Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review - Fahrenheit 451 by: Ray Bradbury

Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Pages: 227
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal purchase


The terrifyingly prophetic novel of a post-literate future.

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.

Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

My thoughts:

My head still spins when I think about strange men who call themselves “firemen” coming into my house and burning my books… Still! In the world that Bradbury created, firemen don’t put out the fires; they create them. They do so by burning people’s books so they don’t discover anything or explore or think in any way. Of course, a society that doesn’t think or question is an ideal society for anyone that wants to rule a nation.

I had read this book in August, and then it took me a while to review it because I just kept thinking about it. If you asked me now, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the names of the characters (I’m bad with names anyway). But I’ll never forget Guy Montag’s (yes, I Googled his name) wake, his hunger for exploring the unknown, the delight he feels in discovering new things and questioning his own actions he used to take for granted. And, like I’ve said in the beginning, I’ll probably always get teary eyes when I picture books burning.

I’d read a lot about Fahrenheit 451 before I even touched the actual book, let alone sit down to read it. Some of the reviews said Bradbury was criticizing censorship, especially of books, and some were saying he tried to show us that television made people stupid. I think he did both. Montag’s wife and family are always staring at a TV and not really conversing among each other. I know there are a lot of people like that today who’ll sit at the dinner table with the TV on and not say a single word to one another until the end of the meal. This feels very weird to me. Maybe it’s because my family and my friends and I rarely feel the need to turn the TV on when we get together. If we turn it on for background noise, you’ll definitely have someone asking to turn the volume down or shut it off all together. Even we are in the same room to watch something together, we keep talking and talking and can’t really focus on what we’d agreed to watch.

Book censorship still continues as well. Among the books that have been banned/are still banned around the world include Lolita, Grapes of Wrath, Alice in Wonderland and To Kill a Mockingbird. Fahrenheit 451, too, is among banned books. But why are they being banned? Some of the reasons are “not appropriate for children,” or “not appropriate in terms of religion” or “it’s against our culture,” but the real reason is, someone in power doesn’t want people reading and exploring and thinking for themselves. Those who make fun of bookworms, saying, “don’t you have anything better to do?” or “are you going to save the world by reading?” are, I believe, people who are scared of the written word. They’re worried people will read, explore different lives, learn new things, find out about feelings they’ve never had before and, as a result, they’ll start thinking and overthinking and questioning.

Having gone through what we’ve all gone through here in Turkey with the Gezi Park resistance, I’ve seen that we live in a country where people who are reading books in a park can be attacked by the police with teargas. The government doesn’t want us expressing ourselves the way we want to, have the basic freedom of speech, doesn’t want us thinking or questioning. Yet, it’s a great relief and joy to know there are people in this country who will build libraries in a park and haul their own books there to share with others.

Ending this in the words of Bradbury:

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

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