“My stories run up and bite me on the leg-I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” – Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Del Rey, 1950
Science Fiction (Classic); 179 pgs
Completed: 01/13/2007 (1:18 p.m.)
First Sentence: It was a pleasure to burn.
Where Book Came From: TBR Room (since 07/2005 - on the shelf at the local Barnes and Noble before that)
Reason for Reading: This was my second pick for the Winter Classics Challenge.
Comments: Unlike the fireman of today who put out fires for a living, the firemen of Ray Bradbury’s world in Fahrenheit 451 start them. More specifically, when their alarms go off in the middle of the night, they rush to the home of individuals who are harboring and reading books. As the books burn (at 451 degrees Fahrenheit), the owners are arrested. The reading of books is considered a threat to the greater good and is a subversion against society.
Although on the surface books are targeted as the source of evil, it is not the books themselves that the government fears, but the knowledge that people can acquire from reading those books. In fact, all forms of media have been watered down and controlled in an effort to keep the people at peace and without worry or fear. All to the extreme. The society in Bradbury’s world values conformity and to be different, an individual, is considered dangerous.
Guy Montag is a fireman, one who has enjoyed his job for many years, but suddenly he finds himself in doubt. It begins with a girl, “I’m seventeen and I’m crazy” Clarisse McClellan, who he meets one night on his walk home. Clarisse is a curious girl whose questions make Montag question his own life, his own happiness. What Montag finds disturbs him. And from there, his life as he knows it begins to unravel and change. He doubts everything he once valued and held dear; and with these thoughts, he knows that nothing can ever be the same.
It is Clarisse, a horrific tragedy at the house of an older woman whose books must be burnt, and the memories of an elderly professor in a park, that spur Guy Montag into action. He seeks out the old professor, hoping to find answers to his questions. In a world where asking questions and seeking the answers can be fatal, Montag places himself in a very dangerous position.
Fahrenheit 451 is a powerful novel that forces readers to face the extreme of where censorship of not only books, but especially of thought and knowledge, can lead if unchecked. And yet it is also a novel of hope, of the possibility for change, if only a person is willing to remember and learn.
I came away from this novel feeling a little ashamed at my recent thoughts of wanting to keep the world out and only focus on my own life. The stressors of watching and reading the news and keeping those events at arms length, seemed less stressful, less worrisome. It’s easier not to think of that which we can’t control—a way to avoid the fear and worry that can creep in. While these thoughts of mine come and go and are not to the extreme preached about in the novel, it’s a thought worth pondering all the same.
Favorite Parts: I really enjoyed the moments with Clarisse McClellan. Her curiosity and openness, however simple it may have seemed at the time, helped spark Guy Montag into taking a closer look at his life and society around him.
Beatty was an interesting character who made me grateful my copy of the novel included an afterward by the author which explained some of the character’s past. Beatty, although spouting the company line all the while, intrigued me. His knowledge of history and literature seemed counter to the denial and ignorance that society was encouraged to live in.
Note about the Author: Ray Bradbury spent most of his time writing the first draft of Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library, typing away on a typewriter that cost him a dime every half hour. He said that in all, it cost him nine dollars and eighty cents in dimes to complete that first draft.
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Miscellaneous: Anjin reported that there was snow not too far from his office Friday, an unusual sighting since this part of the state doesn’t often see snow. The animals and I are staying out of the cold as much as I can. Luckily we've got a big stock of hot chocolate in the house.