Fahrenheit 451 ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Paper burns at a temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit. What more perfect title could Ray Bradbury have chosen for his 1953 novel about a “fireman” in a future society whose job it is to burn books? Yes, books have been declared subversive and dangerous in this future time and owning them—specifically reading them—is a crime for which you might pay with your life.
In this future society (no time is given), books are seen as giving people ideas and making them think. Thinking is dangerous and makes people unhappy. A bunch of people got together and decided to ban all books and, not only ban them, but make a public exhibition of destroying them while also destroying the homes and lives of anybody who might have the audacity to resist. “Firemen” don’t go around putting out fires to save lives and property; they carry flame throwers fueled with kerosene and set fire to books or to homes where books are kept, and they don’t mind setting fire to any book owners who get in their way.
Fireman Guy Montag, thirty years old, is the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451. He has a shallow, hideous wife name Mildred who is addicted to her “wall screens” (a future version of wide-screen TV) and her “parlor families” (TV characters). Guy and Mildred obviously don’t care for each other at all. Guy meets a seventeen-year-old girl named Clarisse McClellan in the neighborhood who is, in every way, the opposite of Mildred. She makes Guy see the world in a different way; she makes him see the shallowness and narrowness of his own life.
When the firemen go out on a call, Guy takes pity (something firemen should never do) on a defiant older woman who chooses to burn up with her books. He develops an unhealthy curiosity for books; if people are willing to die for books, they must be very powerful and compelling. On some of his professional calls, he begins stealing books, one or two at a time, and hiding them in an air conditioning vent in his house. His own wife, Mildred, reports him, and when the firemen show up to burn his house, headed by his boss, Captain Beatty, he is driven to extreme measures and desperate acts.
Guy Montag, the fireman in Fahrenheit 451, is similar to Winston Smith, the office worker in George Orwell’s 1949 novel, 1984. Both characters live in future, repressive societies. They both take a look at their lives, don’t like what they see, and rebel against the dehumanization and enforced conformity of their worlds. Both novels, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, foreshadow present-day America. There are plenty of people, including some running for high political office, who would strip away our rights and freedoms, make us all the same, and make us forget how unique we are as individuals. We can’t let that happen. It’s a dangerous precedent when only one viewpoint is allowed and any opposing viewpoint is shouted down or not tolerated. That’s a violation of our Constitutional rights. It’s how tyrannical regimes get started.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp