Part of the appeal of dystopian novels is that they strip the world of all its glitz and glamour and underneath that layer of pretense, they reveal in brutal honesty the true character of man and the wickedness that lurks in the shadows. Thus when we compare the world today to a dystopian one, we are reminded of how our poor choices can result in disastrous consequences in the future. On the other hand, are we really that far from that future? Or aren’t we now just witnessing the birth pangs of a reality that none of us are truly prepared to face? On that rather bleak note, on to a spoiler free review of the book!
In this classic written by Ray Bradbury, Guy Montag is a fireman whose sole purpose in this futuristic world is to destroy books. Despite the outward pride he exudes in performing his duty, he slowly starts to have an identity crisis when he meets a girl called Clarisse McClellan who asks him questions that challenge the reality of what he believes. She asks him, “Are you happy?” (7). This simple question, triggers in him a wave of emotions that lay bare the whole facade he was trying to put up about how much he loves his job.
“He was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs . He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.” (9)
It’s a materialistic world.
Montag’s wife, Mildred, is more interested in watching TV than interracting with her husband. She’s drawn to it a lot and when she can’t focus she takes sleeping pills every time Montag wants to talk to her about real issues. Mildred can’t face the real world either because when she’s agitated she inserts “seashells” in her ear which are essentially like ear buds.
I don’t think it was a mistake that Bradbury called the ear buds seashells. If you’ve ever put an actual sea shell in your ear it emits white noise like the sound of the ocean. The author shows that people like Mildred would rather drown their sorrow with the sound of “nothingness” than actually interract with people around them.
Fahrenheit 451 isn’t necessarily about Government censorship but about the lengths people would go in the the name of wanting to be happy. People don’t want to be offended therefore books were identified as the primary source of people’s unhappiness and therefore had to be burned. This is political correctness in the extreme.
“…the word ‘intellectual’, of course became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar.” (55)
Montag has good intentions but like a fire he is unpredictable.
FIRE- “It’s real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences.” (109)
Without giving too much away, Guy Montag gets himself in situations where he needs to be more tactful but his emotions get the better of him. This new found feeling of freedom of choice makes him a prime target for the powerful government agents whom he works for especially his superior Captain Beatty. On one of their talks about how firemen came to be, Beatty ominously warns Montag that,
“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says but everyone made equal.” (55)
“So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Breach man’s mind who knows who might be the target of the well read man. Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute.” (56)
Will Montag turn into a rebel? Or will he succumb to the realization that he is fighting a futile battle that is far bigger than he anticipated?
I highly recommed this book for the simple fact that despite being published in 1953, it is still highly relevant today and sheds light into what our society might turn into.
10 out of 10 stars for me. or five out of five. Point is, I like it.
Quick note too. I watched the HBO movie right after reading the book and though the movie wasn’t terrible it was just average at best! Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon are good actors but as usual the creators took creative license and I was unimpressed. Don’t get me started on their portrayal of Clarisse McClellan. Maybe I’ll do the old book and movie comparison just for my own peace of mind.