Fahrenheit 451

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Ray Bradbury

Sci-Fi, Dystopian

In this dark vision of the future, Guy Montag is a firefighter. However, instead of putting out fires, Guy and his colleagues start them with the sole purpose of burning books that are considered dangerous to their society. Unfortunately, this includes almost all books that contain any sort of original idea.

In order to keep most people in society happy, the government has banned all books that might make people think. Oblivion is considered the key to contentment, while the quest for knowledge and self-awareness is seen as abnormal and a recipe for unhappiness. Severe punishment awaits anyone who violates this rule and the oblivion and ignorance in which most of the people live.

Most people, like Montag's wife, are content with this, or at least seem to be so on the surface. She sits in front of her television, living through the characters within. In fact, her main complaint is that Guy doesn't work hard enough to afford a fourth TV wall. A handful of others, however, like Guy's neighbor Clarisse, hoard books and live through the ideas promoted within them as well developing their own thoughts.

When Clarisse mysteriously disappears, Guy's life undergoes a dramatic upheaval as he questions the censorship made possible by his job and entire culture. He begins hoarding books and forming his own couterculture opinions. His wife eventually turns him in, and Guy flees to escape arrest. Finally he comes across a band of nomads, actually an outlaw group of scholars, who hide books within their minds waiting for the day when society will accept both them and the books again.

It has been almost a decade since I read this book, but I remember my initial response quite clearly. I had to read it for a high school literature class, and I was actually excited about it. Obviously I was already a bit of a dork even then, but I had already developed a love of Bradbury's works through some of his short story compilations.

This novel ranks with 1984 and Brave New World in presenting a frightening vision of the future in which basic rights and freedoms that we take for granted do not exist. Bradbury is adept at transporting the reader to a place where ignorance is desired and happiness is oblivion. In the process, he highlights the importance of knowledge and ideas in our own society.

I really enjoyed watching Guy's gradual and horrified realization that his job and his entire society were founded on ignorance. On one hand, his entire world collapsed; on the other hand, a much larger and more satisfying world opened before him.

And as always, Bradbury uses original and unforgettable prose to describe a world where censorship has spun out of control.

A justifiable classic that has gotten even more eerily applicable in our modern attention-deficit society.

instant gratification

I just re-read this book and was struck with how much some of Bradbury's ideas applied to modern society.

Where other similar dystopian novels have an evil authoritarian leader or government, Fahrenheit 451 is unique because its citizens have gradually chosen their laws and their restrictions on thought. They've done this because it became easier to sit in front of the television passively absorbing information or stories, rather than reading and forming thoughts and making associations with their own intellect and creativity. After watching my own habits over the years as I get more and more reliant on Wikipedia and Google to obtain basic facts and interpretations, I think Bradbury was ahead of his time.

Case in point: I was watching 2001: A Space Odyssey several months ago and had to fight the urge to jump on the net immediately afterwards to find out what the hell that movie was about. Instead, I forced myself to sit and think about it for awhile. How much longer before I don't even bother to do that? How much longer before films like 2001 are a thing of the past and all we have are Hollywood blockbusters where everything is black and white and there is no room for individual interpretation?