Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a jewel of a book. Sparsely yet beautifully written, it is a novel that peers into the depths of the modern soul. Bradbury paints a world not too different to the current age, where technology has driven people apart from one another and replaced that intimacy with a wall of televisual chatter. Books are forbidden and in these times, when houses are fireproof, firemen only exist to burn the books hidden in the houses of the few faithful after anonymous tip-offs. Of course, the beauty of the new world order is that this is barely even necessary. With their short attention spans and lust for sex, violence and the thirty-second summary, the people in Bradbury’s world are to all intents and purposes self-policing. Novels are mocked for their inconsistency with one other and dismissed for being untrue. Deep thinking is discouraged and people are urged to spend their time laughing at the spectacle of other people hurting themselves. Deep at the heart of the society, despite all the high-octane ‘fun’ that is being blasted at citizens, there are sky-high suicide rates as people try to find a way out of their loneliness. In this bleak world, where pondering is prohibited, fireman Guy Montag is jolted out of his complacency by a young girl who stops him on his way home from work one night and asks him impertinent questions about dandelions and love, and the way things were before books were banned.
I can’t recommend Fahrenheit 451 highly enough. So bleak and chilling and realistic is its message that it really made me really think about the world I’m helping to bring about by reading the Daily Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’. By joining in with the merciless clicking on brain-death stories (has she lost her baby weight yet? Is she too fat/thin/haggard/heartbroken? Has he been caught cheating/taking drugs again?) we create a world where that is the only news that will sell, till that’s the only news we get. Bradbury’s book is a stark and important warning not to be too complacent, not to be too complicit, not to give over the responsibility of educating ourselves to commercial interests. He invites the reader to consider what sort of future they are painting with the path they are following.
I would love to see this on every GCSE syllabus. It is fearless, thought-provoking and singularly impressive. It should be as famous as Orwell’s 1984 – it is just as great a cautionary tale.