Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fahrenheit 451 | Ray Bradbury

"Fahrenheit 451" was one of those sci-fi, distopian fiction novels that I was ashamed not to have read.  I finally got around to doing so, and all I can say is "Wow!"  This novel completely blew me away; I wasn't expecting it to be so good.

The story is about Guy Montag, a fireman, who lives in a futuristic society where firemen do not put out fires... they create them.  The goal of a fireman is to destroy records, particularly books.  The concept of the novel is summed up rather nicely in this line by Fire Captain Beatty: ""Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs.... Don't give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."

The premise is to turn people into happy idiots by taking away books and introducing television.  People's "families" are really their television characters that talk to them and they spend all day looking at televisions that take up entire walls of rooms.  Montag is continually pressured by his wife to earn more money to buy a fourth wall - so she can be encapsulated completely in her television universe.  What's really interesting is that this novel was written in 1951, way before the concept of reality television was put into practice.  This book paints an eerie picture of what can happen when this type of programming gets out of hand.

Of course, the novel is not solely about television.  It's just a medium, to which, the people in society can seek pleasure without thinking.  The goal of the society is to produce people who are happy, and happiness is found in complete ignorance and lives solely based on leisure.  The concept is not a new one, and is often a critism of the United States.  Sports and doing everything quickly without having time for reflection (such as racing cars) are used to inhibit thinking.

The largest way of controlling society is by inhibiting information exchange, in this case, by burning books.  This is similar to the treatment of the Chinese by their communist government - everything (especially media) is regulated and watched.  Bradbury presents a very simplistic viewpoint of this, which mainly results from members of society giving up their neighbours or spouses for the possession of books.

When Montag is turned in for his collection of books, he narrowly escapes - a chace with a mechanical dog that can distinguish his scent, that is all recorded on reality television.  In the end, without giving it away, he encounters some more of his own kind who tell him the secret to keeping books alive.

This was one of the best books I have read in a long time and I encourage everyone reading this review to run out and get a copy.  Remember to store it in a well hidden place - just in case.


"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.  It has features.  This book can go under the microscope.  You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion.  The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are.  That's my definition anyway.  Telling detail.  Fresh detail.  The good writers touch life often.  THe mediocre ones run a quick hand over her.  The bad ones raper her and leave her for the flies." 111

"The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine percent of them is in a book." 114

"But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid, unmoving cattle of the majority."  136

"The moved along the bank of the river, going south.  Montag tried to see the men's faces, the old faces he remembered from the firlight, lined and tired.  He was looking for a brightness, a reslove, a triumph over tomorrow that hardly seemed to be there.  Perhaps he had expected their faces to burn and glitter with the knowledge they cared, to glow as lanterns glow, with the light in them.  But all the light had come from the cmpfire, and these men had seemed no different than any others who had run a long race, serached a long search, seen good things destroyed, and now, very late, were gathered to wait for the end of the party and blowing out of the lamps.  The weren't at all certain that the things they carried in their heads might make every future dawn glow with a purer light, they were sure of nothing save that the books were on file behind their quiet eyes, the books were waiting, with their pages uncut, for the customers who might come by in later years, some with clean and some with dirty fingers."  180

"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my frandfather said.  A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made.  Or a garden planted.  Some thing your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there.  It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away.  The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said.  The law-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime." 182

" 'Stuff your eyes with wonder,' he said, 'live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds.  See the world.  It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.  Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.  And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away.  To hell with that,' he said, 'shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.' " 183

"We'll go on the river.  He looked at the old railroad tracks.  Or we'll go that way.  Or we'll walk on the highways now, and we'll have time to put things into ourselves.  And some day, after it sets in us a long time, it'll come out our hands and our mouths.  And a lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right.  We'll just start walking today and see the world and the way the world walks around and talks, the way it really looks.  I want to see everything now.  And while none of it will be me when it goes in, after awhile it'll all gather together inside and it'll be me.  Look at the world out there, my God, my God, look at it out there, outside me, out there beyond my face and the only way to really touch it is to put it where it's finally me, where it's in the blood, where it pumps around a thousand times ten thousand a day.  I'll get hold if it so it'll never run off.  I'll hold onto the world tight some day.  I've got one finger on it now; that's a beginning." 187

"There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up.  He must have been first cousin to Man.  But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again.  And it looks like we're doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the Phoenix never had.  We know the damn silly thing we just did.  We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we'll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.  We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation."  189

"To everything there is a season.  Yes.  A time to break down, and a time to build up. Yes.  A time to keep silence and a time to speak.  Yes, all that." 190

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