on January 17, 2000
When I began teaching three years ago, I was required to teach this book. Having never read it before, I began reading it just before our winter break. As I soaked up the story of the book, I realized my students were already living it. They begged me daily, "Ms. Hill, why do we have to read this stupid book? Can't we just watch the movie?" As I got deeper and deeper into the book, I grew increasingly depressed about the future of the world.
Then I realized: Bradbury has given me a picture of what might be, if we are not careful. His book written nearly fifty years ago peers just twenty minutes into the future now. Technological developments he had no name for then are very real today. For example, his seashell radio is clearly the walkman many of us see pressed in the ears of teenagers daily. TV screens are growing larger and larger and flat screens with HDTV are on the market now. The next step is clearly the full wall television of Mildred's parlor. Robot dogs like Aibo are just a hop skip and a jump away from the dreaded hound.
But this is a future preventable. Maybe. But if popular culture is constantly valued above thoughtful consideration and education, we'll march right into a land of burning books and intellectualism on the run.
Bradbury's book made me feel defiant. They could never take my books from me. They could burn me with them if they want, but that's what it'll take before I give up my freedom to think for myself.
And as for my students, they remind me every day what an uphill battle I have been sent to fight.
on January 2, 2000
This book is absolutely amazing. It describes a time in the future where censorship prevails and minds are caged. Nobody has original thoughts; with the abolishing of books creativity was lost as well. Guy Montag, the protagonist, is a fireman (firemen burn books in this story) who has to fight to pull himself from the grip of an overpowering government and tradition, only to see that it is all useless (why teach to people who can't understand?). The novel shows what censorship can do to a society, and why individuals must not accept the norm without questioning its integrity and implications. Overall, read this book immediately and apply what you learn from it into everyday life.
By the way, ignore all of the reviewers that gave the book a low score because they could not understand the plot and symbolism. Their comments are similar to saying Shakespeare's works are poorly written because he uses odd vocabulary and the plot is too complex. Unfortunately, these people make of the mass of society, which is why these reviews are commonplace. (The funny thing is, the novel specifically targets these kind of people...)
on May 18, 2003
"Fahrenheit 451" is a simply great book. Yes, it's quite distressing and unpleasant to read - because what Bradbury describes is much closer to truth than we'd like it to be. And that is precisely what makes the reality of the book so alike our own - it's more pleasant not to think about such things, and therefore one can merely say the book doesn't suit one's taste and go 'get entertained' in front of the TV.
The disturbing thing about the book is that, unlike many other books that deal with the distant future, "Fahrenheit 451" (written in 1953) hasn't been proved wrong simply by time itself. Not at all. Actually, what is shocking to realize is that we've come quite close to the society Bradbury writes about. Perhaps books haven't been banned yet, but it is indeed the entertainment industry that controls people's minds, the political correctness has reached ridiculous levels, there are ads everywhere and now we even have Segways so that we don't have to walk anywhere... And, of course, we can get a thousand page long classics shortened to a hundred pages - or, better yet, simply watch the movie.
The book also has other qualities besides making one think (which is, judging by some other reviews, one of its biggest downsides). One cannot but admire the brilliant way Bradbury uses absurd and creates a completely surreal feeling by using the methods of expressionism to describe the feelings and thoughts of the main character.
Bradbury sure had things to write about - and that can be proved by even something as simple as the fact I've spent the last half an hour writing a review on the Internet rather than reading a good book or looking at the world...
on May 31, 2000
I read this book about 18 months ago, but I am writing a review now because the book came up during a mealtime conversation. We talked about how prophetic a very good science fiction writer can be. This is definitely the case in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Guy Montag lives in a world that represses freedom of speech, creativity, and the core of human spirit. People, including his estranged wife, are drones glued to these pseudo realities in television. It describes senseless trivia shows (can anyone say "Who wants to be a millionaire?") and awfully realistic soap operas that his wife affectionatly refers to as the "family."
