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Fahrenheit 451, the 50th Anniversary Edition Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1991
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If all you get out of this book is the "removal" of books from society to become more connected to our electronic devices I feel so bad for you.
The point of burning the books is explained. I might give just a couple of spoilers, but everyone knows the premise of 1984 and this book is similar. It is so much more than about books.
It is about censorship and the people wanting it. The government has banned all printed material except for comic books, 3D pornographic magazines, "good old confessions" and trade journals. All other printed material is deemed too offensive to someone. So much in-fighting in society because everyone claiming something offends them. So to make everyone happy, the offensive materials are removed. Because of the year this was written (1953) Ray Bradbury could have not envisioned the internet. If he had, it would have been heavily censored also. In 1953 ideas and knowledge were shared through print as they had been for hundreds of years.
According to the book, the people wanted the offensive materials removed. Because everyone is offended by something then everything is offensive, it must all be destroyed.
For me the novel rings true about how easily people are offended by another person's ideas, thoughts, actions, beliefs. In the story those things are still allowed (they can't control what you think), but without being able to write them down ideas and thoughts die pretty fast.
Ultimately the story is about freedom and not being so judgmental of others lest ye be judged. If you look around today, 11/4/2017, this story has never been more relevant. We have protests and attacks in the streets daily based on ideals and beliefs that clash with others. These clashes occur, rather than people going their separate ways and understanding that the beliefs and ideals of others are just as legitimate as their own. Some groups would rather have a scorched earth policy and destroy everything they hold dear, as long as the other side loses everything as well.
It's such a famous opening line and despite the fact that I'd never read Fahrenheit 451, one I've seemed to know for the longest time. It would crop up every so often in my life, usually at trivia nights. I knew it was a classic book, the type reluctant schoolchildren are assigned to read as part of their curriculum. As a progressive I always felt I was doing it a disservice by not reading it, so I set out to buy it on Amazon and finished it in under a day.
Let's tackle the plot first.
It's set in a Mid-West American city in a dystopian future. Our hero, Guy Montag, is a fireman except firemen in the future don't put out fires, they cause them. Books are forbidden and if any are discovered they are burned, including the house hiding them. Montag has no qualms with this, until one day he's called out to the house of an elderly lady. She chooses to set fire to herself and her house before Montag can do it. Shaken to the core by this, he tries to share it with his wife Mildred, but she's too addicted to vapid and superficial television shows to engage in conversation. Her big concern is getting a fourth TV. The only person he develops a connection to is his teenage neighbour, Clarisse. She's free-spirited and questions him constantly. One day she goes missing. Mildred casually tells him that Clarisse is dead.
Montag starts to wonder if books are really so bad. He steals a book of poetry from a house he's called out to burn. His chief begins to grow suspicious of him and pontificates about the dangers of books and independent thinking. Montag begins to feel rebellious as he rails against the hedonistic nature of society. One night Mildred invites some girlfriends over. Montag rashly brings his book out and recites poetry to them, moving one woman to tears. The others are mortified and Montag finds himself in serious trouble. I'll stop here before spoilers creep in.
I was interested to learn Bradbury's inspiration for this book. Apparently he was once out walking at night with a fellow writer when a police car pulled up and an officer got out. He asked Bradbury what he was doing, to which he responded that he was walking, "Putting one foot in front of the other." The officer was unamused with what he considered a smark aleck response and told him never to do it again. Bradbury was so angry that he went home and wrote a short story about a man who lived in a time when walking was considered a crime. Bradbury was also outraged at the persecution of artists by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the House of un-American Activities.
Many writers far better equipped than myself have wrestled writing a treatise for this book, so I'll leave further analysis to them. I just wanted to say that despite the obvious allegory in the story, I think it works just as a simple tale about the importance of books. Books have always been a big presence in my life. From as far back as I can remember, I have always had a full bookcase, jam-packed with titles in my bedroom. I was a voracious reader, blithely leaving books wherever I finished them (invariably not in said bookcase). I grew complacent and took it for granted that I was free to read whatever I chose. It was only as I grew older that I began learning about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, about the Nazi book burnings, and about the scorching and burial of texts and hundreds of Confucian scholars in ancient China. It's sobering stuff and made me think. I know of no country that doesn't have an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism. Generally books are considered deep (though plenty aren't), and there will always be those whom openly distrust (to the point of hostility) those deemed 'highfalutin and clever.' It is entirely plausible that at some stage in the future, books will be banned in any given country. If nothing else Fahrenheit 451 should serve as a warning against authoritarianism, and for a call to keep the free flow of knowledge and art alive. When I cast a roving eye on the pile of books next to me, I am full of appreciation and awe. I will protect them from any fire.
