Written in 1953 Farenheit 451, which gets its title from the degree at which paper burns, is a slim text depicting a dystopian, hedonistic society–a society in which teenagers get their kicks by killing one another, that values nothing more than mindless happiness and in which books are burned by “firemen” whose hoses are connected to “Salamanders” and douse everything with kerosene rather than water. Guy Montag, the central character, is one such fireman.
The principal concept of Bradbury’s book is quite simple: In this future society, books are banned; those caught with them lose their homes to the burning, kerosene-fueled fire of the firemen; books aren’t simply burned, so are the homes that contained the books and their owners are jailed, for owning books is against the law. Guy Montag enjoys his work enforcing these laws and societal norms, moving through his life never really questioning. Montag is married to Mildred (Milie) a drone, who is plugged into her three-wall televisions, quite literally, as she becomes absorbed in her “family” on screen and the programs literally incorporate her into the script.
Montag’s rote living soon takes a turn when he meets his new neighbor, Clarisse McClellan, a free-spirited and free-thinking girl who disturbs Montag’s world with all her questions about why people don’t talk to one another and don’t think. Then one day a book seems to magically make its way into Montag’s hand, then his coat, then his home, and then more books follow. And Montag’s world changes. He begins to actually think.
While the concept of Bradbury’s book is very simple, the underlying themes are quite complex, and despite being written over 50 years ago, it’s a bit scary how Farenheit 451 so closely touches on many aspects of our society today, even if we don’t burn books. In the society of this text, the government did not simply decide that banning books was the way to best suppress reading and, thus, thinking. Instead, the government simply responded to society’s desires to suppress any literature that could be considered pejorative or disturbing to anyone. Additionally, people became increasingly infatuated with television whose “characters” soon came to represent their “families”. This, coupled with the need for instant gratification and the idea that everyone should be happy every second of everyday, simply fueled the loss free-thinking society and, thus, of literature.
For such a slim book, it’s quite a powerful text, that really makes you stop and think “What if”? And after finishing the book, I found myself wondering why it had taken me so long to actually pick up a copy and read it, which is something that I rarely think with any book, despite all the talk that many receive. (Frankly, as someone who was an English major in college and graduate school, I found myself a bit perplexed that I had never had to read the book for a class.)
In addition to the book itself, I found myself drawn back to not only the original introduction to the text, but also the forward written in 1993 and the new introduction written in 2003, which was included in the particular edition I read–the 50th anniversary edition. I must say that it’s rare that an introduction to a book moves or provokes me, but the introductions and the forward to this book did just that. I found myself not only laughing at times but also nearly moved to tears. The description of how Fahrenheit 451 actually came to be a short novel is well worth reading on it’s own and only adds to the depth of the book itself.
Fahrenheit 451 is definitely well worth the read, and is going on my list of favorite books.
5 of 5 stars