What is most disturbing is that as televisions and technology become more "artificially intelligent" we will face some of the brainless drivel (we already do) that the major media networks provide us.
As a fireman, Guy Montag starts fires with books as the culprit - rather than putting them out. The idea is that books can make some people feel bad and as a result we should get rid of them - in other words books can be controversial and our country does not need disputes. The enforcer is a mechanical dog (which I found a little unrealistic and distracting) that injects a lethal poison into any opponents. Despite the silliness of the mechanical dog - the underlying theme is fantastic - open your mind and save the beauty of spontaneity and creativity of the human spirit.
It was a pleasure to burn. So begins, with this absolutely perfect opening line, Ray Bradbury's celebrated exposition of the dangers of censorship. Everybody knows that Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about book-burning, but this story goes much deeper than those not having read it may suspect. Its message truly does become even more germane and prophetic with every passing day. The skeleton of the plot is rather basic, really. Guy Montag is a fireman whose job it is to burn books and the houses in which these dangerous manifestations of inane scribbling reside - usually hidden. No one even remembers a time when firemen actually put out fires. We join Guy's life as he enters into a cusp of uncertainty. He has dared to pilfer a book here and there and stash them in his house, a most dangerous crime indeed. He soon meets a free-spirited teenager who breathes life into his state of uncertainty and opens his mind to brand new thoughts and possibilities. When she makes him admit that he is not happy, his life is changed forever. He can't take the lack of substance all around him, the wife who thinks of nothing but "the family" (a type of interactive programming that dominates the living room), the impending war which everyone essentially ignores. He knows there must be something else in life, and he comes to believe that the enlightenment he is after must surely be contained in books. Montag's conversations with his Fire Chief on this subject are quite astounding and revealing, and between this and Montag's friendship with an old former professor, we learn how Montag's world came to be this way.
The government did not simply ban books overnight. Censorship started slowly and at low levels. Some minority group complained about this - deleted; another group complained about that - gone; these fellows over here object to so-and-so - zip. So many little pieces of books were removed that, over time, the very essence of books was destroyed. While the government has now come to insist that reading books is a crime, the horrible truth of the matter is that the society itself, in its fractious ways, is the party responsible for this tragic state of affairs. Can there be a more timely topic for our own time? We continually see history books being rewritten, "objectionable" words, phrases, and (horror of horrors) ideas removed from novels and poems so that no one can possibly be offended by anything under the sun. Censorship is a cancer on society, and the world needs visionaries such as Ray Bradbury to forcefully draw attention to the cold hard facts that a majority of the population seems to ignore or fails to acknowledge. Once the true meaning has been chopped out of the books lining our shelves, it will be too late to reverse the momentum without the aid of some kind of miracle. Fahrenheit 451's message is one that all people should be exposed to, and this novel is such a quick (but powerful) read that everyone really should read it. As horrible as it is to envision, I fear that this type of censorship could indeed happen here.
I am teaching "Fahrenheit 451" as the example of a dsytopian novel in my Science Fiction class, although it is certainly one of the most atypical of that particular type of narrative discourse. Compared to such heavy weight examples as George Orwell's "1984," Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," Yevgeny Zamiatin's "We," Ray Bradbury's imaginative meditation on censorship seems like light reading. But the delicious irony of a world in which firemen start fires remains postent and the idea of people memorizing books so they will be preserved for future generations is compelling. Of course, there have been more documented cases of "book burning," albeit in less literal forms, since "Fahrenheit 451" was first published in 1953, so an argument can be made that while all the public debate was over how close we were the Orwellian future envisioned in "1984," it is Bradbury's little parable that may well be more realistic (especially in terms of the effects of television).
