Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Fahrenheit 451

Author: Ray Bradbury
ISBN: 978-0345342966
Buy in India:

Fahrenheit 451 is a great book to discuss in light of the recent banning of Rohinton's Mistry's Such A Long Journey from the Mumbai University syllabus. This book was hastily removed from the syllabus after 10 years because it is said to hurt the sentiments of certain people and is allegedly abusive about certain groups of people. Not only is it unconstitutional and a subversion of free speech, this issue has been brought obviously as a springboard for a young politico.

Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico.

Says, Fire Chief Beatty, a character in Fahrenheit 451, explaining why books were banned in this story.

All this and more is beautifully explored in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Why Fahrenheit 451? Because that is the temperature at which book paper burns, and that is the number of the fire department in this story.

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.

Says Ray Bradbury in the Afterword of this book.

Synopsis: Written 50 years ago, the story is set in a future that is eerily familiar – a “pre-echo”, if you will. This is no longer science fiction.

  • The country is at war – a war that is undefinable and unclear. Fighter jets fly overhead all the time, yet the citizens have no idea what the war is about.

  • Books have been banned – all books.

  • People watch reality TV all day, and the characters on TV substitute real family and need for social interaction.

  • No one walks or exercises or does anything for pleasure. People are told what to think and do.

  • There is no discourse – everyone is fed their roles and lines and brainwashed into numbness and stupidity by establishment controlled TV and radio./li>

  • Learning is prohibited, free thinking and speech banned.

The characters: The protagonist, 'Montag', is a fireman. In this future, all homes have been made fire-proof, so the fireman’s job is to start fires and burn books and the homes of people who own books.

Montag’s wife 'Mildred', has accepted all the distractions that society has to offer – she doesn’t feel any need to look further than her family on the three huge TV walls in their home. This doesn’t mean that she is happy. But she is totally oblivious to this fact as well.

'Clarisse', Montag’s neighbour is a breath of fresh air – a rebel – she thinks, her family sits together to talk, exchange ideas. A catalyst, she gets Montag thinking. She is a threat to the order of things.

'Faber' is the old professor whom Montag turns to for help. He seems to speak for the author in some ways – he has knowledge from books and loves them. He has been quiet too long, even though he is aware of the emptiness of life. Once Montag starts to question their lives, Faber is invigorated into action, supporting Montag and helping him break free.

Once Montag meets Faber, he realises that what they are burning is not just paper and ink, but ideas and knowledge that has been passed on from one person to another. A shared breadth of knowledge that is no longer available to anyone.

There is always someone who will get offended by what you’ve said or what you think. If we let that affect us or change the way we think, we’d all think alike and act alike – that’s the end of creativity and individualism.

Fahrenheit 451 is a book that makes you think and rethink… The pace is breathless, yet the book is one to be savoured slowly. Put it down after a chapter or a powerful paragraph and think about it.

Don’t miss the interview with Ray Bradbury at the end of this edition (Ballantine’s 50th year edition). And read the Afterword and Coda (something I almost never do). Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books that I’ll look back at and think, “It changed my life.”

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