Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury and published quite a while ago in 1953, is a book that is considered a classic of world literature today but might not be top ranked on your to-be-read list unless you are really into dystopian fiction. I also did not consider reading it until I had to do it for my English class in high school, which made me realise that this book is a classic for a reason, and its message has grown more relevant than ever before.
Fahrenheit 451: the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns
The story of the novel is set in a dystopian world where printed books are a dangerous property since owning, or even worse, reading them is strictly forbidden. To prevent the citizens from doing it, there are firemen whose only job is not to save people from a burning house but to destroy books, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Guy Montag, the protagonist of this novel, is such a fireman, and he never ever even thinks about questioning his job and the destruction he causes. He is an ordinary man living in a society that aims for all people to conform and be happy. This is especially shown through the character of his bland wife Mildred, who is wholly absorbed in the virtual world she sees on her big flat screen. She also keeps a so-called seashell radio in her ear, even at night, preventing any thoughts, ideas or memories she might have from coming up. Being distracted at any given moment and having everything she wants readily available at the touch of a fingertip, she doesn’t even have the chance to realise how unhappy and depressed she is and that everything she does and consumes might not give any sense of fulfilment at all. It goes so far that suicide is becoming an everyday thing or a usual thing happening in this society.
“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 life for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”
Only knowing this society conform life, Guy Montag is irritated as he meets Clarisse, his young neighbour, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and actually lived their lives in the real world. Starting from the beginning to just admire the beauty of nature around him and take his time to watch and observe, he slowly begins to question everything he has ever known.
“He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back”
Contrary to what it might seem from a short summary and the title, this novel isn’t about book censorship. It’s about how fast mass media rots our brains. And this does not necessarily have to be TV shows as described in the book, any medium can have this effect if its constantly blasted to us and only about light entertainment. But also every medium, and especially books, can inspire thoughts, can make us disagree and deliver in-depth details and complexity. And I think this is why books are so important – because they require time and full attention, something that is not so common in a world where our attention is a valuable good and companies and social media platforms do everything to get yours.
“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories”