Ray Bradbury’s classic futuristic novel focuses on a world in which firemen burn books instead of putting out fires. Guy Montag, a fireman, has his whole world turned upside down when he begins taking books from houses. He begins to question everything, thanks to his new neighbor Clarisse. Once he learns that books are sacred, Montag must make a decision: Should he return to his old life of burning books, or should he keep growing and run away from his peculiar life?
Ray Bradbury knew what he was doing when he wrote Fahrenheit 451. He was writing about the future, but a future where people are immersed in their TV shows or their daily soaps. (Sounding familiar?) He was writing about a world where books were no longer read, a world where books were seen as the enemy, instead of something precious.
I first read Fahrenheit 451 as a senior in high school, back in 2009. It was the first novel we read, and it stuck with me all these years later. It still astounds me that he was right about people wanting to become wholly immersed in their televisions. The crisis where Montag’s wife tries to kill herself is mirrored in today’s alarming suicide rates. Depression is much more common in children, teens, and adults.
But it’s not all gloom and doom in Montag’s world. When Clarisse enters the novel, she challenges Montag to think about deep questions. She opens Montag’s eyes to a world where you can stroll along the sidewalk instead of speeding along in a hovercar.
Still, I feel like Ray Bradbury is warning us to be careful about what we do in the near future. He’s letting us know that the world around us can change very quickly if we let it.
Guy Montag is a fireman who obeys the rules. He goes into people’s houses and burns their books. But, over time, he’s been harboring a dangerous secret: he’s been stealing books and keeping them.
Once he starts taking books, he can’t stop.
Once his wife finds out, she’s determined to have Montag go back to work, to put this dangerous (and ridiculous) notion out of his mind.
But Montag doesn’t stop there. He begins reading the horded books, and enters a entirely new world.
I still love this dystopian novel, all these years later. It really feels like yesterday that I began reading Fahrenheit 451. I still recall the nervousness that I had when we did our first essay, in class, in AP English. (That wasn’t that long ago, right? *Does the math.* Eeek! That was 12 years ago.) If you took AP English, you’ll understand the nerves I’m talking about. It got better as the year progressed, though.
You know, I don’t see a future where books completely disappear. I see a future where we use more E-readers and various forms of E-books, but I can’t possibly imagine books completely vanishing from our lives. There are too many of us writers and thinkers and readers out there for the written word to completely vanish.
Even in Doctor Who, a show about time travel through the dimensions of space and time, there’s a series of episodes that take place in a vast (and beautiful) library. The Doctor loves books. One of my favorite quotes from Doctor Who is about books; they’re a source of knowledge and power for everyone, young and old.
Still, we need novels like Fahrenheit 451 to remind us that books are powerful. It’s like the reason why you go to church (or synagogal or mosque or temple, etc.) if you have faith: You need to be reminded of what you believe in, and that you are forgiven by a higher power.
I need dystopian books in a similar way. (I am a religious person, but I’m of a quieter religious group…I’m Lutheran. I prefer to show my faith by treating everyone with respect and kindness to the best of my ability.) I need to be reminded of what I might lose if I lost books. (It would feel like dying, I’m sure because I need books. I cannot live without books, to quote Thomas Jefferson.)
So, thank you Ray Bradbury, for reminding me, for affirming that books are special. I needed to hear that again.
Thanks for reading,