Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Author – Ray Bradbury
Publishing Year – 1953
Author’s Nationality – American
Genre – Dystopic Science Fiction, Humanity
Pages – 160
My Rating – 5/5

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Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopic novel written about an imaginary futuristic age of 2200. I absolutely loved reading this book. It’s a slim volume, a very accessible read and I think a necessary book for everyone in this age. Our lives are constantly changing, at a terrifyingly fast pace. The march of advancement in technology can’t be stopped any longer. This book is a cautionary tale of a world where the blindly consumable hogwash of mass media has replaced literature in every form. This tale focuses on the human pursuit of comfort and happiness, how it has led to the eradication of any ideas, thoughts, deeds that hold the power to question or disturb. In creating a world where books are burnt and are deemed illegal commodities, Ray Bradbury’s book is a strong statement on why literature is important, how mass media poses a threat to literature and about the dangers of de-humanisation of an illiterate society infatuated with mass media.

This is what Ray Bradbury has to say about the reason behind writing this book.

“I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country four years ago. Too many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time. And of course, things have changed a lot in four years. Things are going back in a very healthy direction. But at the time I wanted to do some sort of story where I could comment on what would happen to a country if we let ourselves go too far in this direction, where then all thinking stops, and the dragon swallows his tail, and we sort of vanish into a limbo and we destroy ourselves by this sort of action.”

The protagonist in this book, Mr. Montag is a fireman who burns books. He is astonished to find out that there was a past where firemen actually put out fires instead of creating them. These firemen, in the society are the guardians of peace and the executors of those who threaten to destroy this peace. Mr. Montag faces a crisis of conscience as he meets Clarisse, finds out that his wife almost died and concludes that he is unhappy.

The reader follows Montag as he hears Captain Beatty assail books as being mere lies. Books say nothing. Fictional books are about non existent people and figments of imaginations. Non fictional books are about one person’s philosophies shoved down another’s gullet. There is no certainty, no truth, no knowledge to be gained. They are all simply pretensions of knowledge and accomplishment, to confuse, and bewilder. Once of the same mindset, the fireman had burned books with great delight.

“It’s fine work.Monday burn Millay,Wednesday Whitman,  Friday Faulkner, burn ’em to ashes, then burn the ashes.  That’s our official slogan”  (p. 8).

Captain Beatty is a champion of the unremitting assault of fast-paced electronics that have replaced literature and flood the mind with a deluge of information delivered at such a fast rate that there is no time to think, question and “to look at the world and turn it over in one’s mind.”

On the other hand, Montag encounters Faber, a former English professor who explains to Montag how the books stitch together the patches of the universe into one garment for us. I love how Faber describes the importance of books. “The good writers touch life often,” he says, “the mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.” He talks about the power of good books with a rich and detailed texture of information that captures fresh details of reality, makes you minutely aware by passing reality over a microscope and show it as it is– the pores and all. He also talks about the dictatorial power of brainwashing that TVs have and books do not. You can’t argue with a four walled televisor set, he says. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It doesn’t give you time to turn it over in your head and a chance to protest what is being so quickly guzzled. It becomes the truth. Books, on the other hand can be beaten down with reason, Faber says. You can put it down, take a leisurely breath and think it over. Books do not tell you what is certain and right, they show you different patches of the universe and let you decide.

Fahrenheit 451 is a great work of literature  – too great to be pigeonholed as mere muckraking, futuristic science fiction or as a manifesto against book burning and censorship. Unlike 1984, which is an exercise in political commentary railing against Utopian tyranny and Big Brother,  Fahrenheit  451  is less overtly political, less overtly about freedom alone, and more deeply about the essence of humanity,  about that which makes life worth living. At bottom, the characters, the plot, and the insights of Fahrenheit 451 are, above all else, about the life of the mind and the essential link  between a life of the mind and a life of meaning.

Bradbury identifies many forces that interfere with a life of the mind and diminish the possibility of a life of meaning. They includes separation from the written word; separation from the simple senses of taste, smell, sight, and touch; and separation from the virtues of leisure, respite, and reflection. For all the fire of Fahrenheit  451, for all the book burning and city bombing, the novel is largely about the human need for peace – for peace among nations, for peace of mind and soul. It is also about an attempt of humanity at this pursuit of peace gone awry. A MUST READ!

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