Fahrenheit 451 Book Review | Teen Ink

Fahrenheit 451 Book Review

January 3, 2019
By Emilyi SILVER, Shenzhen, Other
Emilyi SILVER, Shenzhen, Other
7 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury and published in 1953, is a classic dystopian novel that depicts a futuristic world in which books have been outlawed. As the American fantasy author Neil Gaiman points out in his introduction to the book, Fahrenheit 451 is a book of warning and a reminder of the valuable things we have and that we take granted. The book conveys Bradbury’s perspective on the 1950s and his fears for the future. Frighteningly, more than half a century has passed since 1953, and yet our world today continues to look all the more like the one Bradbury invented.

One major influence on Bradbury’s conception of Fahrenheit 451 was the proliferation of television in the 1950s. During that decade, the newly invented product attracted millions of consumers, and households across the world became enamored with their TV sets. At the start of the decade, there were about 3 million TV owners; by the end of it, there were roughly 55 million (Wiegand). As its consumption surged, television became a dominate dorm of storytelling and was soon a major competitor of books. Today, the bevy of screens in our lives from our phones, computers, and laptops can make the 1950s popularity of the TV look downright quaint. If the TV positioned itself as a competitor to reading in the 50s, today the television has clearly won the competition for our attention.

As a person living in this electron generation, I have seen the way playing a video game can be more appealing than reading a book, or how watching a movie based on a book can seem more efficient than reading an entire novel. Even when we find the time to sit down and pry open a book, hundreds of TV series, movies, and games scream for our attention. We live in a society full of distractions, yet we also punish any extended deviation from our busy daily routines.

What is most frightening to me is that people are not aware of these changes even as they stealthily infiltrate our lives. Bradbury clearly saw the way these changes were creeping into everyday life. Shortly before starting Fahrenheit 451, he had written a short story called “The Pedestrian” about a man who is arrested simply for walking. The story sparked the author’s imagination for a longer piece about a coldly bureaucratic dystopia, and he built on this to create his most enduring work. “The Pedestrian” portrays a television-obsessed future, and this idea proved crucial to his development of Fahrenheit 451. In order to show his concern that reading was disappearing from society, Bradbury took this obsession with television to an extreme conclusion by creating a world where printed works are forbidden and burned.

In order to convey a message of warning, Bradbury knits an intricate web of evocative literary devices throughout the novel. In its bleak, dystopian setting, “firemen” are people who find and burn books. This wryly contrasts with today’s understanding of the purpose of firemen. Rather than be charged with putting out fires, Bradbury envisions a world where they create them. This irony clearly shows his fear of what our society could become. Another interesting way Bradbury expresses this is through an allusion to Benjamin Franklin, who is often thought of as the first American fireman. In the novel, Franklin is believed to have founded the Union Fire Company to burn books, rather than as the precursor to modern firefighting that he actually created. Because the government in the novel has banned the printed word, historical records are actively destroyed and the people believe this lie about Franklin. Here again, Bradbury cautions against creating a society where knowledge is callously thrown away.

Bradbury also makes his futuristic society—and the fear it elicits—tangible through careful descriptions of his characters’ daily lives. The story is told from protagonist Guy Montag’s point-of-view in the first person, and the reader gains a clear glimpse of the character’s mind. Despite being married, Guy still feels as if “there’s a wall between him and Mildred,” his wife of ten years (Bradbury 41). Our vantage point inside Guy’s head allows us to know that it is technology that makes him feel empty. He sees himself as “one of the creatures electronically inserted between the slits of the phono-color walls, speaking, but the speech not piercing the crystal barrier” (Bradbury 44). All of these feelings come from a lack of knowledge. He is consumed by emptiness because people no longer spend time face-to-face, choosing instead to focus on their electronics. Similarly, he is consumed by coldness because he cannot exert control over his life.

All the emptiness that Guy feels at the beginning of the novel seems present in our modern society. Today, in-person interaction is slowly being supplanted by communicating via text and email. Fahrenheit 451 has remained a timeless classic because its future feels more plausible with each passing year. Out of all the lessons Bradbury seeks to impart, the most significant takeaway for me is the importance of knowledge. The government is able to control its citizens by restricting their access to knowledge, and Guy’s life is empty because he has no knowledge to fill it with. This is the most chilling warning for us today: if we do not preserve the knowledge of our past, the dystopian setting of Bradbury’s sci-fi novel will become our reality.

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