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Fahrenheit 451 By Ray Bradbury: Book Review

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Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953. 1950 was the year that TV turned into a really mass-culture wonder in the United States. To certain individuals, it appeared to forecast the demise of humanized talk, proficiency, and independence, and this is plainly portrayed in the book Fahrenheit 451. At the time Bradbury was composing this book, the Russians had recently the earlier year detonated their first nuclear bomb, making genuine the atomic weapons contest that had just been fantasized previously. Though Bradbury depicts a society that has already weathered two atomic wars. The book was written after World War II and criticizes intellectually oppressive political climate of that period. This book also reveals a very real concern that America leaning in direction to become an oppressive, authoritarian society.

In contrast to dystopian novels like 1984 and We, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 does not picture villainous dictators or corrupt philosopher-kings. The crucial difference is that Bradbury’s novel does not focus on a ruling elite nor does it portray a higher society, but rather, it portrays the means of oppression and regimentation through the life of an uneducated and complacent, though an ultimately honest and virtuous, working-class hero (Montag). Nonetheless, points of similarity exist between these works. All three imagine a technocratic social order maintained through oppression and regimentation and by the complete effacement of the individual. Not all dystopias are alike, but they have many elements in common. One element that almost all dystopias have is some kind of surveillance. In other words, people are being watched. In this case, they are spying on each other and they are being spied on by the mechanical hound. The hound that is depicted in the book is very, very good and hunting down, immobilizing, and killing its prey. It is a perfect example of a dystopian society’s killing machine. It’s neither alive nor not alive and designed to bring out fear as well as do its job. Overconsumption of entertainment is a major aspect of most dystopian societies. On the off chance that you keep individuals engaged, they won’t understand what is truly going on. The themes attributed to the novel are censorship in the 1950s, the book burning in Nazi Germany (1933), explosion of a nuclear weapon, individual vs. society, importance of literature, propaganda, paradoxes, hope, reformation of society, life and death, etc.

An important point to note is that it is explicitly not about government censorship. The firemen aren’t burning books on the orders of some shadowy bad administration. They’re doing it as the protagonist Guy Montag is told, because society as a whole turned away from the scary cacophony of knowledge, from the terror of differing opinions and the burden of having to choose between them, from deep and troubling thoughts. As far as the story goes the book is divided into 3 parts. The opening plunges us into a totally different world where the job of the fireman is the opposite of what we expect, they set fire instead of extinguishing them. The story centers on a man named Montag, who is a fireman, and his main responsibility is to burn books and the houses that hold them. All firefighters wear the outfits with number 451 in light of the fact that it alludes to the temperature in Fahrenheit at which books consume. One day as he walks home, Montag encounters a teenage girl named Clarrise standing alone. Montag finds Clarrise quite strange as he had a talk with her. She says that people rarely leave their houses, they don’t walk anywhere or notice everyday aspects of the natural world. No one seems to have deep meaningful conversations. Troubled by Clarrise‘s questions and her way of life, Montag then enters his room which is depicted to be a cold empty tomb with separate beds suggesting his married life with Mildred is dying. The main element of this dystopian society is ignorance. People do not acknowledge the fact that their life is nothing but a hollow sphere. They avoid acknowledging their unhappiness by indulging themselves in drugs and interactive 3D televisions. They suffocate their misery in a consistent media rush. They generally have radio headphones in their ears and they go through their day dazzled in TVs. In doing so, they conform utterly to the society around her. Through the use of TV, people don’t comprehend the significance of the past in their very own lives. They have been repeatedly given propaganda about the past, so they have no motivation to scrutinize its realness or worth. Also, because of the technology the characters are given, no one understands the value of books in direct relation to their own personal development. Television, for the majority of individuals in the book, does not create conflicting sentiments or cause people to think, so they don’t see change in a positive light. Seeing Clarrise’s independent view towards the world, Montag sends her to see the psychiatrist. The authorities try to control and silence independent people like Clarrise. The character of Clarrise is used to describe how mass media culture has affected the youth in this future American society. This generation doesn’t have any respect for their elders and doesn’t seem to value their own lives. They seek pleasure and instant gratification, they speed around in their cars and crash, they shoot each other and break things. Their education consists of learning answers without asking questions. They couldn’t care less about the war, have no associations with their family, couldn’t care less about raising the people to come, and their conclusions about legislative issues are shallow and ignorant. They don’t seem to have any real interests besides entertainment. This society equates happiness with not feeling offended and having easy access to instant gratification. To ensure that they attain this state of ‘happiness,’ society has empowered firemen, who don’t necessarily have any training in literature, or ethics, or law, to destroy books and knowledge.

