It is hard to believe that I have not read Fahrenheit 451 yet. I’ve been meaning to read it since I was 15 and actually have an old tattered copy of it for about ten years or so. I have always loved the tagline, “The temperature at which books burn.” Luckily The Classics Challenge came along to finally get me to put it on the top of the pile!
Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a firefighter who loves his job. In the future, firemen do not put out fires (houses are fireproofed), but instead start fires to destroy illegal books. Society has disintegrated. War is eminent, but society is obsessed with talking to their “family” on their 4 wall interactive televisions. Life is not respected; suicides, abortions, hit-and-runs are rampant. Literature has been downgraded to brief summaries on TV. Books are not needed, and are viewed as objects that cause thought and depression.
Montag has always believed in the evil of books. One day his thoughts start to change when he meets a young girl named Clarisse. Clarisse looks at the world through a different point of view. She likes to stop and smell the flowers and think about things outside what she is told to think. Her ideas, coupled with his wife’s attempt at suicide, and other events put Montag on a path of self-discovery. Montag attempts to change his life and the future of man-kind.
Bradbury had fantastic prose throughout the book that often had me stop to admire the beauty of the language. I enjoyed this book immensely and feel that its message is more than highly relevant today. This book was first published in 1953 during the height of the Cold War. In modern times we have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a public that cares more about the results of American Idol. We do live in a time in which people sometimes spend more time on the internet (blogging like me!) talking with Facebook friends or texting rather than talking to their friends or family in the same room or house. I think at times this is a bad situation, but at other times, I think that the internet and television actually help people in their understanding and reading of books. I love reading other peoples blogs and “talking” to them about books that my own friends and relatives don’t read.
Another way to interpret this book is as a treatise against the banning of books and censorship. Indeed in a fantastic “Coda” at the end of the book, Bradbury states,” There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.” Bradbury then goes on to describe how Fahrenheit 451 was censured in 75 sections to make it more suitable for school children. I know of nothing more ironic then the censoring of a book about the censuring of books.
In a world were people do not want the President of the United States to talk to school children about staying in school as it might be offensive, I find this highly relevant. I am very much against the banning and censorship of books. I could not believe that when I was in college, my own hometown attempted to ban The Catcher in the Rye from the high school American Literature required reading. The reason why was that people had flipped through and had noticed a few swear words. I always thought these people should have sat in the back of the school bus and realized there was a lot worse going on at school. Attempting to force only one message on people and shelter them from reality would be against everything that is America.
I could talk on this subject all day, but I’ll end here with a quote from the book, where Montag comes to a realization about society. “We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years.”