Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury’s dystopic sci-fi of a ‘book burning’ totalitarian regime in Fahrenheit 451 is a chilling read, in spite of the intense heat its title implies. Set in a world where literature is a dying medium and television has far eclipsed it in terms of importance, it remains easy to see why it’s regarded as a modern classic – it’s prophetic and, in some ways, is perhaps truer today than it ever was.
Of course, things are different now: we’re living in a world of screens, and there are some people born who might grow to be more familiar with the concept of an eBook than its printed forebear. But consider this: Fahrenheit 451 was released way back in 1953 and was interpreted as being a comment upon Nazi Germany and how the fascists purged much literature from existence in the fires of their nationalist ideology the decade beforehand. Today, however, it’s taken on new meaning.
The character of Guy Montag, the so-called ‘fireman’ who initially doesn’t question his role in starting fires to destroy books, is no different from you or I. He conforms to society’s norms, however abnormal they appear to the reader; much in the same way we glue our eyeballs to smartphone screens remaining in hopeless thrall to news feeds which depress our abilities to see the world differently.
After all, in our digital world of cloud-based data impermanence, we effectively place our faith in algorithms comforting our self-delusions within the echo chamber of our social media bubbles. We may well decry ‘fake news’ but, in reality, the technology we embrace has filtered the way we see the world to the extent that our self-imposed isolation has become its own modern form of book burning.
To Ray Bradbury, the act of destroying literature as the Nazis did was tantamount to murder, symbolising the death of new ideas by consigning them to the dustbin of history. Words, no doubt, held more weight with Bradbury – who would likely have regarded television’s presentation of image over reality as just as sinister as seeing the world through Instagram selfies. On this basis, there is little doubt the themes in Fahrenheit 451 are ripe for critical re-interpretation.
Guy Montag’s journey is one of self-realisation, as he defies the authorities by abandoning the insidious influence of television and resorts to hiding books in his home. We can all find similar ways of doing this in our own lives, albeit within a modern technological context. Whether most of us choose to act upon this instinct not to accept the lies we tell ourselves is, of course, down to us.
That’s what makes Fahrenheit 451 so powerful and so thought-provoking – needless to say, I feel it fully deserves its own place in history as a landmark piece of post-war science fiction literature. Just don’t you dare try to burn it.
© 2017 Luke Edley
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Poet, humorous fiction writer and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.