“We need not to be alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”
Fahrenheit 451 was written in 1953, and depicts a future in which books have been banned and advances in technology have turned people into complacent zombies. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman. But in Bradbury’s dystopian universe, firemen are tasked with starting fires rather than putting them out. Their job is to seek out and burn books, hence the title Fahrenheit 451 – the temperature at which book paper catches fire.
After a chance encounter with an inquisitive teenage girl, Clarisse McClellan, Guy begins to question the oppressive nature of book burning, and becomes ever the more curious about the power of the written word.
This is a book that has been sat on my shelf for over 2 years, and I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to pick it up. A world without books sounded so intriguing. Horrifying, but intriguing. When I first started reading it however, I was unsure whether it was my sort of thing. It is a slow burner, and the first half of the novel focuses largely on exposition. I was certainly curious about the world that Bradbury had created, all the more so because some of his predictions turned out to be scarily accurate (the rise of reality television and reliance on technology, for example). But it was the second half of the story that really drew me in and that I felt depicted the true horrors of a reality in which people have become ignorant and dispassionate.
Manipulation by the government and also by the media, are two themes in this book that I believe greatly resonate with our world today. The rise of fake news for example, has proven that people are becoming increasingly less perceptive. Similarly in Fahrenheit 451, few people question the information they are presented with. Interestingly, the ban on books in Bradbury’s universe was not a top-down decision. Rather, the general population became less and less interested in reading, and the government simply takes advantage of that lack of curiosity.
The characterisation in this book was wonderful. I enjoyed the characters of Clarisse and Faber in particular, and how their defiant curiosity was able to influence Montag in such a revelatory way. Yet I, like many readers no doubt, was disappointed that Clarisse’s story did not have a clear ending. Thankfully, Bradbury’s afterword in the book’s 50th anniversary edition resolved this plot hole, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers I will let you discover it for yourself!
All in all, I think that Fahrenheit 451 has just as much relevance today, if not more so than when it was written in 1953. Even if you have read it before, I think that now is the perfect time to give this one a re-read! It is beautifully written, whilst being eye-opening at the same time.