Reviewed by Erica R Hopper
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
From the very first sentence Fahrenheit 451 gives promise of writing that is both skilled and beautiful and a gateway to a dystopian place with which we are unfamiliar. Burning causing pleasure? In our reality, if burning were pleasurable you would be labeled a pyromaniac. But as you are engulfed by the world of Guy Montag, similarities to our world begin to appear. Censorship reigns, and the burning of books and suppression of knowledge is common. The fear that citizens will know more than they should is a driving force for those in power to control those around them. Suddenly you are reconsidering your initial opinion of this book. Suddenly you feel that this place may be a little too familiar for your tastes. Suddenly it seems an awful lot like the world we live in today.
Guy Montag is a firefighter…more like firestarter. Alarms send him to the homes of those who hoard books of any kind. The firefighters go to the home, set it ablaze, and leave it and all the books within to burn while the hoarder is dragged off to Somewhere Else. When Guy meets Clarisse, a seventeen year old who lives near one of his fires, she opens his mind to the possibility of non-conformity and therefore pushes him into examining reasons for the fires. He begins to look onto the meaning of the books he burns and questions what society has become. Who is “The Family” his wife obsesses over? Why are the citizens under such lock and key, and prevented from gaining knowledge? Why are these people being forbidden to educate themselves? Finally, Guy Montag must run for his life, because he questions the control of the government and the way people think.
Fahrenheit 451 is a widely-known novel and a go-to for high school teachers, but it is also popular in another way: it is often banned. From the year 2000 to 2009 Fahrenheit 451 was one of the 100 most challenged books in America because of its questionable themes and use of the phrase “God damn.” Funny that a book which highlights burning of books and control of the written word is a frequently challenged book. Fahrenheit 451 isn’t the only book to be challenged in America; it’s a prominent enough problem that the American Library Association has celebrated thirty years of freedom to read in retaliation for the numerous challenges against books in public settings. People have gone so far as to burn books that they disliked, such as the Lord of the Rings, in defiance of “Satanic” themes. Maybe Bradbury wasn’t creating as much of a fictional world as we all thought.
It’s a common belief that Bradbury’s book focused solely on the banning of books, but Bradbury stated four years prior to his death that people had actually misinterpreted his intentions with the book. Bradbury intended its message to be about the controlling nature of television.
“Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature. ‘Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,’ Bradbury says, summarizing TV’s content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: ‘factoids.’” (Source: Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 Misinterpreted)
Whether or not readers have misinterpreted Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the dystopian world he created still is dangerously like the world in which we exist. Many movies and television shows have been based on published material, and a good number of the fans of these productions have never picked up the original book. How often is there commentary about teens not going out to play, not peeling themselves away from the TV or computer? By definition dystopia is “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Our current world may not have banned books completely in favor of The Family on TV or replaced firefighters with firestarters, but Bradbury’s creation of the world in Fahrenheit 451 does not dwell too much in the world of imagination. Have we become mindless creatures controlled by produced entertainment like the people in this book? Or are we of the hunted, those who still cling to knowledge and fight against brainless inactivity? This novel may be a work of fiction, but it may be closer to real life than anyone is willing to admit.
To read more of Erica Hopper’s book reviews, please visit her blog at http://soonrememberedtales.blogspot.com/