For a long time, I had heard how fantastic this book was and how powerful the writing. But it was not until I finished the last page that I appreciated what a truly awesome book this was. I read it in fits and starts, but never did I lose track of the story. And with this book, I restart my efforts to complete the Guardian challenge by the end of this year.
Sometime in the future, books have been banned, and every book is burned by firemen and their owners punished. Montag is one such fireman, reveling in the anarchy of book burning. The people around him are equally callous: his wife Mildred the soap-opera-addicted vapid woman, his boss Beatty the fire-loving self-hater. But then he meets Clarisse McKellan, a simple girl who jerks him out of his slumber and forces him to re-examine his life. Montag learns the value of books and life, and makes some decisions that will take him on paths he has dared not tread before.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.
Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.
This opening paragraph may cause book lovers to shudder, but I was entranced by Bradbury’s prose, the vivid descriptions that come to mind with each sentence he has written. The scenes play out around you; I felt Montag’s agony and indecision as deeply as if they were my own. Bradbury constructs a society where free thinking and imagination, represented by books, has been burned down and replaced by homogeneity and dulling of the mind, symbolized by the parlor walls (TV). A memorable scene is when Montag reads the "Dover Beach" poem to his wife and her friends: each one is deeply affected but chooses to ignore it. And Beatty was painted in deep shades of gray; he hated books and savagely burnt them, yet quoted Scriptures and Shakespeare, showing that he was a well-read man. This is not a book to be read for story alone; it is a book meant to make you introspect, to stop and wonder what would happen if the story came true.
Fahrenheit 451 shares many thematic similarities with another of my favorite reads, Animal Farm by George Orwell. Both have a society gone wrong, and how this affects one man in particular. The issue of censorship figures largely, though I believe that Bradbury’s work is as much a condemnation of conformism as it is a criticism of censorship: Faber was scared to take a stance against book-burning; Montag was happy in his cocoon till Clarisse came; Mildred refused to open her mind to anything but the mindless drivel of the “family”. But Fahrenheit 451 is more positive in its outlook than Animal Farm; there is hope for redemption of human society, there is the possibility that the phoenix will rise again from the ashes. I’ll leave you with Bradbury’s explanation for the book-banning junta that shrieks its disapproval of every book that dares to think out of the box.
So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it?
Read another review at: things mean a lot
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Steven's Library Annex