” It’s perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it’d burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It’s a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don’t really know. It’s real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. ” (Three: Burning Bright, p.109)
Set in the future, beyond year 2022, Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel in which the world is piteously bankrupted of fine actions rooted in emotional meanings. It presents a future that would be horrific for any reader—a future in which books cannot be read. The title refers to the supposed temperature at which book paper combusts. Today the message of Fahrenheit 451 has grown more relevant than ever before—not so much about the physical burning of books but the snubbing of them, which destroys culture.
One of them had to stop burning. The sun wouldn’t, certainly. So it looked as if it had to be Montag and the people he had worked with until a few short hours ago. Somewhere the saving and putting away had to begin again and someone had to do the saving and keeping, one way or another, in books, in records, in people’s heads . . . the world was full of burning of all types and sizes. (Three: Burning Bright, p.134)
The short novel revolves around Guy Montag, a fireman in the most ironic sense, who is responsible for setting fire to books that are found. The future world is one such that books, known to have corrupted minds, are banned. Houses are fireproofed, and yet when there’s suspicion that a household is hiding a book, firemen will arrive and douse the house with a flame-thrower. Burning books hardly makes Fahrenheit 451 dystopian, that people stop thinking for themselves does. No more emotional investment. Instant gratification replaces sentiments. Criical thinking is purged; family takes the form of wall-to-wall TVs.
Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magic in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. (Two: The Sieve and the Sand, p.79)
Fahrenheit 451 is sci fi-cum-allegory. It’s a book that critiques group-think and mass establishment that controls how society functions. In waiting for controlled information to be made available to them, people lose control of their mental faculties. There’re plenty of sentiments Bradbury could have expounded upon, and yet they are just glossed over. But Bradbury has more than suffice to convey the significance of written ideas because they are the way we transit our stories and our thoughts from one generation to the next. If we lose them, we lose our shared history—lose much of what makes us human.
250 pp. Simon & Schuster. 60th Anniversary Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]
Filed under: American Literature, Books, Contemporary Literature, General Fiction, Literature Tagged: | Books, Contemporary Literature, Fahrenheit 451, General Fiction, Literature, Ray Bradbury, Science Fiction