When it comes to reading books children can, for the most part, be split into two groups – those who love to read and those who would rather eat bugs for breakfast than read voluntarily. I guess I can say that I fell into the first group because feeling the presence of Dementors in my room or experiencing what it would be like to be a teen spy was fun. Nowadays, I read less fiction but continue to see people dismiss reading as a useless activity or even take pride in never reading!
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury explores a society in which books are illegal, books are burnt and is a story of how censorship wins over the search for knowledge. Guy Montag is a fire-fighter but instead of putting out fires, he creates them. Kerosene has become a symbol of suppression whereas before this dystopia, water would free and relieve people. Montag, as most people, continued this job without considering its implications or acting to stop it. To him, it was normal. It was the right thing to do. After all, it would be near impossible to fight against this policy singlehandedly.
This was until he met Clarisse McLellan. Clarisse is a 17 year old that seems quite out of place in this society. Instead focusing solely on work, she enjoys nature. She strikes me as the person that would often frustrate teachers by asking too many questions or raising issues that can’t be satisfied with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. She raised two simple questions for Montag to answer: ‘Do you ever read the books you burn?’ and ‘are you happy?’ Of course he dismisses the first question by emphasising that it is illegal to read books but now he begins to ask himself questions about the actions he commits. If books are the source of unhappiness in this society, why is he now unsatisfied with himself? His new behaviour is noticed by his boss and wife and he knows just how dangerous these feelings can be. Despite his efforts to hide his feelings, it is clear that his behaviour is out of the ordinary.
As you probably noticed in the short summary of the book; important themes are touched upon. The main one being censorship. Such acts have been attempted before in the modern world. For example, there was book burning from 1930 to 1940 by the Nazi Government, the destruction of libraries in Poland, China and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, attempted censorship is not limited in the slightest by the time period in anyway. It spans thousands of years. While the policy of censorship will probably never cease in any sphere of the world, I feel that Bradbury hints at a bigger issue.
Could we be doing this to ourselves? I don’t mean this to be a sensationalist assertion but an observation. Media is inescapable. We can be connected to everything and everyone at a mere click of a button and it is rather difficult to separate ourselves from it. As the internet takes up more and more of our lives we are both exposed to more information and more at risk of being forced into a corner of dogma. We begin to see more of the character that dislikes reading and forming her own opinion because we are bombarded day and night by adverts and over the top reality television. We see less of the person that does her best to form opinions on important issues because it is so easy to avoid doing otherwise.
Fahrenheit 451 is well written and raises important issues worthy of attention. My only criticism is that I did not get a big idea of how engaged Montag was in his job before Clarisse showed up.
I’m not asking anyone to become an aggressive revolutionary but to consider the problem and learn more about various attempts at censorship that have been made in the past.
My efforts to improve slowly will involve reading more and later reviewing them. If you have anything to share about the book or my review, let me know!
The next book on my list is ‘Replay’ by Ken Grimwood.