It is quite implausible that ‘Fahrenheit 451’ – a book about the depravity of the prohibition of books, was actually banned. We can only admire the unpredictability of irony and its flabbergasting ways! Nevertheless, it is a must-read novel for our society which is slowly progressing towards a fatal future feared so adamantly by Ray Bradbury. His dystopia is irrevocably becoming our reality.
Guy Montag is a firefighter in a topsy-turvy world where TV walls participate in live conversations and family consists of online personas who bicker over pretty much nothing and firefighters do not extinguish fire but beget it. In his universe literature is no longer appreciated but considered offensive and insurgent. Instead of making people erudite, society believes it turns them into abysmal criminals. Thus books are incinerated ( Fahrenhiet 451 is the temperature at which paper burns) and television worshipped.
“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”
Montag is a paragon of a credulous and obtuse society. He goes around in life, never looking up at the sky, never breathing in the intense aroma of autumn leaves, never appreciating the opportunity to love and hate vehemently. Until he meets Clarisse who lives next door and is a peculiar young girl who likes observing people and tries everything twice. She reminds him subtly that the world was not always the way it is today – that our reality is actually an infinitesimal flicker of the history of life on Earth and Earth itself. But it is imponderably onerous to find the connection between the vastness of the universe with the instant of your existence without literature.
“Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends, look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the unverse together into one garment for us.”
Little had I thought about what a colossal impact the invention of television has had on our lives. It has drastically altered the way we perceive the world as well as amplified the momentum of globalization. We no longer judge the quality of our lives by the rambunctious fulfillment of our expectations but by the standards raised by television series. We find common ground by reviewing the shows we watch and the laughs we have shared over them and not the sighs of revelations we have individually encountered through the hours spent in the basement of a library by a ingenious man who doesn’t suffer from personhood anymore.
“And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the book. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never even thought that thought before. It took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down, looking around at the world and life and then I come along in two minutes and boom! it’s all over.”
It is a change, and even though change is not necessary a bad thing, it is neither necessary benevolent. Books are our cultural heritage. Losing all of them is equivalent to waking up one day not knowing who we are or where we came from. As Ray Bradbury suggested, we are highly likely to turn into vapid creatures, incapable of independent thinking and reasoning – ergo, easily manipulated by the media and any psychopathic dictator that rises to power. Montag fails to mention politics even once. He doesn’t care about anything except his own well-being and the pang of guilt that is nibbling away at his conscience. Bombs, death, annihilation – he never asks himself why or how to put an end to them until he reads a book.
Although “Fahrenheit 451” is not my favourite book, it is a brilliant extrapolation of how our lives may turn out were we to persevere in our infatuation with the fictional dimensions of cinema and TV. Should society come down with such an abominable fever, I would take great pride in myself if I don’t succumb to social pressure and remain true to the sanctum of the inkworld.