Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451The premise of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is the stuff of nightmares for bibliophiles everywhere.  Ray Bradbury’s portrayal of a dystopian society in which books are  outlawed would be like hell for all book-lovers: as we are told on the first page, Fahrenheit 451 is “the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns”.  The book tells the story of a fireman called Guy Montag, except he is not the sort of fireman we would normally imagine –  instead of putting fires out, firemen in Bradbury’s not too distant future deliberately start fires in places where books are found. From the moment when his seventeen year old neighbour Clarisse McClellan asks him if he is happy, Montag starts to question everything around him especially when Clarisse disappears and his wife, Mildred, attempts suicide.  

While I was reading ‘Fahrenheit 451’, I found myself comparing it to ‘Brave New World‘ by Aldous Huxley which I read not too long ago as both novels confront issues surrounding the development of modern society and totalitarian regimes.  For a novel that is often categorised as science fiction, I was surprised that there wasn’t as much ‘science’ in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ as I thought there would be as I had expected it to be similar to the very futuristic setting of ‘Brave New World’.  People like me who wouldn’t normally read a lot of science fiction will find ‘Fahrenheit 451’ very accessible to read.  The writing is excellent (in a subtly terrifying way) and Bradbury never wastes his words.

Books may not have been made illegal yet, but Bradbury was still very prophetic in his suggestion that people in the future would start to rely on watered-down forms of absorbing information particularly through screens rather than literature.  The second part of the novel where Montag meets Faber is very affecting with some memorable statements about the value of books and old-fashioned methods of acquiring knowledge:

“Do you know why books such as this are so important?  Because they have quality.  And what does the word quality mean?  To me it means texture.  This book has pores.  It has features.  This book can go under the microscope.  You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion.” (p. 83)

I have known for a long time that ‘Fahrenheit 451’ was something of a cult book but it wasn’t until Bradbury’s death in June that I realised just how popular this novel was after seeing the overwhelming response on the blogosphere in tribute to Bradbury.  It is a shame that it has taken this long to properly draw my attention to ‘Fahrenheit 451’ which has been on my TBR list for a long time but I’m glad I have finally read it now.  If you enjoyed ‘1984’ or ‘Brave New World’ or other dystopian fiction, you should read ‘Fahrenheit 451’.

EDIT: Here’s a link to a video which explains the plot, characters and themes of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ much better than I ever could – and all in less than three minutes.  Thanks to Jack Collins for sending me this:

http://academicearth.org/electives/tldr-fahrenheit-451/

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  1. Jillian ♣

    This is one I really want to read. I bought a copy a couple days after Bradbury died.

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  2. First, the movie made from Fahrenheit 451 in the ’60s is (or was) quite good (and I have always enjoyed Oskar Werner) … but what struck me was that Bradbury assumed we would still be reading paper copies of books. Of course futuristic novels are often surpassed by the reality of time passing (where are the flying cars and food capsules I was promised in the ’50s?).

    For my failing eyesight and bursting bookshelves, I am relying more and more on digital editions and hope soon to see the new iPad reading glasses announced for my future reading.

    By the way, I memorized Shakespeare’s MacBeth back in the ’60s … When shall we three meet again?

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  3. This is on my TBR list. It would be interesting to read about a world that is aligned with society today. I think the science-fiction part of the story, based on your review, comes from the dependence on technology and the destruction on the old way of receiving information.

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  4. I read it a few years ago and loved it. It’s scary, because a lot of it is coming true, or already has.

    I have read, however, that “Fahrenheit 451” was ACTUALLY written not so much as a warning against an illiterate society as much as an ahead-of-its-time warning about political correctness in books. (As we’ve seen in the ludicrous “cleaning up” of “Huckleberry Finn” by one publisher.

    Many passages in the novel seem to make me agree with this theory.

    Glen Russell Slater

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  5. Haven’t read the book, but have seen the film many times. Love this sort of ‘dystopian fiction’ – like 1984, Brave New World, etc. Note that Michael Moore adopted the title for his documentary film ‘Farenheit 911’.

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  6. Sanskriti

    I loved this book. The premise, as you correctly point out, is gut-wrenching for a bibliophile like me. It gives me the shivers to imagine myself to be a part of a society where books are not only dying but are deliberately put to death. I would recommend this book to any book lover, irrespective of whether they are fans of sci-fi or dystopia. To know you can be forced to give up your collections, to give up written words, that is a scary world.

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  7. I recently read this book for the first time, and found it very intriguing. It was well written and the characters were memorable. Like you, I read it because of all the attention it got following Bradbury’s passing. I look forward to reading his other books.

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  8. I loved this book while reading it in school.

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  9. Two of my favorite books, Farenheit 451 and Brave New World. I used 451 as the topic for my AP English exam WAY back in 1983. The disturbing and prophetic writing is a must read I think.

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  11. ryanmcmurtry

    I was drawn to J.G Ballard’s works in similar fashion (media attention after his death, mainly from Will Self) It is interesting how things like this can totally change you’re reading direction.

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  12. One of my all-time favorites. I reread it about every 10 years and every time more and more of the things he describes have come true.

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  14. I just can’t wait to read this. I almost had a mutiny on my hands when we failed to vote for it for the Manchester Book Club. Needless to say I’ve been highly intrigued since!

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