Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Book 20: Fahrenheit 451

NUMBER: 20
TITLE: Fahrenheit 451
AUTHOR: Ray Bradbury
STARTED: April 15, 2007
FINISHED: April 17, 2007
PAGES: 190
GENRE: Literature

FIRST SENTENCE: It was a pleasure to burn.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Fahrenheit 451 is set in a grim alternate-future setting ruled by a tyrannical government in which firemen as we understand them no longer exist: Here, firemen don't douse fires, they ignite them. And they do this specifically in homes that house the most evil of evils: books.

Books are illegal in Bradbury's world, but books are not what his fictional -- yet extremely plausible -- government fears: They fear the knowledge one pulls from books. Through the government's incessant preaching, the inhabitants of this place have come to loathe books and fear those who keep and attempt to read them. They see such people as eccentric, dangerous, and threatening to the tranquility of their state.

But one day a fireman named Montag meets a young girl who demonstrates to him the beauty of books, of knowledge, of conceiving and sharing ideas; she wakes him up, changing his life forever. When Montag's previously held ideology comes crashing down around him, he is forced to reconsider the meaning of his existence and the part he plays. After Montag discovers that "all isn't well with the world," he sets out to make things right.

REASON FOR READING: Everyone needs to read the classics

THOUGHTS: I find it somewhat ironic that I had to finish reading this book by candle light. I was ten or so pages away from the end when my power went out. I lit a candle and continued my reading. It was not until the next day that I found myself chuckling at that situation.

I enjoyed this book because it seemed to confirm my love of reading (and need to ask questions). The deeper I went into the story, the more I felt confirmed that technology can be inherently evil at times (particularly when I'm on a deadline). Bradbury seems to state, and I agree with him, that technology is not necessarily bad, but it risks becoming an all consuming portion of society. We need to be careful to not let ourselves be swayed by the Technicolor, high-def screens that are becoming ubiquitous.

Bradbury may have written this book fifty years ago, but it seems even more relevant today. This particular edition included a interview with the author, and he states that technology, if not viewed with trepidation can become dangerous. People are so glued to their televisions (like most of the characters in the book) that they will believe anything that comes on the screen. Life is not life, it has become the characters and scenes on the screen. The news of the world is entirely encompassed in the 30-second sound bite. As a former media studies major and journalist, I can tell you that no matter how hard a journalist tries, their is always bias and skewing in their story. It cannot be helped. If the story is being crafted by a writer or producer with a political agenda, you might as well throw truth right out the window.

In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury seems to argue that is not books that will save us, but rather our on intelligence and need to question authority. Books, in this case, merely act as a metaphor. A brilliant metaphor for curiosity, education, and the defeat of ignorance, but a metaphor nonetheless. The novel is chock full of themes are skepticism and, for lack of a better word, anarchy. Guy, the lead character, breaks out of his zombie-like following of the "party line" to actually question what is right and wrong. His curiosity over these "horrendous" and "dangerous" books is what spurs his characters' change.

Chills went down my spine as I read the book because it so perfectly describes the current environment in the United States in the past few years. People are kept in a constant state of fear, and the government is put up as this unmatched savior. If we don't question their actions or intentions, we're save. Anyone who has contrary ideas is deemed "unpatriotic" or a "terrorist." Bradbury wants to warn his readers away from this lemmingish attitude. I, for one, was wholeheartedly behind his book's themes. (If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a virulent opponent of the current presidential administration.)

I don't think Bradbury set out with a particular agenda in mind, he merely wants to make his readers think about how they act. Are we like Guy before his transformation, merely following set standards, or do we question the morality and legitimacy of what is being asked of us.

In terms of structure, the narrative of Guy is loose and organic. This form of storytelling usually seems sloppy to me, but in this case it worked. In the interview, Bradbury comments that the characters act on their own, he's merely transcribing their story. In not imposing a plot line or goal on his characters, the story seems more completely. It's just that, a story - one where the reader is along for the journey with the characters.

For me, this book was not about the characters or plot, but the themes. Had this just been a story with no deeper philosophical question, I doubt I would have liked it as much. It's a quick read and one the brings up a lot of questions in the reader's mind.

MISCELLANEOUS: The Hound terrified me, I hate needles and actually felt faint whenever that character appeared.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

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