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It's a short novel and a quick read and it lights the flicker of a flame of thinking about the power of books but it's all just so rushed, so fast to develop and accelerate, that a lot of the opportunities to explore deeper are missed. Montag the fireman - one of the elite who set fire to books, burn people's houses to punish them for the knowledge in their books - witnesses an old lady start a fire and kill herself because she can't be without her books, and meets a young girl who tells him there's so much more to books then just fuel for his fires. He takes a book and becomes part of the anti-establishment.
In the foreword to the book, Ray Bradbury tells us he spent less than 10 dollars hiring the use of a typewriter to write Fahrenheit 451. Sadly sometimes it shows. This is just the bare bones of a story, lacking the meat to flesh it out into something more satisfying, more horrifying. It was written in the 1950s with the Nazi book burnings still fresh in people's minds but long before the wall-to-wall round the clock interactive television experiences that Bradbury envisions. For its time it must have been revolutionary. Today it just looks a bit tired and much too rushed.
Though I don't think the book is suitable to young children, my DD2 was interested in what was happening, so every couple of chapters I would paraphrase the plot so she could understand.
One of the central things in the book is the idea that people don't need to think anymore, just have a TV the size of a wall (or instead of one) and have multiple screens competing for your attention all the time, and you will be 'happy'. Books are not good for you because they encourage thinking, interpretation, and potentially bad conversations, whereas if you spend all your time only talking about superficial things like what happened in the latest reality TV series with your virtual 'family', then that is just fine. The TV will tell you everything you ever need to know, and you should not question it, else you dare to feel bad emotions.
This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the counter balance between a dystopian future and the reality we currently find ourselves.
The first thing that struck me was the style. It reads a bit like a fairy tale - Brothers Grimm - the language at times has a poetic quality, at times even puerile. The pace is unusually fast. There are no chapters as such, just the three parts and the book burns through fiercely. But there are some important messages going on here and some warnings about the unpredictable or perhaps even predictable course society is following. If they are not burning books they will be censoring the internet. It is about control. We all know the historical precedents. So for me this book is a reminder to be vigilant!
There is a very telling dialogue with Beatty, Montag`s fireman colleague who sets out very clearly the reasons why people need to be controlled. This episode is striking and deserves close attention.
I was reminded a bit of Orwell`s Animal Farm in that we have a fairly short story with a surreal like quality but with a very powerful message at its core and a warning of the perils which are ever present.
Hang onto your hats and prepare for the ride of your lives. Written in a fast, urgent style I found myself propelled into Montag’s world at a breakneck pace. It’s astonishing how fast his life changes, and you need to run to keep up. Given that this book was written in 1953 it has turned out to be astonishingly prescient and so many references within it resonate with life in the twenty-first century.
The characters are bought to life with well-written dialogue that gives everyone a distinct voice. And despite the futuristic setting, the picture of life in an unfamiliar world is so well crafted that at times it’s difficult to remember it’s not the way life really is. Though when you do, you can’t help but be grateful.
As is explained in the book, Farenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. Society has "developed" to the point where people are immersed in a world created by gigantic video screens, tiny radios in their ears and drugs. Books are illegal and must be burned because the ideas inside COULD make some people unhappy. (Sound familiar?)
This is the story of one of the book-burners, (ironically called firemen due to all modern houses being fireproof) who realises the fundamental wrong he's helping to commit, waking up and doing something about it.
The first half of the book is pacy and well constructed, you follow Montag through his growing awareness of the emptiness he's feeling. The second half follows what he does about it.
