‘It was a pleasure to burn.’
‘It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters of and charcoal ruins of history.’
To a reader, nay, to a thinking person, this is an act of utter inhumanity, an act that only the most monstrous person can perform, and yet it being performed with childlike joy. Strange first choice for a book reviewing month isn’t it?
Yet no matter how strange the choice, one cannot deny the importance of this novel on how we view knowledge, technology and what people do when conformity to one set of beliefs prevail above all else. So with that in mind, let’s go onto a conformity that prevails over all else at The Chronic Chronicler: the obligatory overview!
Guy Montag is a fireman which is not what we think of. Instead of putting out fires, he sets them, burning books which breed discord and unhappiness in society. As part of the fire department, Montag must destroy all those works which dissidents read and preserve; for the good and happiness of society.
Yet Montag’s home life is not happy. With a wife who to the walls I the parlour where her friends gather, blasting the rooms with sounds of loud thoughtlessness. In this, with a little nudging by a girl called Clarisse McClellan, Montag does something which previously was unthinkable. He takes a book. With one small action, the process of enlightenment and reaction come into play in the ever eternal battle of knowledge versus stability.
In the holy trinity of dystopian literature, Fahrenheit 451 is up with there with the equally disturbing a thought-provoking Brave New World and 1984. Bradbury does this excellent by creating a character that should be loathsome yet, from the onset, begins to change his attitudes to the work he does, with the source of everything coming from the questioning Clarisse McClellan.
Possibly one the best examples of that is when, after Clarisse asks Montag about fireman putting out fires a long time ago, to which Montag responds by laughing:
She glanced over quickly. “Why are you laughing?”
“I don’t know”. He started to laugh again and stopped. “Why?”
“You laugh when I haven’t been funny and you answer right off. You never stop to think what I’ve asked you.”
He stopped walking. “You are an odd one,” he said, looking at her. “Haven’t you any respect?”
“I don’t mean to be insulting. It’s just, I love to watch people too much, I guess.”
This short exchange, although this is not the only one, is exemplary of showing how people will do things without thought of why they are doing it. It’s just a process, something that has to be done. There is no reason to question it, or rather, you have not the ability to think to question it, and therefore meeting someone who questions it, however grandly or quietly, is discomforting.
Bradbury’s dystopia is brilliantly developed where knowledge, or rather accruing knowledge, is a social misdemeanour and must result in imprisonment or, more likely, death. Yet, in a peculiar way, that seems preferable to a world where the written world is suppressed and, in a few passages, is almost tantamount to torture.
Yet the possibly most horrifying thing is people’s lack of humanity, their complete disinterest in reality in favour for a world of programmes and screens. When Montag returns home after a particularly bad burning, with a person dying in the flames, his wife could only say:
The utter disinterested attitude while the parlour blares sound from some innocuous programme is a good reflection on what people fear today, the advance of technology at the expense of our own inquisitiveness and interest in others outside our inner most circle.
It lays bare our own dependence on technology, where we have more emotional attachment to non-realities through screens than anything of real substance in the world we inhabit. Where we have become more enthused by fake lives and idle topics it is really a shock to see this opinion being set forth in the 1970s and, almost shamefully, how we have begun the trail down that road, even if not fully in that form.
Even on matters of importance do we see both strangeness and similarity where you vote for a Presidential candidate because he seems like such a nice man and where children are things to keep the race going, but nothing more, where:
‘the children [are] in school nine out of ten days. I put up with them when they come home three days a month; it’s not bad at all. You heave them into the “parlour” and then turn the switch. It’s like washing clothes; stuff the laundry in and slam the lid.’
It’s a strange reality where both closeness and distance make up this world, where you can see echoes in our world yet still balk at them, perhaps even more ferociously, because they are written down in dystopia, where this is considered a norm by all society, instead of something just growing in the background, only preying on your subconscious mind.
Ray Bradbury created a full world which, for better or worse, holds up a mirror to us and shows us for what we truly are and what we may become. Fahrenheit 451 is a novel where ideas are our enemy and when harbouring anything that could harm stability, whether beneficial or detrimental, is a blanket evil and fireman enforce state idiocy. This story of man’s fracturing away from this world is one we can all relate to yet hope we will never be put in a position of living through.
Thank you for reading my first Febookuary review! I hope you’ve enjoyed it! Please leave me comments on what you thought of this review and don’t forget to follow me her, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for reading and the next Febookuary review shall be John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.
P.S: If you want to see a pretty sweet look at Fahrenheit 451 (aside from mine of course, then check out Wisecrack’s Thug Notes review of the same book! By the way, there are spoilers in these videos, so you have been warned.