The 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: