Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1954 and it is now considered as a classic piece of literature taught in many schools. When I shared that I had finished it on my Instagram Stories my cousins daughter in America wrote to me and asked how I had enjoyed it, she had just studied it at school.
Bradbury has previously explained that he wrote the book in just 9 days. As a young man with a young family he needed somewhere outside of the house to work but could not afford office space. He describes walking about the grounds of UCLA one day and hearing typing and finding a bank of typewriters in the basement of the library that you could hire for a dime every two hours. He wrote the book. Or he describes, “…he (Montag) wrote me”.
The books opening line is, “It was a pleasure to burn”. We meet Guy Montag who we know is a fireman and we slowly learn that his job is quite different to what we understand it to be. He uses kerosene to set fires at the centre of which are books. Books are illegal. When reports come in of a house where there are books the firemen are notified and go to the address where they find the books and set fire to them, and the house.
Montag meets a young girl called Clarisse on his walk home from work and finds her strange. She opens his mind to the wonders of the world over the course of a few days. She becomes his friend, a concept that is lost, he’s not even that friendly with his wife. After his first meeting with Clarisse he returns home and finds that his wife has taken an overdose. Medical intervention means that the next day she is fine and has no memory of having nearly died. This event also seems to jolt Montag out of the reverie of his life.
The book covers a very short period of time and essentially is about Montag truly opening his eyes to what is happening around him. The shock of it and how quickly it happens mean that he is not very careful about protecting himself and there are several incidents where he shows people that he has books. It turns out that whilst books are banned he has nevertheless been stealing them from the houses he burns and hiding them in his house.
With his eyes being opened to what the world has become we learn how it became that way and how the future looks.
This is a fabulous book, of course. It immediately had a feel to it like the 1950’s dystopian literature I have read. On the Beach by Neville Shute for example. They have a real bleakness and hopelessness to them. It was of course also very reminiscent of 1984 by George Orwell though not nearly as bleak as that world! Several paragraphs in it could have been written in todays newspapers. Talk of how the world banned books. It felt prophetic at times, much like 1984 does as the moment. The hopelessness that the lack of books befalls on the world is startling and terrifying. People don’t seem to have actual connections with each other. They just want to watch their “family” on the walls, like everyone watching Love Island?
Yesterday I heard that the White House have edited the meeting between Trump and Putin to show Trump saying what he had apparently meant to say rather than what he said. I was shocked to the core. This was 1984. In 1984 Winston spends his days changing headlines and news reports to say what the party wants them to say as of today so there is no real history. History is fake. People just accept what they are told today. They have to. Fahrenheit 451 sits well in that legend. You would need to ban the books in that world. And that world is happening. Trump just had Winston edit his meeting with Putin.
Read this book. Read 1984. Fight against the future that Ray Bradbury is warning us against. And when you read the last paragraph play The Byrds song Turn Turn Turn and let this be our anthem.