Last night I finished Fahrenheit 451, which, alongside Something Wicked This Way Comes, is said to be Ray Bradbury’s magnum opus. Indeed it is.
Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of Guy Montag, a fireman who works in a time where the US is at nuclear war, is run by one political party, and books are completely banned due to their contents, which are said to sway the minds of the populace and cause nothing but problems: sometimes books have to be censored due to their contents, sometimes they’re censored due to their political agenda, and so on and so forth. Firemen no longer stop fires, they go in to any house suspected of harbouring books and set it ablaze, and the general populace are obsessed with television and radio shows that do nothing except placate the mind. (My worst nightmare… though the latter part of that sentence rings very true. Reality TV, much?)
However, one day, Montag meets a strange girl called Clarisse McClellan. In my head I imagined her to be a little bit like a toned-down Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter franchise, especially the way she talks, always questioning why, when, how, etcetera. Even though she isn’t in the book for very long, she definitely starts the spark of outwards thinking in Montag, who was very plain throughout the first act of the book, always doing what he was told and just going about his day completely numb. Other events begin to become embers in the tinder and sticks of his mind – a old woman who chooses to self-immolate rather than give up her books, for example.
Despite the long speeches about why the state was right to ban books from Captain Beatty, Montag starts collecting books he finds, even befriending an old English professor, Faber, who gives him a little earpiece so they can be in constant contact.
Beatty quickly turns on Montag in the next part, driving the fire crew to Montag’s house. Montag ends up killing Beatty (who he realises wanted to die anyway), and is then on the run as a fugitive. He manages to escape down the river and outside the city, where tribes of intellectuals (now deprived of their jobs in society) live, according to Faber.
Montag finds them, led by a man called Granger, and discovers that rather than carrying the remnants of books along with them, they actually memorise them, preserving their contents both mentally and orally, and then burn them. Montag is then encouraged to seek his own path, watching in horror as the police back in the city find a random citizen and kill him, pretending it’s Montag just to keep up their image. Then war starts and there’s complete incineration of quite a few cities.
After a lengthy discussion between a rather upset but relieved Montag, Granger and the others about the phoenix and how to reshape mankind like the little baby fire-bird that stumbles out of the ashes, the novel ends.
This book was absolutely fantastic from start to finish. Even though it was written in the 1950s, so many things about it are true today – society dumbs down and becomes obsessed with quick, cheap entertainment, squashing books down into the bare bones of their plot, stuck in their homes and constantly entertained when they’re not working. There are lots of brilliant quotes from this books, some of which are really thought-provoking.
All in all, I’ll give this book 4.5/5, and leave you with some quotes to think about.
'"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime."'
'If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.'
'"I hate a Roman named Status Quo!” he said to me. “Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.”‘
'"If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names 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 fell 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."