From my 2016 Reading Challenge, Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, was a book I should have read in school, but did not. Now, having read it, I find myself struggling to write a traditional review. So instead, I’ve labeled this a conversation. I’m honestly not sure what I can add to the conversation that already exists surrounding this book. So many people have said so much already. I will try and do justice to the canon that is Fahrenheit 451.
This is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman charged with the destruction of books, in an imagined future where firemen start fires rather than put them out. Where the government has taken advantage of a culture that has given up all interest in books and intellectual learning in favor of immediate pleasure and entertainment. Parlors with full wall screens play “shows” directed at the individual within the home where players are referred to as “family”. The happiness of the population is the utmost importance to the government. Books are deemed to be offensive, and a source of pain and anguish for citizens. Thus, they must be destroyed.
As a fireman, Montag is charged with burning any books that are found, usually reported by a neighbor. Some people who exhibited odd behavior (such as taking a stroll) would be watched and monitored by the system, tagged, if you will. It is one such individual, a young teenage woman, Clarisse, who Montag meets at the opening of the story who becomes a catalyst for the events that follow. Montag finds himself drawn to the very books he’s charged to destroy.
Bradbury saw a culture obsessed with technology. In his imagined future, the people are bombarded by advertising, propaganda and meaningless messages through their parlor screens, Seashell radios directly in their ears at all hours, and even on the trains, the messages are unending. He saw the advance of television as an attack on free-thinking. This book talks about the effects of mass media on society, and about the complacency of the citizenry, a lackadaisical approach to life in seeking only self gratification. The book burning is only a symptom of this warped society.
I can’t help but draw parallels to our culture here and now in 2016, that glorifies the immediacy of social media and entertainment venues. TV screens are larger than ever, equipped with “smart” technology and access to more channels than anyone could ever watch. There is more information available via the internet than anyone could ever take in. In truth, even books and intellectual discussions have been to some degree watered down by the rise of self-publishing, blogging and so on.
It is within this complete glut of information that I can see how one could become overwhelmed to the point of ignoring or tuning out all of that information. It is easier to find a single piece of truth to hold on to and agree with, disparaging everything else as false.
Now, some weeks after finishing this book, I still find myself bothered by what I read. It keeps poking at my mind. I suppose that’s what it’s supposed to do. To encourage, even force, readers to think about the consequences of their seemingly innocuous daily choices. The choices we make in each moment on how to spend our time, and on how to spend our dollars add up bit by bit into the culture we’ve created. A society more interested in seeking self-pleasure than in truly understanding the world around us.
Though there is much more I could say, I’ll leave the conversation here. If you’ve read the book, you know what its message says and have probably formed your own thoughts about it. If you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to do so.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s keep the conversation going.