Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 Too Close to Today's Reality TV?
Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books that will never show its age. Ray Bradbury wrote it in 1953 but it feels contemporary even today and its warnings are as applicable (if not more applicable) to today's society as society in the 50's. Like George Orwell's 1984, it comments on humanity by imagining its hypothetical future; a dysfunctional society conditioning itself into thinking that everything is OK when it really is not. Unlike George Orwell's 1984, however, Fahrenheit 451 is a fairly easy read, and can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone. This is definitely a good thing, though, because many casual readers would be turned off by Orwell's long philosophical passages questioning what defines reality. Fahrenheit 451 stands among 1984, Brave New World, and The Handmaid's Tale because of its significance, but because of its less technical and easier-to-read format appeals to a wider audience than any of these other books--giving it a distinct advantage for casual readers who still wonder where mankind might be headed.
As far as plot goes, the book follows its main character, Guy Montag, through a short period of time in his life. Montag is a fireman in the unspecified future--but it's far enough in the future that the meaning of the word "fireman" has changed. In Montag's world, instead of putting fires out, firemen start fires. In this future, reading books is illegal for purposes of mass censorship and anyone caught with books has their fireproof house burned clean of their contraband libraries. Montag lives a happy life with a happy wife and enjoys his job until one day a young girl named Clarisse teaches him to ask questions--something the government does not want its citizens to do. Ultimately, this causes him to "wake up" and see everything that is wrong with his life.
He is not in love with his wife (in fact, he can not even remember where he met her), his job is to ruin other people's lives, and he doesn't even know what happiness really means. Happiness to the masses is mindlessness; staring at wall-sized television screens in-between work and sleep. Obviously this pacification is no substitute for true happiness, and when Montag becomes aware of this and the fact that everyone else in the nation thinks they are happy as unthinking sheep, he feels the need to change it. He decides to read some books to find out how, effectively becoming a criminal.
The main reason this is a great book is because its implications are very important to our society. However, it is also just a well-written book. It doesn't get stuck at any part of the story with too much of Montag's thoughts and not enough action, but it doesn't leave out the thought-provoking parts, either; it's a careful balance that keeps you interested enough to want to keep reading and intrigued enough to want to think. The book also has great character development, as most of its main characters go through drastic changes over the course of the story. When Montag first talks to Clarisse it is obvious though the dialogue and narration that she really annoys him. Slowly, though, as he talks to her more, his opinion changes, and eventually, even though he is offended by her, he has taken a liking to her.
Still, what keeps this book important is what it means. In modern society many of Bradbury's predictions have come true--TV screens get bigger and clearer as people walk around with iPod earbuds blaring, ignoring one another completely. Reading may not be illegal, but the entertainment industry has a pretty strong grip on a huge portion of the population through television, discouraging reading by encouraging watching. The main thing Bradbury is promoting here is thought--the downfall of man in the book is ultimately attributed to losing interest in thinking. Which is why Clarisse has such a profound impact on Montag while doing something as simple as making him think.
And who knows? If you watch a lot of reality TV, this book may do to you what Clarisse did to Montag. That's right--turn you into a fugitive. Oh, and it might make you think, too. Hopefully it will do that instead of making you a fugitive. Fahrenheit 451 is a very interesting, enjoyable, and important book for modern-day readers to read. Even if you read it, end up disliking it, and find yourself wanting to set it on fire, at least that would somehow be ironically appropriate.