Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

“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.”

pg 59

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is considered a classic piece of literature. Though written in 1950 about a futuristic, screen-driven society, it resonates with us even more now. From rooms where the walls are made entirely of screens, to “Seashells” and “ear thimbles” that we would understand today as Air Pods, Ray Bradbury seemed to have an understanding seventy years prior to today of how humankind would rather tune out life than live it.

Enter Guy Montag. He is a fireman, but firemen no longer put out fires. They start them. (According to this book, firemen putting out fires is nothing but a myth.) And it’s not just a job – burning is a way of life, almost its own culture. When they get the call, they go to the address and set fire to the books and, often, the entire building where the books were found. Books aren’t allowed. They give you things to think about and things to discuss and new ways of doing things. People don’t want to have to think and don’t want to be uncomfortable or disagreed with. So the books have to go.

While this does sound a lot like censorship, and I believe much of it is, Bradbury said in an interview included at the back of this edition that he was “interested in more things than the political atmosphere.” The interviewer commented that Fahrenheit 451 is often compared to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Bradbury went on to say, “I was considering the whole social atmosphere: the impact of TV and radio and the lack of education. . . Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization.” Fahrenheit 451 is more about the importance of reading, thinking, and conversation than about politics and censorship.

“If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. . . chock them so full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

pg 61

I really enjoyed this book. The first several pages felt a little disjointed, and I took a while for me to understand what was really going on. I think the reason for this is that Bradbury jumps right into the story. You don’t get much explanation of the society, background, or location at the beginning of the book. You sort of learn as the book goes. I’m not sure if this is on purpose, but I can say that Ray Bradbury’s writing style is very unique and unlike most (or all) books I’ve ever read.

There is a substantial amount of language and misuses of God’s name. It feels quite dark at times, and sometimes a little too realistic with the use of technology in the story. And the ending is unsatisfactory, even for me who often enjoys incomplete or cliff-hanger type endings. However, it is a thought-provoking book that I wish more people would read.

One of my favorite parts, though also perhaps one of the most dismal, is when one of the characters comments on how she sometimes just sits and listens to people talk. “Do you know what?” she asks Montag. “People don’t talk about anything . . . they name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming pools mostly and say how swell! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else.” How sad and true of today! We just drop names or brands of things we bought or repeat something we saw or heard the other day. Nobody wants to bring up different ideas or hard conversations full of grace-filled truth. Let’s do more of that. More reading, more discussions, less small talk and meaningless conversations, more relationships.

His name was Faber, and when he finally lost his fear of Montag, he talked in a cadenced voice, looking at the sky and the trees and the green park, and when an hour had passed he said something to Montag and Montag sensed it was a rhymeless poem. Then the old man grew even more courageous and said something else and that was a poem, too. Faber held his hand over his left coat pocket and spoke those words gently, and Montag knew if he reached out, he might pull a book of poetry from the man’s coat. But he did not reach out. His hands stayed on his knees, numbed and useless. “I don’t talk things, sir,” said Faber. “I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I’m alive.”

pg 75

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