This book scared me witless and I sort of formed a love-hate relationship with it. I loved it because of the points it made, but hated it because it forced me to contemplate things which are, to me, unthinkable.
Montag is a fireman, but not like the firemen we know. His job is not to stop fires, but to start them. He burns books for a living. The setting is Earth in the future and books have been banned. All books. There are hints that there are technicalities governing the ownership of books, but practically speaking, all books are considered illegal and must be burned. The premise is that books and being well read inspire people to think they are better than others, in turn making those with lesser education feel bad about themselves. Negative feelings of self-worth are no longer tolerated in a society who wants to feel happy, happy, happy all the time. Therefore, anything that contributes to someone else feeling bad, must be done away with.
The scary part about this is that the way Bradbury set it up, and the way that society has developed since he wrote the book, it is actually a conceivable situation. As I was reading, I was constantly trying to reassure myself that neither I, nor my fellow book lovers, would allow such a sacrilege: we would fight to the death to retain our books and the right to read them. The question is, would there be enough of us to stop them from doing it? Are there really enough readers? I know that many, many people love to read, but what about all of those who don’t? There are probably more people out there than we know who haven’t picked up a book since they got out of school.
Comforting is the thought that so many people’s livelihoods are dependant on the publishing industry. To forbid the written word would decimate the economy, even in this day and age. Publishers, book shops, librarians, universities, shipping agents, printing houses, editors, certain web-cites would all be out of business if we were to ban books. That’s a lot of people if you think about it. Financially I think it would be impossible. Despite this being a comfort to those who love books, I can’t help but think there’s still something fundamentally wrong about a society who uses financial viability to validate the importance of the written word. It’s a fact of life, but it still seems quite oxymoronic to me.
Even better than the book was Bradbury’s afterward where he tells of many people’s (publisher’s) attempts to edit his books so that they would be acceptable to everyone, i.e. removing all references of God or minorities so that no one would be upset by the content. I hope he asked them if they had actually READ his book, although even if they did, they obviously didn’t get the point. Bradbury points out that the constant editing and re-editing of books is exactly the sort of thing that would facilitate a society as Bradbury describes in Fahrenheit 451. He points out that “blacks don’t like Twain and whites don’t like Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (paraphrasing there). What’s the answer? Do we get rid of both so everyone is happy, or do we keep both and teach from them so that everyone can learn why someone else would have a different point of view? Would we even be happy if we were always “happy”, i.e. if nothing ever upset us, or would our happiness disappear through lack of contrast?
There’s a lot of material in this book for discussion and I came away feeling like I’d like to make it compulsory reading for all schools. There’s much that can be learned from looking at the consequences, albeit fictional, of well-meaning but ill informed intentions based on short term results.
Loved the books and thus, 5 out of 5.