Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fahrenheit 451

The temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns...

Recently, I got to Fahrenheit 451, a classic of American literature if ever there was one.  In Ray Bradbury's futuristic tale, firemen have the job of starting fires, although in multiple ways Fahrenheit 451 is no longer so futuristic.  Sure we aren't burning books yet, but how many of us are reading them?  Would the majority of America's population rather read a good novel or watch an innocent program on their big-screen TV?

In F. 451, books are illegal and "firemen" are tasked with the job of burning them and the houses which contain them (above a member of the RDA corporation takes a torch to Fahrenheit 451 in the beautiful rocky Pandora mountains.  Yahoo, Whoopeee!!).  The goverment's idea is that books make people think about weighty topics, and weighty topics make people argue.  When people argue, they become unhappy.  How do you get rid of this unhappiness?  Burn the books.  Social equality is also important.  "You always dread the unfamiliar," says Beatty, a fireman.  "Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally 'bright', did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him.  And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours?  Of course it was.  We must all be alike.  Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.  Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against... White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Burn it.  Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs?  The cigarette people are weeping?  Burn the book.  Serenity, Montag.  Peace, Montag.  Take your fight outside.  Better yet, into the incinerator."

Guy Montag, another fireman and the central character of the book, is taught by Beatty that books are pointless and an evil obstacle to all men's goal of happiness.  Guy has never questioned the system of the firemen until he meets a young woman, who talks about old times when firemen supposedly put out fires instead of starting them.  Then, one night, Guy finds himself stealing a book from a house.  He attempts to read it with his wife, who represents the modern day, clueless, media-obsessed twit.  Ray Bradbury does a fantastic job of making the reader detest the wife and her friends just as much as Guy does.

The book is a treasure chest of quotes, figurative speech (which I found a little distracting at times), and themes to ponder.  Some of my favorite quotes:

"It was pretty silly, quoting poetry around free and easy like that...Give a man a few lines of verse and he thinks he's the Lord of all creation.  You think you can walk on water with your books."

"He stepped into the bedroom and fired twice and the twin beds went up in a great simmering whisper, with more heat and passion and light than he would have supposed them to contain.  He burnt the bedroom walls and the cosmetics chest because he wanted to change everything, the chairs, the tables, and in the dining room the silverware and plastic dishes, everything that showed that he had lived here in this empty house with a strange woman who would forget him tomorrow, who had gone and quite forgotten him already, listening to her Seashell Radio pour in on her and in on her as she rode across town, alone."

"Peace, Montag.  Give the people contests they can win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year.  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..."

I lost most interest in the book a little bit after Beatty, to me the most interesting character in the book and in a lot of literature, exited (did anybody draw Satan/Bible as Beatty/books connections?), but the novel is very worth a read to fans of sci-fi or dystopian literature.  4.51 stars out of 5.


  1. hmmm, at the risk of sounding like a broken record ... Watership Down.

  2. oh, and here's a quote I liked from Fahrenheit ...

    "Picture it. Nineteenth century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending... Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two minute book column, winding up at last as a ten or twelve line dictionary resume... But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet ... was a one page digest in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics..."


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