Fahrenheit 451 –
The temperature at which
book paper catches
fire and burns…
Eminent American writer, Ray Bradbury, died this summer. Over the course of his career, the versatile author wrote many short stories, novels, and works of nonfiction, and is considered one of the most influential writers of the Twentieth Century.
Fahrenheit 451 envisions an American dystopia where independent thought has virtually died out. The country, that has the menace of an imminent nuclear war looming over it, is ruled by a totalitarian government that sedates its population by beaming in mindless entertainment right onto the walls of their home. Those who have not yet become numbed by this process are given to venting their violence in drag races. In such a society, the ultimate enemy is the written word. To eradicate the threat represented by books, the state uses ‘Firemen’ to whom it assigns the duty of burning books – those dangerous harbingers of free thought and dissent.
The book’s protagonist, Guy Montag – a Fireman, has gone most of his life without questioning the status quo. That is, until the appearance and sudden disappearance of his young neighbor awakens a latent unease that leads him to distrust all that he has hitherto obediently accepted. The first step towards rebellion takes Guy inexorably down the path of insurgency. Change is inevitable.
Though some interpret this work as a rebuke of censorship, the author appears to place greater emphasis on the devaluation of books and scholarly pursuits. Published in 1953, at the time of television’s inception, Fahrenheit 451 seems more a warning against a future that disallows intellectual endeavor for the narcotizing effects of mass media entertainment – a message as relevant now as then.