“If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”
A few years ago we had a new English teacher in the school and for introductions, she asked us to tell her our names and our favorite books. Some people named really good YA books, while others named childhood favorites. But in a class of nearly 40 kids, almost half of them proudly said that they “don’t read books.” For the most part, our teacher laughed it off and made jokes about “kids these days.” However, as an afterthought, she asked our class to read Fahrenheit 451. I picked up this book with high expectations and put it down feeling ridiculously unsettled by the prescient notions of a book written nearly 70 years ago.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a masterpiece of speculative fiction, a cautionary tale, and a love letter to other books.
“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
The book is set in a dystopian future where firemen start fires rather than put them out, owning books is against the law, and freethinkers are burned alive in their homes. Guy Montag, one of these incendiary firemen, starts to question why some people are willing to burn just to be able to read books. He begins to hide and read books in his own home and to his horror, he finds an identity and a mind of his own. He becomes convinced that what society has labeled as wrong and anti-social is more real than anything he’s experienced in a long time; however, these are dangerous thoughts. Being a fireman himself, Guy knows, more than anyone, the price that is demanded of people who dare to think, read, and entertain original thoughts.
One single mistake and Guy may find himself on the other side of the flamethrower.
“The average TV commercial of sixty seconds has one hundred and twenty half-second clips in it or one-third of a second. We bombard people with sensation. That substitutes for thinking.”
This book is every English teacher’s dream. It is chock-full of metaphors that you almost have to wade through, but as you read between the lines, you may find that the underlying message hits a little too close to home. Inspired by the burning of the library of Alexandria, the book dives into a world where knowledge is censored and leaves you wondering if you might be as blindly indoctrinated as Montag. How many of the thoughts that you think are truly original? How many of these thoughts have been put there by someone else?
“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”
If you compare Montag’s world to our world now, you may find eerie similarities in our behavior. This book has a fantastic illustration of how the government controls people through media. All our society demands is that people act the same. We must all have the same looks, same beliefs. Being able to think freely and critically and to form our own opinions is what creates a distinction between two people. When you can choose for yourself what you deem wrong and right, that’s when you can progress and make a change. But, if you are only given one side of a question there’s nothing you can do about it. If you aren’t dissatisfied with some aspect of your life, you will never move forward. You become a sheep in a herd.
Bradbury pulls references from many other historical works and cleverly weaves them into his writing, alongside his own quotes, to create a story that is an interesting read but also provides a deeper narrative on our society. It raises the question of why we read and why we need books. Why should we care about these stories? They are all made up anyway.
First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 continues to inspire new generations of readers. Even decades later, through the simple premise that the pursuit of knowledge and natural curiosity are so tightly bound together that to detach the two is humanly impossible.
Kyra is a staff reporter.
Edited by Keerat.