Can one think of a more efficient way of making ignorance become the norm?
Is there an easier method of keeping the population under strict control?
Perhaps not. Published in 1953, this novel is not only post-apocalyptic or sci-fi literature as it would normally be classified. It comes as a reminder of things that are imminently real, and yet are dismissed as unimportant. I would refer to it as a dystopian novel with with a realist dimension.
Fahrenheit 451, initially called the Fire Man, gives a different picture of firemen, not as saviours from fire and restorers of hope, but as burners and members of circle whose purpose is to keep to society in order, and order, according to the novel, cannot be achieved without maintaining ignorance.
Ignorance is strength. The Orwellian slogan of INGSOC applies to society in this novel. Ignorance here does not strengthen individuals, but rather the government, which subtly encourages people to accept everything that is presented to them, without giving it much thought. In fact, one of the goals of burning books and making reading prohibited I believe is not only to control the population, but also to erase every trace of history and rational thought. In this sense, history becomes oral but most importantly, irrelevant to the present and the future.
To give a quick summary of the novel without spoiling it much, it is about a fireman called Guy Montag, whose job is to burn books along with his crew members, and arrest people who oppose the law of the ban. He was someone who enjoyed burning books, and thus, reinforcing the law.
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
The metamorphosis of his thoughts and actions happens quickly, after he meets two characters, Clarisse and Faber, the former being a young neighbour who inspires him to question the value and reasons of things, and the latter being an old man who helps him do what he feels he has to do, under all costs.
Guy Montag embodies the modern anti-hero through his rebellion, quest for self discovery and partial disillusionment with the outcome of his rebellion.
This novel does not have one story line, or one message. Bradbury discusses different ideas throughout the plot, ranging from censorship to the influence of media and rebellion.
It is not censorship that struck me, but rather the cause of censorship and burning of books which I found eerily disturbing. In this novel, it is a choice of the population not to read, to remain ignorant, and feign a sort of happiness that is twisted, unshared and deceitful, further enhanced by methods of loud entertainment without any pause. This point could be referred in the present times, to how other types of media, social media for instance, affect the way people approach books now and how reading a Facebook status or a tweet could be done more often than reading a chapter.
“But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can’t last.”
Montag’s ambitious plans of rebellion are not enough. The only thing that can make drastic change is if people develop a sense of curiosity again and seek knowledge rather than petty amusement. They must make the choice of abandoning comfort for discomfort.
Ray Bradbury’s prophetic novel is reflected in present times. Indeed not all book holders are arrested and not all books are burnt, though for many goverments, the possession of certain books can lead to legal consequences. However, in our actual dystopian future, so many books are published, books of no value which only make ignorance more blissful, whilst others are pushed into forgetfulness and labelled as books no one reads. People are becoming more superficial, artificial, braindead, dreary, muesli-enraged and pettiness-seeking homo neanderthalensis.
This is a book that is simply written, but delivers a message that resonates through time, space and fire, and is there to remind some of us of what to do, like Montag.