There must be something in book, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.
Written some 50 years ago, Fahrenheit 451 is uncannily prophetic of our own world. 1984, for example, (I understand they get compared a lot for some reason) only stands now as a warning sign, but its world is no longer an immediate threat, whereas the Fahrenheit-verse is, in some aspects, disturbingly close to the way we live our lives day in, day out, numbed by our own constant exposure to media. 24-hour programming, internet, reality TV are most of the times gunning for our lowest common denominator. The “parlor family” – though not named as such – is really what we have, with our talking through screens and 140 character messages, our endless TV shows, where characters end up being more familiar than our actual friends. We’re all noticing now it’s very alienating, but that’s just the trick: you never have time to stop and just think about things. And I’m not talking about some impersonal you like I’m entitled to sit on any kind of high horse…I guess I’m talking a little bit about me too, really. We’re bombarded with so much junk disguised as information that we think less and less – and I really admire Mr. Bradbury’s foreseeing this (or maybe he didn’t really foresee anything – maybe he just groped around in the right place…it’s still impressive).
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. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.
Books become, really, a symbol, a bastion of a long gone world – where you could take your time, where you could stop and smell the roses , where there was no hurry to get anywhere. And things would be better still if all our hurry (or their hurry) had some purpose to it, but the scary thing is that most of us are just little rats on a wheel and we don’t know how to get off, we don’t know what happens when the wheel stops turning. And I guess we don’t really want to find out the answer is nothing.
The televisor is ‘real’. It is immediate, it as dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right, it seems to be right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest.
But…back to the story. The narrative thread is rather simple and follows Guy Montag’s rise to consciousness and social revolt (and you can read it on Wikipedia, although going through the 150 page book is a lot more satisfying). Beatty, the chief fireman, makes the best kind of villain: the good man turned over to the dark side . He’s read a lot, he throws quotes at Montag (the irony is that Montang himself hasn’t read; he’s fighting for the feeling of possibility more than anything), he knows all about the history of their organization and he chose it in total awareness. He’s lost a lot in his life, says Bradbury, and found that books could give him no measure of comfort. He bears a hatred born out of love and disappointment, and it’s a great thing to watch unfold.
For a novel dealing with censorship, it comes at it from a very interesting angle I think: censorship is not imposed from above, but from inside ourselves. By the time the government banned books and repurposed the firemen to burn books along with the houses in which they were hidden the voices raised in protest were few and weak. People had long stopped reading of their own accord.
At the end of my edition there’s a Coda, written by Mr. Bradbury for the 50th anniversary edition and he says some things that, coming right after the whole censoring Huck Finn controversy should really bring people to their senses. Or at least make them wonder if we really are on the right track.
For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities (…) to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule.