Rating: 4 out of 5
So after reading Orwell’s 1984, I continued with the dystopian theme with Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Published in 1953 and named after the degree at which book-paper burns, this short novel has become synonymous with the fight against censorship.
Set in a futuristic America in which our vehicles travel over 100 miles an hour and our home’s walls convert into televisions playing 5-minute shows in rapid succession, Guy Montag is a fireman who burns down houses that harbor any books. At first he enjoys his occupation, but after a woman chooses to die with her books instead of face her impending arrest, Montag questions the world around him.
Montag meets mysterious comrades Clarisse, a inquisitive high-schooler, and Faber, an ex-English professor, but his life is forever changed after he is caught stealing books. The rest of the novel follows his life on the run as a fugitive trying to make sense of everything.
Although not nearly as chillingly timeless as 1984, Fahrenheit 451 is still an exquisite warning against society’s dwindling attention span. As the internet dominates our lives and offers endless entertainment in minutes-long YouTube videos, people are devoting less and less time to absorbing the wisdom we can gain from literature. In the age of the Kindle, sadly even paper books are becoming obsolete.
Yes, the novel disapproves of how extreme political correctness can limit free expression in books, but more importantly it points out how if nobody’s reading books in the first place, they won’t be missed. It is up to future generations to keep reading and reciting these literary tales so as to preserve their messages. Montag learns that you never know when you’ll need those stories to shape the world for the better.
For fans of 1984, this novel will be harder to comprehend at first, since Bradbury does not spell everything out like Orwell. Characterizations of various beast-like creatures, such as the Hound, the salamander, and the beetles, are often symbolic. The ambiguity between the residents and the people they watch in their parlors blurs the line between fact and fiction.
So even though Bradbury himself wrote the novel in a mere nine days, don’t blaze through it like a bonfire. Instead enjoy the words slowly and without distractions; take comfort in reading for pleasure, because when the world is obsessed with faster speeds and instant gratification, it’s good to live in the moment of a masterpiece.
Favorite Quote: “Let you alone! That’s all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”