First published in 1953
Best known for his politically dystopian work Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, at the age of 91, sadly died on 5 June 2012. Since then, sales of Fahrenheit 451 have increased by 250 percent week on week. But the increase in sales is unsurprising considering the international acclaim the book has received since its publication in 1953. It is a book that is a pleasure to re-engage with.
Bradbury’s work was obviously influenced by authors such as HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but most of all the gothic horrific texts of Edgar Allan Poe.
But Bradbury himself always resisted the sci-fi branding, claiming, “I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, which is based on reality.”
Fahrenheit 451 came to define a genre, yet was always intended as a social commentary on 1950s America In Bradbury’s world books are banned and those that carry them suffer the burning of their homes.
The main character Guy Montag is a book-burning fireman with a discontented wife pushing him to work harder so that they can obtain a fourth TV wall. He encounters a free-thinking teenager, Clarisse who he bonds with immediately. When Clarisse tragically disappears he starts hiding books at home. But when his wife turns him in he is forced to burn his books, home – and boss! After this Montag goes into exile, fleeing the scene for fear of arrest. As he escapes, however, he is confronted by a nuclear war which destroys society.
Two of the most interesting characters are Captain Beatty and Faber. They are central to the novel, yet at the same time appear to play no active role. Captain Beatty provides the history and background to the decline of books in the society and the role of the fireman in burning them.
Faber guides Montag through his mundane existence via an ear-piece after witnessing his attempt to tear pages from the New Testament. The two characters help the reader engage with Bradbury’s central theme – the damage that new forms of media will have on literature. The story leaves you longing for more.
As with all good dystopian novels Fahrenheit 451 allows the reader to consider concepts such as censorship in a totally different world, but then leaves you wondering about your own.
With increasing government interference in the internet and some countries already having strict online censorship laws the book will not be made redundant any time soon.
While some interpretations of Fahrenheit 451 have centred on the idea that Bradbury’s focus is censorship (it was this vision that inspired the film by French new wave filmmaker François Truffaut), Bradbury always disputed this claim saying the target of the book “is not the state – but the people”.
Actually his message is that new media such as television and the internet negatively affect human interest in reading. He was famously extremely uncomfortable about the transformation of Fahrenheit 451 into a format for Kindles.
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