*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*
As most Blair sophomores, juniors, and seniors will probably attest to, Fahrenheit 451 is an undeniably unforgettable piece of literature. It’s not easy to forget the vivid descriptions of fire or the thrilling terror of the manhunt – Ray Bradbury does an excellent job of drawing us into the novel, into the strange struggle against a lifestyle overrun with technology and hollow entertainment. Creepily prophetic in its message, Fahrenheit 451 has been universally acclaimed for its depiction of what may be the ultimate dystopia: a world without books.
The protagonist of the novel, Guy Montag, is a fireman. His job – simply put – is to burn books. He is proud of his job until Bradbury introduces into his life Clarisse McClellan, a seventeen-year-old neighbor who is condemned by society for the “antisocial” acts of taking walks, tasting rain, looking at the moon, and picking flowers. Montag grows to welcome Clarisse’s oddities, but after she disappears, he is left discontent with his shallow life and drawn to the illegal books that he burns. He realizes his frustration with his uncommunicative wife and her addiction to Seashells and “watching the parlor walls” (known today as earphones and TV). As a result, Montag soon finds himself reading stolen books, breaking the law that he once upheld. He is discovered, forced to flee, and ends up joining a group of hobos who memorize books in order to preserve them.
When I first discovered that Fahrenheit 451 was a required read this summer, I was less than thrilled. Dystopian novels and science fiction are generally not my thing. When I finally got the book in mid-July and opened to the first page, however, I couldn’t help but become completely and utterly absorbed in Bradbury’s opening description of a fireman’s job. (I especially enjoyed the reference to a conductor playing symphonies of blazing and burning.) As I read further on, however, I was slightly surprised at how the settings of dystopia did not appear all that foreign; when I ignored the actual, physical act of book burning, all the rest – the rampant addiction to hollow entertainment, the lack of true socialization, the sky high rates of abortion and teenage deaths, a world filled with blazing colors and blaring music – seemed to represent a future state that our world, in reality, may well be on its way to. Meaningless entertainment already exists. Human conversation is being replaced by Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Regard for human life is going down. I don’t even want to know how many teens in the U.S. die each year in car crashes or shootings. Books are being dumped in favor of TV, music videos, video games – in short, the visual comforts that advanced technology offers us. Quite frankly, I find this scary. Our world seems to be evolving (or devolving?) into Bradbury’s world by the minute. Even in the 1950s, when Fahrenheit 451 was written, Bradbury recognized this danger – often through personal experience. (Being stopped and questioned by a policeman for walking late one night inspired his short story “The Pedestrian”.)
“What can we do about it?” is a question I asked myself after finishing the novel, a question I didn’t have an answer to. However, Bradbury ends Fahrenheit 451 on a note of hope for the future, leaving the reader with a sense of calm instead of the despair that would have made more sense. All that’s left to say for me is this: I look forward to much enlightening discussion in English II this September.
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(Copyright 2015 Rebecca Xi)