After spending some amount of time with Clarrise, Montag thinks about the world beyond electronic entertainment and wonders about his life, his ideals, and his own happiness. Montag, at the fire station, asks about the history of firemen. In this future America, people are taught an alternate history that connects burning books to the patriotic acts of American independence. The first burned books were British-influenced books. But Montag’s questions are starting to make him stand out from the others who merely accept this history without questioning it. After he hears about the death of Clarrise and the old woman whose house he burnt, not before stealing a book that he is supposed to burn, Montag feels guilty and he questions his job as a fireman. Captain Beatty, the Fire Chief, begins to doubt Montag’s devotion to his job and realizes that he has changed sides. It is soon revealed that Montag has hidden plenty of books in the house and reads them. Beatty explains Montag about the real history of firemen. Beatty’s critical descriptions of ubiquitous entertainment and media distractions, dumbed-down news coverage, condensed literature, and shortened attention spans—all envisioned by Bradbury midway through the 20th century, look like fairly accurate predictions of early 21st-century society. Beatty describes how a society comes to value and impose conformity on itself out of an innocent desire to avoid offending anyone. But being a free individual among other free individuals requires a willingness to offend and be offended. Bradbury again predicts the future with remarkable accuracy, though the term ‘political correctness’ didn’t exist when Bradbury wrote this novel, modern critiques of political correctness as censorship often echo Beatty’s account. At the climax of the first part, Montag is, at last, voices his fears about his relationship with Mildred, as well as his curiosity and hope about the books he’s been hoarding without reading. He has a creeping suspicion that what the firemen stand for is wrong, while what Clarisse represents is right. He’s ready to try to engage intellectually with other people’s ideas and ways of looking at the world. He starts to read.

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Part 2 starts with Montag and Mildred spending the afternoon flipping through books, reading passages, and trying to make sense of what they read. Montag seeks Faber’s help, a former English teacher he had met one time, to teach him so that he could understand what happened to society. Faber believes in books and knowledge, but as of now does not have the courage to stand up for them. Unlike Mildred, who conforms because she is addicted to distraction, Faber conforms out of fear. After hearing out what Montag has to say, Faber points out that it’s knowledge and deep thought that is important, not what contains the knowledge and thought. Faber’s mention of the parable of Hercules and Antaeus suggests that mass media has lost its connection to real-life by leaving out-thought and knowledge. In turn, it provides no strength to those who consume it. While Faber believes that any form of media can contain the type of information he prizes in books, he thinks that the effort required to read books makes them the best-suited type of media for disseminating rich and complicated ideas.

The 3rd part begins with Mildred turning in her husband for storing books in the house and slipping off in a taxi to start another life without a word of farewell. Beatty is aggressive up to the last moment. He taunts Montag, who has just lost his house, his wife, and his liberty, with lines from Shakespeare as though he was provoking him. Montag kills Beatty. Later, Montag realized that Beatty actually wanted to die. Beatty, who quotes so readily and fluently from the same books he destroys, is himself a tortured soul who regrets his decision to remain a book-destroying fireman. Montag then goes to Faber’s house to tell him to leave the city. Faber advises him to follow the river until he reaches the abandoned railroad tracks, and then to follow the tracks to meet the hoboes living along the tracks, many of them refugee intellectuals with Harvard degrees. The live coverage of the manhunt of Montag (since he killed Beatty after committing a crime of storing books), complete with helicopter footage and running commentary, is another of Bradbury’s predictions that came to pass in the United States before the end of the 20th century. It also shows the intoxicating power of television. We see that the authorities can use the TV and radio to mobilize the masses to look for Montag. Here Bradbury is showing how TV and radio can be used to turn individuals into a mob that can execute the will of a central authority. Media like TV and radio are much more powerful and potentially destructive than books because books alone cannot mobilize a populace. Unlike TV and radio, books can’t be controlled from a central source. While following the railroad tracks, Montag finds a deep joy in the natural world that he never found in the commotion and distractions of the city. He also feels more like himself. By engaging with the world, he finds himself. The men around the fire are similar to Faber, in that they are educated and thoughtful, but have chosen to live as fugitives outside of society. We also see that authorities use television to lie to the people. As they were unable to catch Montag police picked up a scapegoat so that the public won’t realize they have lost Montag. Then, Montag joins a group of educated, vagrant men who remember and preserved orally great novels until books are allowed and appreciated again. As they are walking away from the city, the war begins and a nuclear bomb destroys the place that was once Montag’s home. The men turn back to the completely collapsed city to help rebuild a society from scratch.

It is worth noting the ways in which our world differs from that of Fahrenheit 451. We have our big-screen TVs, some of them approaching wall size. TV seeing, though still consuming a huge amount of our leisure time, is really declining as individuals invest more energy playing computer games or utilizing the Web. The Internet is famously the best advancement that sci-fi neglected to envision, and it is unmistakably increasingly anarchic, individualized, and unregulated than the broad communications which preceded it and which shaped the nightmares of earlier dystopian writers. The ‘seashells’ that individuals insert in their ears today are earbuds through which individuals tune in to profoundly individualized playlists of tunes on their iPods.

Because the majority of this dystopian society is not able to express personal freedom, it is interesting that Clarisse and the unidentified old woman die early in the novel in order to display what has happened so far in this society to the people who exercise their personal freedom. Captain Beatty’s demise can be considered an act of personal freedom because Beatty provokes Montag into killing him instead of protecting himself and remaining alive. The battle of having personal freedom is essential in this book because Bradbury demonstrates what happens when man is not given the opportunity to express his thoughts or remember his past. Through Clarisse, the unidentified woman, and Beatty, you are shown the consequences of what happens when humans aren’t allowed to fully express their individuality and choice (they die). Through the characters of Montag, Faber, and Granger, you can see how one individual can make a difference in society if that one individual can fully realize the importance of his or her past, as well as be willing to fight for the opportunity to express himself or herself.

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