Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fahrenheit 451


In a dystopian future where homes have become fireproof, the concept of a fireman is repurposed to serve a more sinister role, which is that of starting fires instead of extinguishing them. The unfortunate victims of such raids are not people but rather books, which society and the current powers-that-be have deemed useless and too dangerous for everyone’s sake. Anyone caught harboring books gets a visit from the firemen and are put under arrest right after the arson, with some opting to burn with their library instead. One such fireman is Guy Montag, who comes home from work on a seemingly normal day running into an eclectic young girl called Clarisse who makes him reflect about his choices in life as well as his role in the status quo’s tyranny. Once he starts asking questions, much to the chagrin of his suicidal but mostly aloof wife Mildred, he begins to search for answers for a reality he does not remember ever signing up for.

When a book is banned, make sure to read it. When books are being burned, you can be sure that some serious shit is going on. Why do these bound pages hold so much power anyway? Because books are not fodder for your fireplace during winter. Books are vessels of ideas, and while those pages might burn or get torn eventually, the ideas they host live forever. In our minds. Have you ever wondered why in most revolutions, the intellectual class and their books are almost always the first to go? Because anyone in power benefits from a predominantly dumb populace that has no inherent ability to ask questions.

The scary thing about Fahrenheit 451 is how it was written back in 1952 and yet it, in a manner I find to be quite baffling, managed to predict the society we sort of currently find ourselves in. Books are antagonized and Mildred carries on with her miserable existence through wall panels in their house that serve pretty much as your modern day smartphone providing you with an endless stream of distraction and misinformation. Ray, why do you have to rub your imagined future, our current reality, in our faces like this? Does an anti-intellectual society ruled by airheads with large followings online sound familiar to us? Anyone?

Except that Bradbury does not really expound on that. The chase scene in act three is carried out via broadcast television, but he doesn’t totally miss the mark. Had he been more imaginative, that could have been a Facebook or Tiktok livestream. Nonetheless, the mechanics are the same. Fine, I digress. If we are to look for parallelisms, the burning of books in Fahrenheit 451 is simply a more literal take on the pushback against field experts in our day and age, because your average joe who did not get any quality education would rather believe a YouTube influencer whose lack of expertise is made up for by clout, as if that counts.

What makes Fahrenheit 451 a great read is the fast pace action that Guy Montag finds himself in as he transitions from predator to prey. Bradbury has a knack for vivid chase sequences that make you feel as though you were there watching it all unfold. The guy also has a gift for poetic imagery. The way he describes books and their burning pages as if they were birds being burned alive is just so cinematic. Perhaps that is my overall assessment of the book. I don’t feel like I am reading. I feel like I am watching a movie. It’s weird, but his narration just has that effect, and it is fun.

The only thing I am not happy with is Clarisse’s early exit, never to be mentioned again. Maybe this is because I was expecting her to play a bigger part in the story. I was also half expecting a twist where she is revealed to be an important part of Montag’s past life that he just doesn’t remember. None of that happens, so it feels like a lost opportunity somehow. The ending is depressing but realistic. It also benefits from the remaining characters refusing to participate in communal despair and instead seeing everything as a catalyst for a future in which they have a say. Revolutionary.

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