Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 Plot Review
It's set in a Mid-West American city in a dystopian future. Our hero, Guy Montag, is a fireman except firemen in the future don't put out fires, they cause them. Books are forbidden and if any are discovered they are burned, including the house hiding them. Montag has no qualms with this, until one day he's called out to the house of an elderly lady. She chooses to set fire to herself and her house before Montag can do it. Shaken to the core by this, he tries to share it with his wife Mildred, but she's too addicted to vapid and superficial television shows to engage in conversation. Her big concern is getting a fourth TV. The only person he develops a connection to is his teenage neighbour, Clarisse. She's free-spirited and questions him constantly. One day she goes missing. Mildred casually tells him that Clarisse is dead.
Montag starts to wonder if books are really so bad. He steals a book of poetry from a house he's called out to burn. His chief begins to grow suspicious of him and pontificates about the dangers of books and independent thinking. Montag begins to feel rebellious as he rails against the hedonistic nature of society. One night Mildred invites some girlfriends over. Montag rashly brings his book out and recites poetry to them, moving one woman to tears. The others are mortified and Montag finds himself in serious trouble. I'll stop here before spoilers creep in.
I was interested to learn Bradbury's inspiration for this book. Apparently he was once out walking at night with a fellow writer when a police car pulled up and an officer got out. He asked Bradbury what he was doing, to which he responded that he was walking, "Putting one foot in front of the other." The officer was unamused with what he considered a smark aleck response and told him never to do it again. Bradbury was so angry that he went home and wrote a short story about a man who lived in a time when walking was considered a crime. Bradbury was also outraged at the persecution of artists by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the House of un-American Activities.
Many writers far better equipped than myself have wrestled writing a treatise for this book, so I'll leave further analysis to them. I just wanted to say that despite the obvious allegory in the story, I think it works just as a simple tale about the importance of books. Books have always been a big presence in my life. From as far back as I can remember, I have always had a full bookcase, jam-packed with titles in my bedroom. I was a voracious reader, blithely leaving books wherever I finished them (invariably not in said bookcase). I grew complacent and took it for granted that I was free to read whatever I chose. It was only as I grew older that I began learning about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, about the Nazi book burnings, and about the scorching and burial of texts and hundreds of Confucian scholars in ancient China. It's sobering stuff and made me think. I know of no country that doesn't have an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism. Generally books are considered deep (though plenty aren't), and there will always be those whom openly distrust (to the point of hostility) those deemed 'highfalutin and clever.' It is entirely plausible that at some stage in the future, books will be banned in any given country. If nothing else Fahrenheit 451 should serve as a warning against authoritarianism, and for a call to keep the free flow of knowledge and art alive. When I cast a roving eye on the pile of books next to me, I am full of appreciation and awe. I will protect them from any fire.