Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
First published 1953
3/5 new authors (2013 Book Challenge)
In an age when reading can be described as almost as natural as breathing, and at the same time also extinct, we rarely think about censorship. In the first case, because we cannot imagine losing the liberty of reading any book we wish; in the second — censorship becomes unnecessary because people choose not to read without any external authority pressing them.
Fahrenheit 451 describes an extreme form of society of the latter case — books are becoming extinct through firefighters, who instead of putting out fires, start them to burn books. Reading has become a crime, books are forbidden, and technology has taken over. The disappearance of books shows itself through disappearance of original thought and new ideas — humans have become empty “brainless” shells, constantly entertained by the dumb-ing mass-produced shows and music, devoid of any actual meaningful content. Sounds freakishly familiar to the possible future of our society? Yup. Bravo, Ray Bradbury.
Our main character, Guy Montag, is a firefighter, same as any, until he meets Clarisse McClellan. She is 17 and insane, as she masterfully describes herself, and she is a freethinker who does not belong to Montag’s society. He, however, shows an interest in her, and she makes Montag question everything, down to his own happiness. And Montag begins to see the awful predicament of his world.
Ray Bradbury has done such a tremendous thing with this novel, beginning from the very title. Before arriving at the final version, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury had several other temperatures substituting the well-fitting 451. He wanted to know the precise temperature at which paper ceases to be paper, inflames, and dies. Finally, when the local firefighting department (if I remember correctly) assured him it was 451°, Bradbury settled at that. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a title which has been chosen so carefully, to mean such a specific thing. And it sounds almost melodic, doesn’t it?!
There are so many things to discuss about Fahrenheit 451, I don’t even know how to introduce any of them. The character that intrigued me most after I finished the novel was Beatty. (Some spoilers shall follow.) Beatty is the chief firefighter who, after Montag steals the Bible, tries to set him back onto the right path, and in the end turns against Montag, or so it appears.
What is interesting about Beatty is that, being an exemplary firefighter who despises books, Beatty is strangely well-informed and able to quote quite a few works. Despite this suspicious fact, no one dares question his authority because although Beatty spews quotations, he puts them to disrepute right away. Finally, after Montag kills Beatty, he reflects that it was as if he wanted to die. So my question is, was Beatty like Montag except with a realistic and pragmatic mindset? Did Beatty realize that the world was degrading, that a war would start? Perhaps he did, but he knew better than to challenge the almighty authority. He got himself a job which would allow him to be around books without being in danger. He wanted to die. Perhaps he knew there would be no other way.
Another thing I wish to mention is the “presence” of God in the novel. All Bibles have been eradicated, religions are forbidden, and yet every characters screams “Oh God!” almost every time they open their mouth. Especially Montag. Is this supposed to show how the word has lost its meaning, or did Bradbury simply overlook such a common exclamation?
In any case, it doesn’t really matter. This book is about books. Books are strange and wonderful things. They have been censored since the beginning of time. Why? Because of fear. Books carry ideas. For centuries kings and rulers have been afraid of ideas and original thought, because those gave power to the intellectuals, and these people could question and discuss anything. It is much easier to stay in power when ruling a brainwashed lot, isn’t it? Books are wonderful things and they grant unlimited power to their beholders. Reading is a seemingly solitary activity, and yet … is it? 🙂