“It was a pleasure to burn.”
This intriguing opening sentence starts one of the greatest science fiction novels ever created. For this review, there is no holding back the sheer joy I experienced from rereading one of my favorite books from one of my favorite writers. Some books you read and eventually forget, while others are written all over your mind and body. Fahrenheit 451 is a novel I fondly remember from my childhood. This is a novel of pure philosophy set in a bleak future where firemen burn books as reading is considered the severest crime. My childhood self could not get enough of this novel, and upon finishing I begged my mother to buy Something Wicked This Way Comes. After all these years, would Bradbury’s dystopian novel still hold traces of childlike magic for me?
There are some books that will forever remain in my collection. I love my copy of Fahrenheit 451 as it looks like a rescue from a fire. With its frayed cover and wrinkled pages, I value this book higher than some of the most expensive books on my shelves. Ray Bradbury was an important part of my childhood with his stories that were amazing and filled with childlike wonder. This is a writer who dreamed big with his eyes wide open, and that sense of curiosity comes across in every page of his novels and short stories. I typically include at least one quote in my reviews, and I found it quite challenging with Fahrenheit 451 as there is a beautiful quote on practically every page. This will definitely be a review with multiple quotes as I struggled to find just the right one.
“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
Guy Montag is a fireman whose job is to burn books. Reading is forbidden as literature is viewed as the source of all strife and unhappiness. All houses are fireproof, and stories of firemen who actually put out fires have been reduced as nothing more than ridiculous fantasies. The world is placed in a mindless state, and electronic media pervades every household. Three-dimensional television programs that allow its audience to participate are commonplace in this world, and Montag’s wife Mildred spends her hours immersed in media when she’s not popping sleeping pills. One night while walking home, Montag encounters a teenage girl named Clarisse. He doesn’t know what to make of her free-spirited behaviors and sense of curiosity. Her question on whether or not he’s happy gives Montag plenty to think about as it starts him down a path of contemplating his place in life. He begins to question his own happiness and soon begins hiding books inside his house.
I was so impressed with the world Bradbury created and the frightening similarities to our own world. Free thought is discouraged, owning books is a crime, and human beings have become dependent on technology feeding them what they want to hear. Everyone is lulled into a false state of comfort. Simple pleasures have been forgotten, such as walking barefoot on grass, climbing trees, or sitting on the porch talking to neighbors. In fact nobody talks to anyone else as shown by the fractured relationship Guy has with Mildred. This is a fast paced-world where cars drive so fast that billboards have to be miles and miles long just so people can read them! Murder has become routine as anyone who does not quite fit into this society’s mold is eradicated. The suicide rate is so high that physicians no longer get involved; instead they just send techs. After reading this book, I felt so sad thinking about how society has degenerated closer to this vision of the world. Kids have become zombies on their games and phones, and families don’t converse like they used to do. Bradbury recognized the dangerous path society was already heading down.
The pace of this book can at times be quite frantic. The wording often creates a very bizarre and dreamlike state to mirror the way this world works. I enjoy it, but I also realize it might not be for everyone. I’m sure at the time it was written that Bradbury’s little novel raised many questions. Will technology eventually replace free thought? Are we moving towards a society where knowledge is replaced by mindless entertainment?
Through keeping the story narrowed down to just a few characters, Bradbury managed to create an extremely claustrophobic feel that really highlights the bleak world these people inhabit. This is not what I would consider a character driven novel. Although the characters are interesting, there was definitely room for fleshing them out further. I found the character of Beatty the fire captain to be the most compelling. Considering his extensive knowledge of literature, there was definitely more to his story than what we are told. However, that’s part of the beauty in the writing. It is left to us the audience to draw connections rather than have them blatantly handed to us.
“That’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and WORTH the doing.”
Unlike most of today’s modern dystopian thrillers, this one doesn’t just end with everything getting happily resolved. The world on the final page is still just as bleak as it was from the opening line. Actually, I take that back. There’s hope, which is a fairly powerful word. I love how Bradbury took risks with the story that wouldn’t have worked in today’s dystopian literature. For example, we wouldn’t have been left wondering about the fate of Clarisse. If this book had been written by one of today’s writers, she most likely have been an integral part of the story throughout or ended up in the rebel camp. Sorry if I’ve spoiled anything for you. Trust me when I say it won’t affect your enjoyment of the book.
I’m counting Fahrenheit 451 as a classic with a number in the title for the Back to the Classics Challenge. So did this novel still hold the same magic for me as it did when I was a child? Actually, it was even more magical for me now.
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!