Fahrenheit 451

By: Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman who’s job is to sets fires rather than putting them out. His greatest pleasure is to burn books and watch their pages be consumed by hungry and cleansing flames (along with the houses that hold them).

Montag does not question the necessity of his job. He does not question the ethics of his actions. However, after a brief conversation with a strange sixteen-year-old girl, Montag begins to question everything in his life: his job, his wife, his home, and his pastimes. He begins to learn that with the absence of books, life loses its meaning.

Now, Montag must figure out how to give his life purpose and share his findings with those who hate to listen.

Some years back, I began to read Fahrenheit 451. For whatever reason, I found the language dense and the imagery odd. I couldn’t understand the book, and so I put it away. However, I kept my copy even though I believed I would probably never try to read it again. Something, though I don’t know what changed my mind. Perhaps I was looking for a short break from the Stephen King novels I had been reading, or maybe I just wanted to see if the novel was still so hard for me to grasp. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it wasn’t difficult at all. Perhaps I’ve grown as a reader. I’m not sure. Maybe I just needed a fresh start. A fresh perspective.

In the Coda of the novel, I discovered (much like with the Handmaid’s Tale) that many of the details from the story were drawn from real life. In this case, they were drawn from Ray Bradbury’s experiences as an author.

He received countless letters about his work The Martian Chronicles in which readers questioned his decisions about how he structured his characters. There aren’t enough women, the black characters weren’t written well and should be re-written, or the black characters should be omitted entirely. These angry notes from readers bled into Fahrenheit 451 when a character mentions that many books were banned because one group or another was offended by some part of the story. The unpleasantness of being offended could be easily remedied, how? By getting rid of the offending material. That simple. That struck home with me, and I found the thought of that logic actually being used in our society to be both possible and terrifying.

There is also the matter of stories being condensed down so much that they become a shadow of their former self. All the enriching prose and meaning are lost in order to make the stories more palatable and easy for readers. The need to actually read a story has become obsolete. Consider the number of ways people can get the footnote version of any classic at the tips of their fingers.  Have you ever used Spark Notes to learn about Shakespear? How about searching for abbreviated versions of the text on the Internet. Maybe instead of reading the novel you watch a movie or listen to a podcast.

If you look for it, you will find that there are so many ways to cheat reading the original text at all. Do you find classics to be too dense and hard to understand? No worries, there is a dumbed-down version in “plain English” you can purchase for $8 at your local bookstore. No need to try to piece things out yourself. That takes too much effort.

While Bradbury wrote this story 50 years ago, I feel as though he could have published it today to the same effect. The striking similarities drawn between this novel and American society are astounding and horrific. I just hope that there are enough people left in this country with a passion for books and learning that we will never completely backslide into the nearly hopeless oblivion of Fahrenheit 451’s world.

The story isn’t all doom and gloom though. While the novel broaches unpleasant topics, it also embodies the spirit of human endurance, especially when it comes to craving knowledge. There will always be people who ask questions, and they will be the ones that save us from a bitter end.

I’m glad I revisited the story because it made me think. I won’t be one I forget.

Overall review: 4.5 stars

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