The novel is based on a short story, "The Fireman," that Bradbury published in "Galaxy Science Fiction" in 1951 and then expanded into "Fahrenheit 451" two years later. However, those who have studied Bradbury's writings caw trace key elements back to a 1948 story "Pillar of Fire" and the "Usher II" story from his 1950 work "The Martian Chronicles." Beyond that, there is the historical record of the Nazis burning books in 1933. The story is of a future world in which everyone understands that books are for burning, along with the houses in which they were hidden. Guy Montage is a fireman who has been happy in his work for ten years, but suddenly finds himself asking questions when he meets a teenage girl and an old professor.
"Fahrenheit 451" is not only about censorship, but also about the inherent tension in advanced societies between knowledge and ignorance. Reading this novel again I am reminded about Pat Paulsen's editorial on the old "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (a series well acquainted with the perils of censorship) about how we might enjoy freedom of speech in this country but we do not enjoy freedom of hearing because "there is always the danger of something being said." Censorship, in practical terms, is the effort of those who do not want others to hear what they find offensive, for whatever reasons, basically because it leads to people thinking thoughts they do not want them to be thinking. Through the rambling diatribes of Captain Beatty, Bradbury makes this point quite clear to his readers.
Even though this is essentially a novella, Bradbury's work retains the charm of a short story. The recurring use of animal imagery throughout the story, the use of the mythic ideas of the salamander and the phoenix, make "Fahrenheit 451" more poetic than any other dystopian work. Even if it is predominantly a one note argument regarding censorship, it is impossible to deny that Bradbury makes a clear and convincing case for his position. Besides, there is something to be said for any work that insures that beyond the point at which water freezes the only other recognizable number on the Fahrenheit scale is the point at which book paper starts to burn.
on July 17, 2009
Farenheit 451 was first published in 1953, so as I started on my first reading of the book I wondered if it would feel dated. After finishing it, I've decided that this book is even more relevant today than when it was first written.
Farenheit 451 is set sometime in the future (Bradbury wisely chose not to set a specific date for his story), and is the story of Guy Montag, a professional book burner, or "fireman." In Montag's time, American society now focuses primarily on constant pleasure seeking without inhibitions of any kind. Intellectual pursuits such as reading or writing are strongly discouraged, and those found owning any banned piece of literature (which by this time includes almost any piece of literature) are punished by imprisonment, while their homes are burned with the offending books inside. It is a time of apathy and lawlessness, and most of the population spends almost their entire lives focused on vacuous entertainment which massages the minds of the masses into an intellectual sleep. Montag's contentment with this existence is disrupted one day when he meets a young girl, Clarrise, who engages him in a conversation that begins to awaken in him the desire for a more meaningful life. Ultimately, Montag rebels and finds himself a fugitive from the very society that has created him.
To be upfront, I will admit that I hate modern television, specifically the drivel of reality tv that consists of watching the antics of dysfunctional individuals in all their horrific glory. I will be the first to admit that I enjoy television shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica which actually seem to have a story driven plot, and are delightfully complex. Still, I am blown away by a recent statistic that states that the average American spends 7 hours a day watching television. At this point, you are probably wondering, what does television have to do with Farenheit 451? This is not a novel about censorship, although that certainly is present in the novel. Bradbury has stated that the novel is primarily an exploration of how the obsession with television and mass media can or will destroy our desire to read. I find Bradbury's idea of the future frightening, especially when I consider that so many of my own acquaintances can't even remember the last time they read a book for enjoyment. In fact, that is the reason I was primarily attracted to book blogging. I wanted to find a place to share my love of books with others, and I couldn't seem to fill that need in my local community.
I found the coda that Bradbury added in a later edition to be especially interesting. As I was listening, it was spooky when I considered how many aspects of the novel have an equivalent in our modern society. One example that jumps out to me is the "seashell" device that Montag's wife Mildred is wearing almost continuously throughout the novel. Bradbury later wrote:
"In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction."
