Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Title:  Fahrenheit 451

Author:  Ray Bradbury

Paperback:  191 pages

Date published:  1953

Publisher:  Del Rey (div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780345342966

Miscellaneous:  This book was first published in 1953, and has since won the National Book Award and the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award.  The copy I have is a 50th anniversary edition, and has an interview with Bradbury in the back of the book.

“With schools turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.  You always dread the unfamiliar.  Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him.  And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours?  Of course it was.  We must all be alike.  Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.  Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.  So!  A book is a loaded gun in the house next door.  Burn it.  Take the shot from the weapon.  Breach man’s mind.  Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?  Me?  I won’t stomach them for a minute.  And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world… there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes.  They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior:  official censors, judges, and executors.  That’s you, Montag, and that’s me….  You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred.  Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all?  People want to be happy, isn’t that right?  Haven’t you heard it all your life?  I want to be happy, people say.  Well, aren’t they?  Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun?  That’s all we live for, isn’t it?  For pleasure, for titillation?  And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these….  Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo.  Burn it.  White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Burn it.  Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs?  The cigarette people are weeping?  Burn the book.  Serenity, Montag.  Peace, Montag.  Take your fight outside….  Burn all, burn everything.  Fire is bright and fire is clean.”

-Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, pages 58-60 (emphasis added)

In the first line of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury,  Guy Montag tells us, “It was a pleasure to burn.”  Guy is a fireman who loves setting fires and watching things undergo change via the flames.  He aims his firehose and sprays the kerosene over the contents of a house and lights the match.  A permanent smile is plastered to his face from the hundreds and hundreds of fires he’s set over the ten years he has spent in service to his city.  Life for Montag is good and makes sense.

Then a series of events occur that rocks his world.  He meets Clarisse McClellen, who is “seventeen and crazy” as she says.  She’s been labeled “anti-social” for asking “why?” instead of “how?” and for wanting to connect to people instead of merely co-existing with them.  She likes to go on hikes and collect butterflies, and is forced to see a psychiatrist for such odd behaviours.  Clarisse’s innocent questions and simple, romantic views on life awakens some long-comotosed awareness in Montag’ssoul.  With the question, “Are you happy?” Guy is forced to re-evaluate himself and the world around him.  His wife attempts suicide, then goes on pretending it had happened and, in fact, refusing to believe Guy. 

The crisis moment for Montag happens when he’s at a house to burn and the older woman chooses to set herself on fire with her books, rather than leaving them.  He is forced to question whether it is morally right to destroy something of such value that people are willing to die for them.  And if such an act is wrong, what can he, MUST he, do about it?

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradburywill have to go on my top 10 list… just not sure which book to bump for it.  First off, I love dystopic books, it’s probably my favorite genre.  My definition of Dytopia is:  Someone’s Utopia is another’s HELL.  Second, Fahrenheit 451 speaks to the time it was written, but also has something to say to future generations of readers.  It’s a cautionary tale of a possible future, barely imaginable when he wrote it nearly 60 years ago, and frighteningly close to life today.  And as I read this, I couldn’t help but feel we did not listen to the warning.

For instance, when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, wallscreen and battery operated televisions weren’t around.  Black and white television itself was in its infancy, but the love of Mrs. Montag’s life is her parlor wallscreens that allow her to be surrounded by her “family”, virtually live and in color.  A device allows the people on the shows to insert her name and even look like they’re saying it.  A device called a Seashell is worn in the ear, and allows a person to hear music, without disturbing those around them, and Mildred Montagwears hers so often that she’s become a proficient lip-reader.  I immediately thought of MP3 players… Sam wears hers so much that she had a meltdown the other day when I told her she couldn’t take it to church with her.

Truly, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was prophetic.  The society found in within the pages of the book bear a lot of similarities with our culture today.  Disconnected from one another, they/we go about with our devices in our ears (Seashell, MP3 player, cell phone, etc) and no longer take the time for conversations with our neighbors and others we meet in passing, and if we do happen to “chat,” it’s shallower than a pie pan. 

They/we are so afraid of offending others that the thought police (Firemen or Political Correctness) have made it socially unacceptable, and in some cases  criminal, to express ourselves, even monitoring our own self-talk.  Free speech?  HA!  Congress is doing everything they can to eliminate that little inconvenience.

They/we are so obsessed with instant gratification that they/we no longer want to take the time to think about what they/we read, to let it distill in our souls.  So books are flatter and more “pastepudding,” as Bradbury calls it, and the average person is no longer able to read and comprehend a newspaper article… not that they actually have the patience to read a whole one, just the headline and first paragraph, then onto the funnies (and even they are getting too long).  Supermarket tabloids, Harlequin romance novels, car and sports magazines are the only books found in some homes, and to be “intelligent” is to be reviled.

I don’t say this often, if I’ve ever said it at all, but Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a MUST READ.  It should be taught in schools and read every year.  Oddly enough, this book was actually challenged as part of a school curriculum… A parent wanted to ban a book that is a warning against book banning!  How ironic.  

Obviously, I give Fahrenheit 451 5 out of 5 stars.  READ IT!

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