Fahrenheit 451 is a critically acclaimed book — but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t negatives. Read how this book sets our writer’s mind ablaze with questions and doubt.
Guy Montag is a firefighter — he, in this version of dystopia, burns down buildings containing books rather than saving them — and his job is an enjoyable one (for him, at least), except that he’s afraid of the Hound, a machine used to set fires and that is as deadly as it is scary-looking. He comes home one day to find his neighbor, Clarisse, alone in the street, and he’s never seen anyone take their time before, so he asks her why, and they have a conversation that leaves him unsettled, so he goes to bed, takes pills, and there’s a war, so the entire floor shakes. His wife, Mildred, is always in her parlor-room with 4 tv-walls with her “family”: actors who leave an empty space in a conversation for the viewer to respond in with a script. Montag goes to burn a house caught with books, but the culprit — an old woman — refuses to leave, so he’s forced to burn her down along with the incriminating objects. He also learns that Clarisse has died from being run over by a car. Shocked, he retrieves a book from a burning home and begins to collect written works, and realizes what he’s been missing out on; Department Chief Betty (his boss) is onto him, and they talk, and he tells him about the perils that books entail. Eventually, Mildred rats Guy out and the FDP have to burn his house down; he says, “not the books!”, and arms himself with a gun — he even kills the Hound — and fatally shoots Betty. Now a criminal, he flees (he also meets a fellow reader who told him where to go) to the outskirts of the city, hours before the war takes its toll on the city and obliterates it, killing Mildred and 99% — if not everyone — of the city’s population, except for Montag and the community he finds exiled in the outskirts of the city, all of which are readers. They tell him that books can live on in your mind, and as long as you remember them, they’ll still exist — the message of the story being that books and knowledge will always prevail, and that they’re unavoidable. Bradbury also states that knowledge exists primarily in your mind, and that printed copies of knowledge are disposable; your brain isn’t [unless you’re dead].
Who Might Like This Book?
Fahrenheit 451 reminds us of a much simpler 1984* : both present the fear of destroying written documents — albeit the former (451) much more than the latter — and both note that although the world the characters are living in is one where either you have no privacy or you have no access to information except for what’s told to you through a telescreen, the majority of the population doesn’t care. They enjoy what they have, mindlessly living in a world that could be better if it wasn’t for their lack of knowledge of that world, of any world, except for what’s on their screens. We recommend this book for the pessimists and optimists who enjoy reading about how our world could’ve been — or might be in the future. However, if we’re truly being honest, this book has as many cons as it does pros — perhaps even more.
*1984, by George Orwell, is the landmark of dystopian fiction (see our post on George Orwell)
This book, although classified as a classic, is in my opinion, very overrated. It’s a good book, but Ray Bradbury (no offense to him) uses too many metaphors and similes in his writing. It doesn’t as much portray a vivid picture to the reader’s mind rather than crowd it with blurs of repetition. That being said, Bradbury did a great job depicting important events throughout the story, but having five metaphors in the first paragraph alone is a bit of an overkill. As for the plot, it was slow-paced until the end, where it picked up a couple of steps — yet, once again, if the plot was a man running, I doubt he’d run much faster than a wounded tortoise. The writing itself — and the message of the story — are what I think the book has the most going for it, but the biggest issue I have with Fahrenheit 451 is that the reason — the backbone of the plot, the heart of the story — is completely and utterly implausible. In a world where all homes are now fireproof, firefighters would remain at their posts, but be preventing wildfires and forest fires, rather than domestic ones. They wouldn’t flip to the polar opposite of their duties and act as if burning things that even their name prescribes against, was okay. If the world turned to TVs, publishing presses would go out of business, but websites providing information, apps that let you publish your own stories, wouldn’t die out — they couldn’t be burnt, either. In a world — Bradbury’s world — where electronic devices rule, you can’t get rid of digital knowledge; this little fact alone makes the entire foundation of his book crumble to the ground, the ashes of the flames it seemed to have been. Furthermore, you could theorize that people would sooner turn to TVs than their books, but why would that make firefighters burn them? In other words, I can say I prefer writing rather than drawing; is that a valid reason for you to break my colored pencils?
Another reason: in the story, Bradbury eloquently describes to the reader a magnificent city, advanced beyond its years, grandiose, modern, and entirely reliant on electricity. In his book, he said the architecture, the buildings, the lights, everything, was magnificent. Just a series of questions:
How do you design a building?
You create a blueprint.
How do you create a blueprint?
You write, you plan, you measure.
How do you know that?
You read a book.
You can argue that you could have just as easily seen a video on the subject, but that reverts back to a ‘chicken-and-the-egg’-like predicament: you see a video to learn about something, but where did that person in the video learn what they’re teaching? From another video? But then, where did the person from that video learn what they’re teaching? From a different video. And then that person did the same thing. And it goes on, trailing years and years back in time, until the year videomaking came out. There’s a man on a black-and-white screen explaining the ins-and-outs of building a tower. Where did he acquire his knowledge? From a book. There’s a reason word-of-mouth stories don’t last; they change as different people interpret them in different ways. Faulty architecture is catastrophic; but Bradbury’s city is supposedly flawless. Therefore, the city Bradbury imagined couldn’t have functioned without books present somewhere. This is another — pretty large — blow to the plot’s already hole-riddled shield.
Additionally, why would the government interest itself — devote itself, even — in the destruction of books, under the guise of their being ‘bad for your mental health’, when there are things like drugs, cigarettes, too much television, etc, that are so obviously worse? All through ‘451, I was asking myself over and over that same question, but, like the questions the novel said that all books would bring, it wasn’t answered. Fahrenheit 451 is classified as a dystopian novel — but the hold, the pull, the lure, of dystopia, is this: whatever horrible future presented to you could happen under the right circumstances; in other words, the seemingly fantastic and out-of-reach story you’re reading is, in some ways, realistic fiction. But with that definition in mind, Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t fit. There’s no way, no matter how crazy an entire population is, that under a government — not a tyrannical ruler –, people will voluntarily assign a job to the burning of books, and be able to advance as a civilization.
If you’re reading this book because it’s on your list of 100 Books to Read Before You Die, take the praise with a grain of salt. There is nothing worse than overrating a book before reading it; all you’re left with after the last page is a waste of time and bitter disappointment. But books, in a sense, are like food; they vary at people’s taste. Maybe this review has disheartened you, but if you read Fahrenheit 451 and enjoy it, there’ll be few things more rewarding than having your expectations completely shot through the [burning] roof.
- Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Editions Super Terrain, 2019.