Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” – A woman quoting Hugh Latimer as her books are about to be burned.
Sci-fi is never my genre when reading books. I like it as a genre in movies as I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, The Minority Report, and other flicks that offer a futuristic landscape. I do not know what’s the reason behind the disconnect between my book and movie preferences but I do intend to read sci-fi in the near future. So, when our book club decided to read Fahrenheit 451 for January, I was excited because I considered it as the first step into reading sci-fi. I must say that I was surprised.
With my experience of sci-fi in movies, excluding the more philosophical sci-fi films like Moon and Bladerunner, I thought that it was going to be action-oriented and fast-paced. I thought that the dialogue was primarily concerned with keeping the action going and that the protagonist is a man on the run because he read books. It just goes to show that, to borrow and rephrase that tired cliché, one should not judge a book by its genre.
Fahrenheit 451 does not possess any of the traits that I mentioned above. It was a quiet and meditative book filled with poetic narration and dialogue. Pages go by with nothing happening except the characters talking about the importance of thinking and of the harsh effects of media. It featured a unconventional protagonist that would not pass the action hero exam if he tried. It was not the big-budget, explosion heavy sci-fi that Hollywood has exposed me to and I extremely liked it.
The book tells the story of a fireman (in the future, firemen burns books) named Montag who, after a chance encounter with a passionate and intelligent young girls, begins to question his job and the future that he lives in. In the book, books have been outlawed because of their capacity to incite different opinions. Montag, hating his dull life, decided to rebel, to try reading books, and discover, for himself, the joys of individual thought.
As I said earlier, the book is quiet and meditative. Ray Bradbury seems very determined to be poetic in his writing and there are moments that it feels forced but, overall, the prose is beautiful because he has painted a world of dreariness and uniformity. The pace of the book exacerbates the already gloomy atmosphere and I really felt that this is a world that, being a book lover, I wouldn’t want to live in. Bradbury relies on tension instead of action as his narrator details the turmoil of Montag as he comes to the realization that the peaceful world that he is living in is actually populated by deranged lunatics who doesn’t have any strong will of their own. This, in my opinion, is best represented by the scene where Montag is on the run and he becomes the plaything of rowdy teenagers who scared him witless by attempting to run him over with a speeding car.
But perhaps the greatest strength of the book is its utter clairvoyance. Bradbury may be the closest approximation that sci-fi has to a prophet (I wouldn’t know since I rarely read the genre). His vision did not include flying cars, space exploration, and androids. Instead, he concentrated on the pervasive culture of entertainment that has occupied the minds of almost every person living within the pages of Fahrenheit 451. Television and mass media are the most important aspects of Bradbury’s world where people value short television episodes of drama, violence, and what-have-you. In this world, people will make themselves bankrupt just so they can adorn the walls of their houses with wall-sized TVs just so they can shut out the real world and immerse themselves in the land of make believe.
At the end of the book, the world is thrown into war and, within a few seconds, the world obliterates itself leaving those who live outside the walls of society, those who still cherish the pleasures of reading books, those who have immortalized the written page through memory, alive. I would like to believe that it is a testament to the longevity of reading, perhaps one of the oldest pastimes in the world. I know that Fahrenheit 451 ended on a grim note but it somehow left a glimmer of hope in me because I am part of the great tradition of reading.