Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 shares a lot of similarities with Orwell’s 1984. Both take place in a dystopian future where intellectual freedom and free thought are suppressed. Both tell the story of a man who begins to question the basic cultural assumptions and rules that his society is built upon. And both show the consequences of rebellion in a society bent on maintaining censorship at any cost. And while Fahrenheit 451 may be slightly more optimistic when it comes to its belief that an individual can be set free from the collective prejudices of their society, it is no less an indictment of the anti-intellectual tendencies that can emerge when a society starts to value happiness and order over truth.
Fahrenheit 451 Summary: The novel takes place in a future in which reading has been outlawed by a population that values the pursuit of pleasure over knowledge. “Illegal” books are rounded up and burned by “Firemen” for the good of humanity (The title of the novel refers to the temperature at which book paper will burn). Our protagonist, Guy Montag, is a Fireman who begins to question the practice of book burning after an incident at the home of a woman whose books were going to be burned. After inadvertently reading a line in one of her books, he decides to steal the book. When the woman eventually allows herself to be burned alive along with all of her books, Guy begins to reconsider his belief that books have no value.
As the novel progresses, Guy starts to become more and more obsessed with collecting and memorizing books and begins to find kindred spirits who have been actively trying to preserve as many books as they can (often going so far as to memorize their contents before burning them to avoid detection). At the same time, Guy’s superiors at the Fire department begin to suspect his book hoarding tendencies and eventually force him to burn his entire house to the ground. All of this takes place while newscasts warn of a pending war that is foreshadowed throughout the book.
Fahrenheit 451 Review: While many critics have declared the book to be a critique of state-sponsored censorship and oppression, Bradbury himself has noted that it is society itself that has initiated and allowed the censorship to take place by turning its back on books and intellectual curiosity. While Bradbury may have originally intended it as an attack on television and its effect on people’s interest in Literature, today’s reader could make the connection with any number of new forms of entertainment (movies, video games, etc.) that seem to be distracting people from the joys of reading. And while intellectual censorship stills occurs with alarming frequency around the world, modern technical advances have also given books, thoughts and ideas the ability to travel around the world in an instant and live independently of the physical pages that use to hold them bound.
Fahrenheit 451 Quotes: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war.”
“Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but its a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily.”