This book is a classic, and it deserves to be. If you haven't ever read this book, or if it has been a while, give it a try. If nothing else, it will give you plenty to think about.
on March 27, 2000
Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the world will change severely. Soon people's homes will be completely fireproofed, leaving no use for firemen as they are thought of today. But they will not be out of work; their role will simply change. In an ever increasingly television oriented society where yesterday's classics are now thought of as censurable tripe, firemen will be starting fires, not stopping them. Their new role will be of a secret police that search out the hated books and raise their temperature to the level at which books burn, Fahrenheit 451. This is the premise of Ray Bradbury's novel. Bradbury's story is an ominous look into where he fears society is presently headed. It is in many ways a warning against existing increasing rates of demoralization, drug use, addiction to non thought-provoking activities, and illiteracy. He easily communicates how such simple trends could evolve into societal brainwashing and individuals who say they are happy, think they are 'social,' and simply spend all their time in their parlors (the ultimate in new television technology). One of the self-proclaimed 'odd' people of this book went decidedly against the norm in saying, "But I don't think it's social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you?" However, this book is not solidly a story of doom and gloom. The main character is a fireman named Montag and he ends up providing hope for the reader. While he is not a godlike hero, made up of courage and thew, he does fit the quixotic template in that he is a sad classicist in a new and frightening time. After only a small jolt of reality from an imaginative child, he realizes the world could be made of truth and beauty, rather than the contemporary cheap thrills and insatiable cupidity. Furthermore, this tale has much in common with two other critically acclaimed classics. Montag's government is merely interested in controlling the people while waging war with other super powers, much like the opression in George Orwell's 1984. Additionally, individuals hold very little sacred, no one cares for human life and everyone is looking for a cheap (often-dangerous) thrill. This is a public where men who handle drug overdoses are not concerned that such matters happen "nine or ten a night," all of this general apathy is mirrored in the novel Brave New World. But, again, Bradbury is a creative author, and his visions of the future are not nearly as hopeless as 1984, or so alien and drug based as Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451's point is twofold. While it warns against where society is headed, it also shows that it only takes good people like Montag to bring society back from the brink of ruination. This faith in the goodness of the common man does not falter and shows optimism that is not always part of such works. Upbeat themes can be hard to find in such otherwise bleak forewarnings, and even in most normal classics it is hard to find a purely happy ending and/or main point. Seeing as this book was published over forty years ago one would assume that it is out of date, but this is not true. It is a science-fiction book without any unbelievable differences between this projected world and our own. Also, Fahrenheit 451 is easily read. The book communicates its point in a mere 160 pages, none of which are filled with incomprehensible vocabulary. It contains enough action for those who like it, and plenty of Montag's self-realizations for readers interested in seeing characters delve into their own mind's inner recesses. This book should be a joy to anyone who chooses to pick it up. Conversely, this easily enjoyed book carries with it some strong meaning. Montag's experiences are a warning to people who would get so used to their impersonal lifestyle that they would become desensitized to many of the world's horrors. Upon finishing the book, one is sure to be more guarded against choosing an easy path, and therefore becoming less of a human. Bradbury did well in bringing the way life became more and more impersonal and barbaric. "I put up with (my children) when they come home three days a month; it's not bad at all. You heave them into the 'parlor' and turn on the switch. It's like washing clothes." In likening children to annoying creatures which deserve as much attention as laundry, the character who made this statement both disgusts the audience and says the statement as if it were only natural. The author has a talent for letting his audience see situations both as they normally would and as the characters do. Even through the opening we see some of the book's many themes played out in Montag.
