Published: 4th August 2008 (1953)
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Readership: Adult fiction
Genres: Science fiction, dystopia
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #7
Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires. And he enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs or the joy of watching pages consumed by flames, never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid. Then Guy met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think. And Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do…
I chose Fahrenheit 451 to be my seventh classic book because I read Brave New World earlier in the year and so it was the only one of the ‘big three’ classic dystopian novels left for me to read (1984 also being one of them, which a read a few years ago). It was also extremely good timing because John and Hank Green chose it to be their Summer Book Club book (and also not-so-good timing as Ray Bradbury died a week after I purchased it…).
My knowledge of Fahrenheit 451 was actually quite limited. I’ve never studied it and only met one person (!) that has actually read it. I knew, vaguely, that it was about a fireman who actually caused fires instead of putting them out, and that it was because of government regulation that books were banned. I was actually slightly wrong about this: the citizens in Fahrenheit 451 police themselves; conformity is widespread and accepted across society.
An aspect I found particularly fascinating was that even though Ray Bradbury is hailed as being a huge supporter of physical books (and anti any type of e-reader) that is not what Fahrenheit 451 is about. Perhaps it would be if it was written now as there was no need to comment on the physicality of books because there was nothing else to compare them to (e.g. I have never seen so many people on the Internet talk about the smell of books, the feel of a book, etc as much as I have after the Kindle became popular). But what I took from the novel is that it is the content — the words a book holds rather than what form it takes — that is the greatest loss in the novel, that is what is mourned, rather than the fact that it is illegal to display one’s own personal library:
‘It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that were once in books… No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for… There’s nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only what books say.’
Now, as I’ve said, I’ve never studied the book and so I may completely wrong. I do not usually eagerly dissect metaphors, and so maybe I am taking it too literally, but I understood it as demonstrating to us how important knowledge is, what the lack of universal education, and fiction, and poetry; a post-literate future, can do to a society, rather than about the loss of books themselves. And as much as I absolutely love and adore physical books and would never give them up, I think the former message is much more important.
The back of my copy says Fahrenheit 451 is a ‘prophetic account of Western civilisation’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity’. Clarisse, I think, is seen to be the opposite of this and I really liked her character; her inquisitive nature. John Green says that she is not a realistic character, which I agree with, but I also agree with Hank that the entire book is full of unrealistic characters. I did not see her as someone who represents those who feel/are ‘superior’ enough to see past blind conformity, but as a way of showing us just how much was kept from the people in Guy Montag’s society.
Fahrenheit 451 is a novel that is at first deceptively simple, but one I can see myself reading again and again, extracting new meanings from each time. It now has a space on my mental ‘favourite dystopian novels’ list and I urge everyone else to read it! I have learned, if nothing else, how to spell ‘fahrenheit’.
You can watch the VlogBrothers videos here:
Feeling More Alive: Fahrenheit 451’s The Hearth and the Salamander
An Army of Mindless Drones