Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

 

Rated: 5 Stars

Read: August 2nd, 2017

I have read many books in my almost twenty-three years of life and it should not have surprised me how a mere one hundred and ninety something page novel could contain such multitudes.

Fireman Guy Montag’s world is a bleak futuristic outlook up to its eyeballs in censorship, where ignorance is peddled by the powers that be as the height of bliss. Books are banned completely, they’re burned by the firemen, sanctioned domestic thugs that keep the sheep-like people in check.

Two pages in, he first encounters the odd young woman Clarisse McClellan who blew at the cobwebs in Guy’s head and turned some cogs he’d already begun to grease. He finally faces the truth of how unhappy he really is even though seemingly his life is pretty fine. He questions his role as a fireman. When did he even begin to burn books and why?

Increasingly the confines of little to no intelligent interactions with other people bother him, especially with his wife Mildred, whose obsession with the scripted television shows on “the walls”, “the family” in them and preoccupation with everything superficial is what pushed him over the edge.

Nobody listens anymore. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me, I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough it’ll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.

He sought out a man he once met, a man of words and poetry who Guy should have reported long ago. Together they hatch a ploy to shake up the status quo but things don’t go as planned. In fact, things went dreadfully; a discovery, a betrayal, murder, a little blackmail and an escape into the wilderness.

But as fate would have it, it happened for the best in the end. Guy worried me in the beginning but he became more human to me eventually as his curiosity and instinct to preserve his free will over rode his default programming.

I’ve had my copy for over two years I think, Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books that both fascinates and disgusts me. Not for the lack of writing, mind you, but the mere idea of censorship, most especially book burning that are by no means confined to fiction as history would have you know.

There are some points that remain vague to me, a situation I can remedy with a reread or three. Here’s what I do know:

  • the setting is a city in the USA, somewhere close to Los Angeles.
  • the US is a part of a war going on in another country but is approaching the homeland.
  • not only are people encouraged to be critically stunted, they appear to be emotionally vacant as well in the sense that relationships are one of those recyclable notions.

The three women turned slowly and looked with unconcealed irritation and then dislike at Montag.

 “When do you suppose the war will start?” he said. “I notice your husbands aren’t here tonight.”

 “Oh the come and go, come and go,” said Mrs. Phelps. “In again out again Finnegan, the Army called Pete yesterday. He’ll be back next week. The Army said so. Quick war. Forty-eight hours, they said, and everyone home. That’s what the Army said. Quick war. Pete was called yesterday and they said he’d be back next week. Quick …”

The three women fidgeted and looked nervously at the empty mud-colored walls.

 “I’m not worried,” said Mrs. Phelps. “I’ll let Pete do all the worrying.” She giggled. “I’ll let old Pete do all the worrying. Not  me. I’m not worried.”

 “Yes,” said Millie. “Let old Pete do all the worrying.”

 “It’s always someone else’s husband dies, they say.”

 “I’ve heard that, too. I’ve never known any dead man killed in a war. Killed by jumping off buildings, yes, like Gloria’s husband last week, but from wars? No.”

 “Not from wars,” said Mrs. Phelps. “Anyway, Pete and I always said, no tears, nothing like that. It’s our third marriage each and we’re independent. Be independent, we always said. He said, if I get killed off, you just go right ahead and don’t cry, but get married again, and don’t think of me.”

 “That reminds me,” said Mildred. “Did you see that Clara Dove five-minute romance last night in your wall? Well, it was all about this woman who -“

Montag said nothing but stood there looking at the women’s faces …

This right here is what’s down right terrifying. Apathetic people are nothing new but imagine that on a large scale where you are usable, disposable to people who are supposed to mean the world to you. This was another nail in the coffin of Guy’s old self. Actually, it was here he crossed the threshold into the chaos, into action and consequences.

  • it’s a culture of self and instant gratification. Go on the highways drive at the speed of sound, hit a dog or two, hell maybe a person, it’ll feel good. Recklessness seems to be a virtue.
  • the family structure is a perpetual dysfunctional nightmare as could be glimpsed from a bit of the same conversation I sampled from above.

Those are just handful of bizarre notions to chew on, of course perhaps not everyone is like this but not many are as brave or mad to defy the norm of ignorance, to dare stand out and bring attention to themselves. Guy, I don’t think, he felt he had anything left to lose save his sanity which was in jeopardy. Mildred was this stranger he called wife.

The fifty-five thousand dollar question is what began the transition into this devolution. I’m inclined to believe that excessive pressures of “political correctness” had a lot to contribute.

If you’re on Tumblr you’ll have an idea that this is another concept in modern society. It’s certainly not negative in itself but too much of a good thing is  … well too much. Ours is an age of free speech and voices are more accessible thanks to the internet and media, awesome.

No sarcasm, honest. Truly though, there are people who are willing to concede they were offensive and be better but there will always be assholes some of whom might happen to be unbending traditionalists. It is a fact of life and usually, it will do no good to be picking or contributing to fights with them in real life or online.

I believe most of us have heard of some people who whine when books, ideas, movies and the such, ‘offend’ them and are generally fragile to sentiments contrary to their views. By extension, they’re considered a type of “special snowflake”.

 Collins defines the term Snowflake as, ‘The young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offense than previous generations”.

The Guardian

This world is hard, and like I said, screaming about it doesn’t always make the problem go away, engaging in healthy debates is an excellent option. Sometimes, we do actually need to suck it up; that is, knowing when to pick our battles and when we do, make sure we are prepared to fight and defend.

