Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

More a novella at less than 200 pages in length, Fahrenheit 451 has been edited, banned, derided, argued over, taught, and ridiculed.  One thing it rarely, if ever since its publication in 1953, has been is ignored--and nor should it ever be.

Born out of McCarthy era America, post WWII and infused with a fear of "the bomb" it remains remarkably fresh to this day.  Numerous critics will cite its description of "seashell" earphones as foretelling of cell phones and bluetooth headsets while the wall size "parlor walls" are eerily reminiscent of our current infatuation with ever larger flat screen TVs.  The public's focus on the banal features of modern life and entertainment industry are seen here as is a society that moves from being politically correct to one of censoring thought.

And this perhaps is the biggest point that is missed in the novel.  While many speak of it as a novel warning the public of governmental control and censorship this is not the root of the problem in Fahrenheit 451.  Instead, the censorious and "evil" government seen in the novella is born out of society itself.  It was society, as noted in the work, that began tearing various sections out of books that they found offensive.  As group by group by group was seen to have equal standing in terms of being "hurt" by the written word, so it was that EVERYTHING must be removed from public consumption so that NO ONE was offended.  Thus, the government became merely a proper representation of the public's desire.  Society WANTED to focus on only the trivial, the meaningless, the comforting, the easy--and thus government followed suit.  In Fahrenheit 451 it was not the government that force society to be this way--it was the inverse.

This perspective on the book is give further weight towards the end where the protagonist, Montag, is recounted a story about the Phoenix who DESTROYS HIMSELF, only to rise again as well as the desire for there to be built massive mirror factories for society to look at themselves in.  Again and again Bradbury tells us the problem is US, and only by extension, the government.

I rarely sing high praises for any work, but here its worth it.  Short, direct, prescient, and frightening in its depiction of our modern world, Fahrenheit 451 is everything that a person--particularly a young person (in actual age or just in mindset) should be reading.

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