Friday, February 8, 2013

Classic Fiction: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This was my first attempt with a Ray Bradbury book and I honestly wasn't all that sure what to expect. Fahrenheit 451 is another one of those classic works that I somehow missed when I was younger. It falls in the same camp as Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World with it's pessimistic yet just a little too accurate depiction of the future.

The Situation: Guy Montag is a fireman in a world where firemen start the fires as opposed to putting them out. In the society that Guy lives in, books are outlawed and not only are they burned if they are found, but the house in which they are found is also burned. As a fireman, Guy's job is to respond to the alarm at the fire station and promptly set the house on fire if it is indeed found to contain books. Guy is comfortable with his career as a fireman, and with his vapid wife at home who lives off of television, sea shell radio, and sleeping pills. He only comes to realize that something isn't quite right when he meets the happy and cheerful 17 year-old Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse asks the kind of questions that no one really asks anymore, and she speaks of a past where people read and had real conversations. When Clarisse asks Guy point black if he is happy, it is then that he realizes he is not, and hasn't been for awhile. If he was, he wouldn't have secrets tucked away behind the air vent.

The Problem: Once Guy realizes he is unhappy, it sets off a chain of events that could make him the next target of the firemen. And if the constant threat of having his whole life go up in a fiery inferno isn't enough to keep him in line, then maybe the mechanical hound will be - a robotic dog with an incredible sense of smell that has to inject the needle in its muzzle into your body only once to kill you. But Guy can't seem to stop drawing attention to himself, and his wife isn't exactly on board with his new awakening. With the help of his new friend and his technological advancements, Guy may be able to get society going in the other direction, but it won't be easy, and he is being watched. All it takes to get the firemen out to your home is one call from a suspicious neighbor. And with how Guy is acting, everyone around him has cause for concern.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel set in a dystopian future. Much like 1984 and Brave New World, Guy's society is trying to control its citizens by limiting their access to things that you and I would take for granted, and in Fahrenheit 451, that is mainly books and literature. And what is used to distract the citizens from the lack of books is the increased availability of television, as well as an increase in the advancements that help us enjoy it. Because of television and what they can do with it, the people in Bradbury's novel don't even miss books. And the ones that do and try to obtain and keep them are the ones that have the firemen sent to their houses. It is easy to view this book as a statement about censorship, but Bradbury has asserted that it is more about the effects of television and mass media on literature. However, Bradbury has also written about censorship and its effects, and some of his views on the subject were added to the paperback edition of Fahrenheit 451 that was published in 1979.

My Verdict: Honestly, I was often bored by this book, and it isn't even that long of a book - it hits just short of 200 pages. Especially after reading one of Bradbury's personal essays, I was surprised at how the story lacks a certain amount of passion and conviction, considering what it is about. The plot is interesting enough, but it leaves a lot of unanswered questions in the end. I also don't quite believe Guy's almost too sudden awakening and the way he acts on it.

Favorite Moment: I don't want to give it away, but at one point Guy is basically using his flamethrower on something other than books and the house they are found in. I'll just leave it at that.

Favorite Character: Although she is only in the book for a very short time, my favorite character is Clarisse, because she is the one who initially gets Guy to think for himself and reflect on his life.

Recommended Reading: I recommend Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, as I think it has more in common with Fahrenheit 451 than does George Orwell's 1984. They are both about dystopian futures that deprive citizens of literature, but ultimately try to keep everyone happy through various forms of mindless entertainment.

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