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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A critical look at censorship, just as relevant now as then., September 3, 2004
This review is from: Fahrenheit 451 (Mass Market Paperback)
It is ironic that Ray Bradbury's dystopian classic about the horrors of censorship has been on and off various "banned books" lists pretty much from the time it first appeared. That alone should be enough to pique one's interest. "Fahrenheit 451" tells the story of Guy Montag, a fireman. He doesn't fight fires - he starts them, in order to destroy books and any buildings that conceal them. He's happy with his job and always has been. But an unexpected series of events causes Montag to begin questioning the things he has hitherto accepted as undisputable. First he sees a woman burned alive in her home when she refuses to surrender her books. Then, Montag meets two people who expose him to ideas he has never before considered - one is a young girl, a new neighbor who proclaims herself "seventeen and crazy," and the other is an aging professor with memories of a time before...

When I first read the book over a year ago, I paid attention mostly to the plot alone, did not give the book as much thought as I should have, and therefore was not particularly struck by it. Re-reading it a few weeks prior to writing this, I concentrated more on the underlying themes of the book and gained a greater appreciation for Bradbury's creation. Originally written in 1950 as a short story entitled "The Fire Man" and taking it's final, full-length form in 1953, "Fahrenheit 451" is just as relevant today as when Bradbury first composed it at the cost of a dime an hour in the basement typing room of the UCLA library. It takes a head-on look at the ways in which censorship dulls the mind and seeks to undermine independent thought.

The form of censorship we encounter in "Fahrenheit 451" is not the same type of thought control found in books like "1984" by Orwell. In a way, it is even more insidious. There is no Big Brother figure trying to manipulate the minds of the people. Rather, books are taboo because the people themselves don't want them. The general public has lost all interest in reading. And no one wants that interest revived. Instead, people spend their days in front of enormous, wall-filling television screens. When Bradbury wrote the book, television culture was still in its earlier stages, so the novel shows great prescience when compared with the world of today. Now there are televisions in every home. Televisions are baby sitters, time fillers, background noise. When we're bored, we just turn on the TV and let the real world fade into the back of our minds.

In "Fahrenheit 451" we see this overwhelming dependence on television highlighted as a form of escapism from the reality of the world. Montag's wife spends every waking moment watching "the family" on the walls of the parlor. If Montag suggests that she do anything else, or even turn the volume down, she becomes distraught. She is literally lost without the world on the screen. It provides an insulation to cushion her mind from facing the darker things that hover just beneath the surface. And Mildred's repeated sleeping pill overdoses are evidence that such darker, depressing thoughts really do await her if she ever stops to ponder the world in which she exists, and just how lacking in substance it has become. In fact, the frequent references to other citizens' suicide attempts give us a clue to the very widespread nature of the problem.

These are all things well worth contemplating in today's world. Fewer and fewer people take the time to read nowadays. News can be obtained via television or, as is increasingy more common, via the Internet. Entertainment can be had in the form of movies, video games, and the like. And of those that still do read, simple throwaway novels are becoming keen competition for the classics and other books of real substance. The incidence of depression in our society is increasing rapidly. People are constantly looking for ways to escape the world and to avoid having to think about it.

Bradbury's book addresses all these issues and forces the reader to consider where our culture may be headed. Additional insight into the author's thoughts about and struggles against censorship can be gained by reading the Coda and the Afterword at the end, appended to the novel in 1979 and 1982 respectively. In these short passages Bradbury reveals the processes that went into the creation of "Fahrenheit 451" and the incidents that inspired and shaped it. He also gives us a heavy dose of irony by relating just how frequently others have sought to censor this very book. Admirably, he has turned down every such request, even at the cost of lost business, and "Fahrenheit 451" remains unaltered from it's original form. The story itself is short, simply written, and can be read quite quickly and easily. But it is worth considerable attention and thought, and deserves to be read by all.
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