on January 25, 2000
"Fahrenheit 451", written by Ray Bradbury, is the chilling, prophetic, science fiction novel of the future. About censorship, it portrays a world where books are outlawed by a totalitarian goverenment, it shows how society's only goal is to achieve "pleasure" through the senses. It tells of a world where petty facts are more valued than knowledge and ideas; a place and time where no one questions what they are doing and why, but just doing it by rote. Guy Montag is a fireman of the future. Ironically, his job is to start fires, to burn everything, especially "corrupt" books that contradict the government, and society's way of life; books that make people think and learn to question things. Like all others, he doesn't ask questions, and enjoys his job, enjoys burning things, because "fire is bright and fire is clean." He lives oblivious to the frightening realities of life until his next-door neighbor, Clarisse, a young girl of seventeen, teaches him to ponder what might be behind the books that he burns, to learn to ask the question "why?" This causes him to undergo a "crisis of fiath." Examining his life for the first time, he sees how empty and meaningless it is. His wife cares for nothing else than her "television family" and is sucked into a world of endless chatter, movement, and moving images. He realizes the terrible horror of what society is doing; watching the tube, "oohing" and "aahing" but not really talking nor communicating with one another. Montag grows to recognize what a corrupt society he is living in. When clarisse mysteriously disappears, Montag is motivated to make some changes in his life. During nighttime "calls," he starts hoarding books away in his home, determined to understand what is behind those pages. Montag also tries to ignore Captain Beatty who tries to confuse him in his search for the meaning of books. Pondering the questions of life, his futile search for the ultimate "truth" leads him to Faber, a retired English professor. With Faber's help, Montag finds the road to justice and restoring the "past" where people are not afraid. Written in third-person, this book is an excellent portrayal of human nature; the good, the bad, and the in-between. Ray Bradbury, the author, paints a vivid picture of a future with no books, and makes the reader realize that without books, creativity and thought would be stifled. Literary devices such as similes, metaphors, and rich symbolism (example: "seashells" are the future generation's discmans) are used by the author to enrich the story. There are many types of conflicts shown in "Fahrenheit 451;" person vs. self, person vs. society, and person vs. person. Montag struggles with himself and tries to distinguish between right and wrong. He also battles with the society around him, and tries to make them realize that books are not to be feared, but worshipped. This is evident when he reads the poem to Mildred and her friends while they are in the "parlor" watching the "walls." But becuase of their lack of understanding and depth, they do not udnerstand the purpose and meaning behind the poem and regards Montag as being "crazy." Montag'ss struggles with Captain Beatty is the person vs. person conflict represented in the book. Since the world declining to conditions recounted in the book is hgihly possible, the novel has an "aura of chilling prophecy," which I like. A sense of the "not so distant future," with fantastic magical realism such as "spacecrafts"are common in all of Ray Bradbury's work, such as the "Illustrated Man" and "Fahrenheit 451." I enjoyed reading this "thought-provoking novel," about the future and censorship. It is no small wonder why there are over four and a half million copies in print all over the world.
on August 8, 2000
"The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies." Thus says FAHRENHEIT 451's Professor Faber in explaining to Guy Montag the importance of the "telling detail" of books. Montag is ready to hear these words, his job as a book burner in this twisted society of Ray Bradbury's invention no longer makes sense to him.
Books are illegal in the world of FAHRENHEIT 451. So is driving under 55 m.p.h. Faster is always considered better. Montag's society doesn't want anyone to stop and reflect, because it realizes that if people stop and think about things, they'll get restless. As Montag's fire captain tells him, "You ask why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed." An important difference between this futuristic society created in 1953 and George Orwell's world of 1984 is that Orwell's government was top-down while all the minorities (of every race, color and creed) in Bradbury's dystopia got together to burn everything that offended them. In this case, lack of tolerance for differing voices led to no voices at all--democracy has eaten itself by misunderstanding itself. Problems aren't faced; they are burned. This is the world Guy Montag rebels against; how deeply it reflects our own world is something to think about along the way.
Ray Bradbury is a good writer, one who encourages people to ask the question "why". He wants everyone to have a voice and to be able to express himself or herself, but not in such a way that they drown out other voices--the best ideas, he seems to believe, will naturally come to the fore. A short book of under 180 pages, FAHRENHEIT 451 is often assigned to middle school students. For those--like myself--who missed it in school, it still stands as an important work for all lovers of reading, freedom, and ideas for their own sake.