Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


In Fahrenheit 451, firemen’s jobs are not to extinguish fire but to burn books and burn down houses where libraries have been found. The main character, Guy Montag, loves his job as a fireman. In fact, the first sentence of this novel is “It was a pleasure to burn.” However, a chance encounter leads him to question most of the taken-for-granted aspects of his life. He is also prone to salvaging some books that he was supposed to burn and he hides those behind an air vent in his house. Eventually, his carelessness leads to a denunciation and he is asked to burn down his own house.

The most disturbing aspect of the book is the description of the mass media programs Guy’s wife and her friends like to watch. Mind-numbing, fast-moving, meaningless programming fills room-size screens that replace interaction with other and one’s own reality. Scenes of nonsensical interaction and random flashes and swirls of color fill the screens. Interactive devices enable programs to insert the name of audience members into programming to foster the pretence that audience members are interacting with characters on the screen. In effect, Guy’s wife prefer watching her screen “family” to spending time with her husband, but is not quite able to tell about what she is watching (as there is no plot or content to speak of) in the three wall-size screen of her parlor. Even the snatches of dialogue features in the novel are nothing more than empty exclamations and onomatopoeias. Given that the book was published in 1951 and that television was not the commodity it now is, it is eerie how the author could anticipate one of the possible future uses of this tool (i.e. dumbed-down entertainment for the masses).

In the end, Guy manages to escape being punished for his crimes and joins a group of renegades outside the city. Given that they are outside the city, the escape a bombing that is part of some unexplained impending war. While Guy does worry about the faith of his wife who escaped before the house was to be burned, he is also disturbed by his lack of affect for her. One of his renegade companions tells that it is necessary to leave something behind to move on… and not to be broken-hearted about it. In a way, the renegades are not better people than the conformists, not better and more caring… but they have plans to preserve and restore some of the knowledge lost by the burning of books. Maybe that is a better purpose?

I loved the style in that book, the bleakness of it, the dry description that forces you to read between the lines to search for the emotions that may feel each scene but that are rarely openly acknowledged and brought to the forefront. The writing style is very similar to the one of The Martian Chronicles and Guy’s kerosene hose reminded me of the bee-filled guns.


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