December INP Post #1: 451 Degrees of Familiarity with Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451: The Temperature at which Books Burn. Doesn’t just the title stimulate motivation to read it? That’s exactly what I experienced when I came across the book in the library. I had heard other friends talk about this book before, and apparantly it was regarded as a masterpiece of Ray Bradbury. In other words, it was exceptionally good. Therefore, I immediately checked it out, ready to indulge in some great literature.

And now, with the back cover recently closed over the last page, I was not disappointed at all with what I just experienced. The future world painted by Bradbury in the reader’s mind is interesting and horrifying, the plotline intriguing, and the word choice and tone unique. But what I found the most remarkable was how the theme of censorship outlined in the book was applicable to contemporary society. However, before I dive deep into that, I would first like to iterate my applause for the outstanding ideas possessed by the book.

Imagine a world where firemen were not mobilised to put out fires, but to start them with a kerosene hose equipped with a lighter. That was the world Guy Montag, the main character of the book and a fireman himself, lived in. In the futuristic society, books have been banned from reading, as it “misleads” individuals from the greater good, which is constantly broadcasted into everyone’s minds by radios worn in the ear. The firemen were called upon to burn down the houses where books were hidden in, and take the smugglers into custody. Think about it! Bradbury had imagined a world so unlike ours, but yet so understandable. He had turned firemen into the bad guys working for a corrupt government, instead of the good guys we are used to who save lives. He has woven a world that is so fantastic and complex that it is almost impossible for one to think that a person can conjure up this world in their mind.

Along the plotline, as Montag realizes the corruption in the system, he takes actions that jeapordize his own life and the future of his wife. Of course I won’t reveal his actions, but all I can say is that as you read this captivating book, it will be hard to tear your eyes away.

Praise for the plot aside, I have noticed several links to the real world when reading Fahrenheit 451. When reading the detailed descriptions Bradbury gives about the society, I kept asking myself: “Are there any similarities between the society of this book and our world today? How is our modern society like the one illustrated in the book?” Even though I was not usually one to ask questions when reading a novel as engrossing as Fahrenheit 451, I was led to do that because I maintained a feeling that the world I was learning about was not much different from ours. I just didn’t know how. As I kept reading, I formulated my answer chapter by chapter. It is the end result that I will share now.

Towards the beginning of the novel, a female character named Clarisse tells Montag says everyone wants to go extremely fast in that world. She informs him that the billboards along the highways are 200 feet long since cars rocket past so fast, requiring an elongated board for drivers to actually read the text on them. Needless to say, our society desires speed as well. This is the connection I made when reading that particular chapter and stumbling upon this part: we like speed. Whether it’s physical speed or digital speed, we want it. Today’s society is pouring money and minds into faster trasmissions for phones and other digital devices, along with investing in vehicles that will travel at unimaginable speeds. Needless to say, we all want fast internet, and no one likes a slow connection. We are also tossing money at the idea of planes that will travel at 10 times the speed of sound (Mach 10), theoretically transporting us from Sydney to London in just 90 minutes. In the world of Fahrenheit 451, the cars cruise at a mere 120 miles per hour on the highway, and the subway, when coming into the station, seems to instantaneously stop and hurry into the tunnel. I noticed that the desire of speed is present in both societies.

Also, when Captain Beatty – the captain of the firemen – was at Montag’s house, talking to him about their society, he says that people in that time wanted progressively shorter and useful amounts of information, leading to books being condensed and turning bland.  Our world, similarly, hates the prospect of browsing through a library to locate information, even though it was employed no less than a few decades ago. That is because that option requires too much information to go through. Instead, we turn to the internet, where the short bite of information we need is only just a typing of a keyword away. However, we haven’t gotten to the extreme of burning books, but again, a similarity is seen between the two societies.

Beatty also also talked about political correctness and how that made writers and publishers take out anything deemed offensive to any group. I made one of my biggest connections to the real world after I read this. Political correctness is a huge factor of a writer’s work in our society today. For an example of it, simply look at a Chinese textbook used in a Chinese local school compared to an American textbook used in an American public school that teach the same topic: Chairman Mao. The Chinese textbook glorifies Chairman Mao as a hero and god-like being, whereas the American textbook depicts him as a flawed leader. It is the background and environment of the authors, alont with the topic they are writing about, that influences the biases and stereoptypes seen in their writing. In order not to hurt Chinese views of Mao as a hero, the author of the Chinese textbook removed the “flawed decisions” column. Similarly, in order not to be seen as propoganda supporting the legacy of Mao, the authors of the American textbook removed the extreme praise for Mao and added a slightly more critical approach to his accomplishments. This form of censorship is seen in our world today. No toleration is shown towards articles that denounce or harshly criticise any one group of individuals. Beatty stresses that in Fahrenheit 451, and I instantly connected to how siginificant an impact political correctness has on modern literature.

Finally, the world illustrated in Fahrenheit 451 is of one where people want to be entertained, and they want it on demant and immediately. Entertainment is a gargantuan component of the lives of the people in the book’s world, and isn’t that part of our society as well? We pay people who entertain us, like Jon Stewart of the Daily Show or Taylor Swift, huge sums of money while those who protect us and teach us – police officers, doctors, even college professers – are on the lower levels of the pay scales. This is how much our society values entertainment, similar to the society told in Fahrenheit 451, and that is yet another similarity established between the two.

Undoubtedly, countless interesting connections have stemmed from reading this book. I guarantee that many Middle and High schoolers will enjoy this book, if they have not already read it. I did, and it is among my favourite books I read this year.