What is the Setting of Fahrenheit 451?
Originally published in 1953, Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 won critical acclaim for quite a few reasons, and still holds its relevance today. In the age of dystopian novels, this particular book stood out for its no-holds-barred critique of technology, the state of human consciousness, and the importance of books. Bradbury defended his most famous novel as a champion of learning, of turning out distractions and tuning into what’s really important: the world around us. But what is the setting of Fahrenheit 451, exactly?
Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit during a troubling time in America. McCarthyism and the threat of nuclear war plagued America. Yet Bradbury felt many tuned out important political and economic problems in favor of TV, radio, and socializing. He was truly ahead of his time in envisioning earphones for his characters, devices that could tune out conversation with the click of a button. It’s likely Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit with America in mind, but there’s no mention of America specifically in the book. Bradbury was also born in the midwest, so some scholars have suggested this as a location for the setting. All unconfirmed.
We really only have Captain Beatty to go off of, the main character’s enigmatic and problematic boss. He says to Guy near the beginning of the book: “Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more,” (25). Since it’s likely this book takes place in America, the system Beatty talks about would be American higher education. Technically, Harvard was the first university in the United States, starting in 1636. Five centuries past would place the book in the 22nd or 23rd century. Since Fahrenheit bases itself on a short story Bradbury wrote earlier, it’s likely the settings are similar. The Fireman was set in 2052, though this would put it at odds with the timeline Beatty discussed.
Does Setting Matter?
What is the setting of Fahrenheit 451, and does it really matter? Above all, it’s likely Bradbury erased any specific detail about the time and place of Fahrenheit 451, because then its universal message could stay more apparent and relevant. Bradbury wrote for an audience that experiences the problems faced in the book throughout time and space. To limit the book to a location would be to forcefully apply a historical framework to it, which may devalue some meaning. Whatever the case, Bradbury was careful to not to give away any dates or locations. To keep things nameless, to show that this future is possible anywhere, at any time if we let our guard down for too long.