
After Captain Beatty has left, Montag reveals to Mildred that he has been stealing books over the past year. He has the books stashed away in their air conditioning duct. Mildred is horrified. Her instinctive response is to grab a book and head for the kitchen incinerator. But Montag restrains her. He implores her to take time and read the books together. If the books contain nothing of importance, then they can destroy them.
The decision to read the books introduces Montag into a whole new world. It also places him into direct conflict with the very establishment he has been working for. What ensues is an interesting mixture of conflict, betrayal, disaster and ultimately, redemption. Revealing all the details would deprive the reader of the joy of discovering it for the first time.
The major characters in the novel are:
Guy Montag – He is the protagonist in the novel. The entire story revolves around him. He starts out as a dedicated fireman, committed towards destroying books. He later realizes the value of books and tries to save them.
Clarisse McClellan – She is a carefree, free-thinking seventeen-year-old girl. She appears only briefly, but leaves an ever lasting impact on the reader, and certainly on Montag.
Mildred Montag (also known as “Millie”) – She is Montag’s wife – a thin, ascetic woman who is addicted to sleeping pills and TV dramas. She is indifferent to the oppressive society around her, and perfectly represents the mindless acquiescence which is typical of the society.
Captain Beatty – If Mildred represents mindless acquiescence, then captain Beatty represents mindless brutality. He is the chief of the firemen, and as such, Motang’s boss. He is totally committed toward the destruction of books, although he admits that he used to read them.
Other characters who influence the events in the story include Faber – a retired English professor and Granger – a leader of a band of intellectual exiles that live on the fringes of society, memorizing books so as to preserve their contents.
The major theme which stands out in Fahrenheit 451 is censorship. Captain Beatty and his firemen represent the repressive arm of a society which is determined to influence even the very thoughts of its citizens. The justification which is given is that it is for the greater good – to make every one equal, as Beatty would put it. According to Bradbury, censorship (regardless of its justifications) is wrong. And it is not only the enforcers of censorship like Beatty who make it thrive. Even ordinary citizens like Mildred who tacitly accept it, or simply do not speak out against it are responsible for its spread.
Other issues which are brought out in Fahrenheit 451 include: the mind-numbing effect of television, the interplay between knowledge and ignorance, and the concept of sacrifice (Granger and his group are ready to risk everything for the sake of preserving human knowledge).
Fahrenheit 451 is considered one of the iconic classics of American Literature. Unlike other classics, what makes it stand out is the simplicity of its language, and the nature of its narrative. Bradbury uses language which is simple, captivating and fascinating. The book is divided into three sections i.e. “The Hearth and the Salamander”, “The Sieve and the Sand” and “Burning Bright”. Each section captures a different phase in Montag’s metamorphosis. By the end of the third section, the novel ascends into a thrilling climax. It an absolute must listen for anyone who appreciates great writing.
The best part about Fahrenheit 451 is that even those who aren’t predisposed towards reading can still enjoy its delightful twists and turns. The novel is available as an audiobook. In fact, when the audiobook version was first released in 1976, it received a nomination for the prestigious Spoken Word Grammy. Since then, several versions have been released. However, one of the best Fahrenheit 451 audiobooks is the one narrated by Stephen Hoye.
The narration by Stephen Hoye is simply enchanting. He uses his vocal variations to perfectly portray the mood, atmosphere and settings of the different scenes in the book. He adopts a smooth, soothing voice for relaxed scenes like Montag’s first meeting with Clarisse. He switches to a quick, emotive tone in fast-paced scenes like Montag’s final confrontation with Beatty. Occasionally, he employs a dramatic pause to let the listener soak in the atmosphere. The combined effect is simply spellbinding. As such, Stephen Hoye’s narration is the perfect way to get immersed into the captivating world of Ray Bradbury’s literary classic, Fahrenheit 451.