My rating: 4 stars
What would happen if people became content with living with no real knowledge? Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a mix of science fiction and dystopian novel which introduces the reader to the awakening journey of a man and the outcome of his new understanding of the type of society he belongs to.
Guy Montag is a fireman, but his job isn’t to stop the flames from destroying buildings or the natural world. He is part of a team whose purpose is to burn books, which are forbidden, having for that the assistance of a mechanical hound. Although, at first, he doesn’t question why they do it and takes pleasure in seeing the books burn, a new acquaintance unleashes uncertainty.
Once, when going back home, Guy encounters a new neighbour, seventeen-year-old Clarisse McClellan, who is thoughtful, quite peculiar and asks questions that he answers in a rush. After a conversation with her, he starts questioning if there is real happiness in his life and if society has always been the way he knows it. Their subsequent encounters enlighten the reader regarding the type of society they live in: violence among people is normal, people don’t raise questions in schools, and everyone has the same superficial conversations at cafés. But one day Clarisse disappears.
Guy’s wife, Mildred, is a perfect example of a person obsessed with shallow entertainment. One day, when arriving home from work, Guy finds her lying in bed after taking too many sleeping-pills. He calls the emergency hospital and two men are sent to clean her blood. The day after she doesn’t remember anything and seems to have forgotten the reason for her sadness. She lives in a constant state of apathy, immersed in a futuristic type of reality TV.
On the other hand, Guy is awakened to a life of new possibilities:
“We need not to be alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long was it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”
Why did books start being burnt? At first, it was people who started losing interest in books. Films, radio, magazines, books, schools’ curriculums, almost everything became simpler and shorter. Life became dominated by trash TV programmes, which people watched on parlour walls. As Beaty, Guy’s captain, explains:
“They were given the new job as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors. That’s you, Montag, and that’s me.”
No one wanted to be seen as less intelligent. Books were a sign of knowledge, so they started being burnt to make everyone feel equal in that regard. The dissenters were persecuted. What Guy discovers about past events shapes his future actions.
In Fahrenheit 451, we are introduced to a thought-provoking story, but it took me some time to get used to the narration process. The transitions between events at the beginning of the book happen quite suddenly, and the practical purpose of some of the mentioned objects wasn’t quite clear for me at first. However, gradually everything started making sense.
One thing I really liked about the writing style is how the length and construction of the sentences are most of the times connected with the movements and mental disposition of the characters, mainly Guy’s, in a given moment.
Throughout Fahrenheit 451, really interesting points are made about the role of the media in the ignorance of the population and how that benefits totalitarian leaders. If the book had been a bit longer, actions wouldn’t have seemed so sudden and I would have felt a stronger connection with the characters. Nevertheless, this is a book really worth reading and then reflect on.