This was written in the McCarthy era of the 1950's but it stands up extremely well today. Sadly, a lot of the things in the book proved prophetic, fortunately though, not all!
I’ve never read any Ray Bradbury before but I’ve often seen “Fahrenheit 451” on those lists of books you really should read.
I hadn’t realised how short this was until I downloaded it and saw the page count and I do think it suffered from being so short. I would have loved to see more of how the world got into the position it was in, maybe through flashbacks or something, and of course I was left dying to know what happens next. That is my only real complaint though and let’s face it, it’s not a bad problem to have. Certainly better than when the book is too long and you wish it would end!
There were a lot of parts that reminded me of the way things are right now. This is a world where people live in houses with screens the size of their walls that run shows that people refer to as their “families” and these screens are how they get any news about the world, which is obviously only the news the Government wants you to hear. This definitely made me think of people’s obsession with reality TV and social media. In Bradbury’s world the people think they’re happy because they’re not being challenged in any way or forced to think about anything. Everything becomes disposable to them. Montag’s wife, Mildred, has a friend who is on her third marriage and says if her current husband dies in the war she’ll just move on to a fourth. There also seem to be a lot of wars, which reminded me a bit of “1984” and how Big Brother used war to control the masses.
Bradbury got me thinking a lot about what I would do if I wasn’t allowed to read or own books anymore and I would obviously massively struggle with this. Books are a huge part of my life and I find the idea of banning them completely unfathomable. I am often aware, however, that reading has become a bit of a dying past time. A lot of my friends wouldn’t dream of picking up a book, I know lots of kids think reading is “boring” and it is definitely concerning that maybe nobody would have to ban books specifically if everyone just stops reading. Although I have heard that during this current lockdown situation more people are turning back to books to help keep them occupied, which absolutely fills my heart with joy.
I enjoyed Bradbury’s writing style. He throws you straight into this world he has built for Montag to inhabit, where everything is very mechanical but there were a lot of good things about it, fireproof houses in particular would be amazing. The idea of “The Hound” a mechanical beast that could be set to your specific biological signature and hunt you down was a little disconcerting, I’m not gonna lie.
It was also interesting to see the almost amnesia like state that the characters live in. Their memories inn general are terrible and I wonder if this is because it is reading and using your imagination that keeps your brain functioning and as they have stopped doing that it’s making it hard for them to remember things.
Overall, I’m really glad that I gave this a try and I will definitely be checking out some more of Bradbury‘s work in the future.
1 - tyranny comes from bottom, the people
2 - reality tv shows are v similar to the shows that society watches in the book
3 - predicted the banning of 'offensive' material against minorities, in the book to the point where all literature is banned
4 - intoxicants to keep people going has come true with anti-depressants proscribed like sweets today and other drug use.
5 - the education system in the west has become intellectually impoverished outside science, few university graduates have any grasp of philosophy or history which used to be a given. In the book they are completely dropped.
6 - predicted flat screen tvs and earphones which are used by people to shut themselves off from society
Like 1984,the left love this book despite it actually being more applicable to them than the right.
As I was reading this I was thinking that this was not a world I would like to live, with the technology telling how to think and act, neighbours turning on each other by reporting them to the authority and books being burnt. I was routing for Guy from the moment he tried to change the world but as he was only one man you could sense the trouble he was in.
The mechanical hound was one of the scariest creatures, with its high sense of smell and its determination to get their man. There were times that you thought all was lost.
I am glad that I re-read this book
I haven't read for a long time; I've just never been interested recently. However, with the looming advent of my GCSEs, I knew that I had to begin reading. At the onset of the book, I was immediately intrigued - the themes were right up my ally. Although some parts of the book were quite boring, I'm attuned to fast pace TV shows, there were some brilliant descriptions and shocking revelations that were completely unanticipated. I actually gasped at one of the moments lol.
I agree that the predictions made, as regarding social media and vacuous "entertainment" ("Big Brother" watchers - this is about YOU!), are chillingly accurate for a book written over half a century ago - but the style of writing did not "grab" me in the way I thought it would. In fact, I found it incredibly boring and ended up skipping whole sections just to get to the end, so that I could see what all the fuss was about!