by Ray Bradbury
“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door...Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?” ― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
This is one of the great dystopian novels of all time, especially for bibliophiles. In this age of Kindles and Nooks and Ipads this story seems almost nostalgic, a fifties rendition of the future that reminded me of an Orwellian world ruled by a Huxleyan culture.
A totalitarian regime has ordered all books to be destroyed. In an ironic reversal of sorts Firemen no longer save buildings from fire (since all buildings are completely fire-proof) but, instead, they burn books. Books have long been abandoned since the multitudes live in a society where literature has deteriorated into tiny bites of data as life has speeded up (sounds like twitter). Everyone communicates orally and the home is dominated by large television wall screens that broadcast interactive reality programs. One of the book burners, Guy Montag, slowly rediscovers the importance of books and becomes one of very few humans struggling for some meaning and truth in his life. Montag is a fireman. It is his job is to set fire to books so that no one will read and consequently understand the hopelessness of reality. One day he has to burn an old woman who will not leave her books and this effects him deeply. Later that day his says to his wife, "You weren't there, You didn't see. There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don't stay for nothing."(p 48)
He meets a young woman named Clarisse who intrigues him and spurs further thoughts about his life and its meaning. Of course the story of Adam and Eve immediately comes to mind. But this allegory has deeper meanings. What is the role of the book and what are the limits of language? What would you do if you realized your life is devoted to the destruction of that which you love? Are you willing to engage in the search for Truth? For Montag, who has suffered from an unidentified malaise for some time, these thoughts have a momentous impact, leading him to question his job and the direction of his life.
The novel is written in an allegorical style with a fantastic background that mixes futuristic ideas within a rule-bound society where the masses are ruled by videos and drugs. Bradbury is effective in creating an evocative nightmare tale, for he is a brilliant storyteller. This, like most of his stories, has a fantastic edge. The denouement is brilliant and the result is a book that you will never forget. Once you have seen the amazing cinematic recreation by Francois Truffaut you will have additional images to put along side those of this book, emblazoned on your mind forever. This along with The Martian Chronicles is among my favorite Bradbury works and some of the best fantastic fiction I have read.
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