But these things aren’t always black and white and I’m aware I’m being very general here. My favourite exception was the stand off in the Australian parliament delivered by Julia Gillard against Tony Abbot with what has come to be known as The Misogyny Speech.

My point is: make your point, educate the masses, call out people on their bullshit but if they’re a lost cause don’t waste your breath. Move the hell on.

On a side note and I believe this is related: not because you can do a thing means that you should.

Returning to the book, if everything is offending everyone then why not remove the problem? The ability to think, therefore the ability to be offended in the first place? There is no concrete reason, however, I believe this is confined to the United States, not necessarily the world over.

Perhaps you’re not convinced, maybe it sounds a tad too dry? Here’s a brilliant summation of a quote to pique your interest.

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”
― Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451

Written over fifty years ago one would be daft not to see how relevant Fahrenheit 451 still is and  – Gods forbid – prophetic if we as individuals cannot hone our capacity to discern hopeless cases from the compassionate, to agree to disagree and uphold civil order. To actually be conscious of our ability to empathize, be logical and aware of the big decisions, in the hands of strangers, that will shape our lives.

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7 thoughts on “Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  1. Great review, Devina, your thoughtfulness and in-depth read of the book clearly shows! Censorship is scary and it’s still happening, believe it or not.

    Your comment (“If you’re on Tumblr you’ll have an idea that this is another concept in modern society. It’s certainly not negative in itself but too much of a good thing is … well too much. Ours is an age of free speech and voices are more accessible thanks to the internet and media, awesome”) made me think, because I would actually argue that there are still a lot of people in our society whose voices are ignored or silenced. Women, people of color, LGBTQ folk – yes, marginalized individuals have more of a platform now than they ever have before, but in professional settings and online we still receive harassment, threats, pressure to shut up or speak in a certain way, etc. Thus, I’d argue that this book is more relevant now than it ever was before. I also find it very interesting your point about special snowflakes. I honestly think that people just use that term, especially white people or white men or men, because they are not used to people actually confronting sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. so when we do confront these things, they label us as “special snowflakes” because historically those bigoted comments have gone on unchallenged. Just another perspective to keep you thinking and to show that I am critically engaging with your writing. Nice to read your writing as always, Devina.

  2. It’s amazing how prophetic, in many ways, Fahrenheit 451 has turned out to be. I love this quote from Beatty.
    “Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.”
    One only needs to look at many of the factual list articles online that don’t encourage critical thinking to see the relevancy of this quote today.

    I also love how the novel knocks the educational system, and how it stifles intellectuals. Brabury was right. Schools aren’t so interesting in teaching people how to question and to think critically, but only how to think a certain way.

    Furthermore, when it comes to censorship this quote is applicable today. “It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure, carried the trick.” This quote is prophetic and frightening. While I understand there is a lot of injustice in the world, I see too many people asking for everything to be banned, such as speakers they disagree with from public college campuses. I wonder if this will filter over into more people asking for book banning

    Bradbury’s dystopian novel is more applicable than ever.

    • I do believe this is my favourite comment to have received!

      Regarding the first quote, it’s such sneaky conditioning. Find out what fluff enthralls the populace and magnify that. It’s awful how we could be manipulated on such a grand scale like so much sheep.

      Compound it with the stifling of critical thought as an unfashionable credit to one’s person, expand and glorify on the physical excellence, sports and the such. Eventually, in a calculated move, let slide on a downward slope it becomes the new gold standard. Learned people become the threat to the “peace”. A peace enforced by the wrath invoked by political correctness. Ours is a generation of thin-skinned easily moved people, making this dystopia even more plausible.

      There are two things that disturbed me the most:

      1) as I mentioned, the perpetuated dysfunctional family unit that’s apparently become a norm. It’s a nightmare to me, sir. Personally, it is my belief that one of the pillars of society stands on the back of basic institution that is the family.

      It’s true dysfunction is nothing new but not as threatening as implied here. If members cannot be cohesive the society is held together by the conditioned fear of not fitting in with their rules and norms queer to us. Peer pressure on a grand scale?

      Not a coincidence, is it? A family together implied cooperation with people already bound by blood. In this respect, a family is a potential threat to the regime as it would encourage camaraderie with people outside the family. Ergo a highly individualized arrangement.

      2) I consider curiosity an indelible human trait. Redirecting their attentions to less dangerous mental exertions (the interactive programs on the walls, for instance) takes care of this to a good degree. But I’m wondering about the honest to goodness questioning of the powers that be. Have They succeeded in stunting this curiosity?

      No. Now, I think that Montag’s awakening proves me wrong and also the enlightened souls that are scattered far and wide in hiding. What worries me is how far they’ve come to cow the people, how well they’ve squashed their wills so much so that the mere thought of questioning Them might inspire an awesome fear, if they think much at all anymore.

      One more thing, have you pursued the idea that the Government is selectively … breeding or selecting people for certain jobs? Like when Montag realized he didn't know how he came by being a Fireman, and how his father before him was one and that his fellow firemen looked very similar him. Maybe I've read too much into that.

      I didn't quite expect my response to be so lengthy and I could be wrong somewhere, but your thoughts have led me to think about this book much further and I thank you. And I apologize for my delay in response. I hope to see you around, Johnathan, I'll hop over for a visit in a bit 🙂

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