“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores”
~ Fahrenheit 451 By Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is a brilliant book that works in many ways. A dystopian novel set in an imagined future where firemen burn libraries, the majority of people live in a vacuous state of mind that is kept going by mindless television soaps and the few who dare to read or think or question are branded rebels and forced to choose between conformance or annihilation. Suicide attempts are so common that support staff, rather than proper doctors are constantly on the move, reviving the people who try to kill themselves. The novel takes place in a short span of time over which the main character Guy Montag goes through a series of encounters – with a free-spirited girl Clarisse McClellan, the wise old Professor Faber and a group of fugitive intellectuals each of whom is a living version of a book. The narrative is excellent and keeps the reader on the edge, rooting for the unlikely hero as he evolves from a fireman who burns books for a living to one of the select group of people who are fighting to preserve the written word and pass it on to others.
And as much as it celebrates the written word, Fahrenheit 451 also stresses that books are but a means to an end, calling them one of the many ‘receptacles of magic in the universe’.
“No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” (2.128, Fahrenheit 451)
What is truly remarkable about this book written more than fifty years ago are the chillingly accurate predictions that it makes about the future of the human race. Many of the things described in the book which were fantastic exaggerations when it was first published are now facts of life, such as the senseless soap operas that play incessantly on in the minds of the people, emptying their brains and gradually sucking out their ability to think creatively, rendering them passive robots. Such is Bradbury’s genius that the book even predicts the publication of a certain book which was in the news sometime back.
Montag’s boss Captain Beatty tells him that ‘Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: ‘now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors.’
And so we can:
“Ophelia just pulled a Virginia Woolf. Funeral is on the morrow.
Laertes is unhappy that I killed his father and sister. What a drama queen! Oh well, fight this evening.”
~ Twitterature by Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin
But even as he wrote these predictions with the wisdom of a seer, Bradbury also foresaw the solution in Fahrenheit 451 and said as much – as long as we have books, there is hope for the future.