“It was a pleasure to burn.”Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury 1)
Fahrenheit 451 is the story of a fireman by the name of Guy Montag, whose job is to burn materials that have been deemed dangerous to society…namely books. He’s good at his job and, given the first line of the novel (which is quoted above), seems to enjoy what he does. But then he meets his new neighbor, a teenager named Clarisse, who sees the world from a very different perspective than her peers. Her seemingly innocent question of whether or not he is happy makes him begin to think. A few weeks later, Clarisse has disappeared, and Montag and his coworkers are called out for a fire alarm. The alarm is for a house filled with books, and when the homeowner refuses to leave, she is burned to death along with them. It’s at this point that Montag, who has stolen a book from the house before it could be burned, begins to question everything about his life.
The fact that there have been attempts to ban Fahrenheit 451 is extremely ironic when you stop and think about it. Here’s a book that clearly shows the dangers of censorship, and you want to prevent people from reading it…
Believe it or not, Fahrenheit 451 not only made the ALA’s list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009, but people have continued to challenge the book within the last couple of years. In the article Florida School District Won’t Ban Fahrenheit 451, author Maren Williams discusses the reasons for a recent challenge made in 2017. The parent who made the challenge listed several reasons for banning the book, including: “‘use of profanity and using God’s name in vain,’ as well as mentions of sex, drugs, suicide, murder and abortion.” Williams goes on to discuss the irony of the challenge in the article.
It’s important to remember that Fahrenheit 451 is not an idealized version of the future. It is a dystopia, and the world it depicts is cruel and uncomfortable. It’s a place where people have become unthinking, technology-enslaved, pleasure-seeking, apathetic individuals. It’s a place where teenagers would think nothing of running over a pedestrian in the street, just for fun (121-122).
Montag’s wife, Mildred, is a perfect example of this. She clearly cares more about the characters in the programs she watches than she does about her husband, but can’t even articulate what those programs are about (43). When her husband is ill and asks her to turn off the program that’s blaring out of the parlor, she claims that the program characters are “her family” (46). She doesn’t seem to care about anything that’s real, and she’s not the only character who behaves in this fashion.
I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that Bradbury would want people to be bothered by this vision of the future. Montag himself comes right out and says it.
“We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”Fahrenheit 451, (Bradbury 49)
Many of the books I’ve talked about this week have been personal favorites, but Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is more than just that. This novel is one of the titles on my “Five Most Influential Books” list, which lists the books that have had the biggest and most long-lasting influence on my life. The idea of a world like that of Fahrenheit 451 bothers me tremendously, mostly because it seems so plausible. Only a few months ago, a coworker who saw me reading while I was on break actually said these words to me: “You’re actually reading a book? I didn’t think people your age did that anymore.” It was a terrifying thing to hear, not only as a book lover, but also as a former educator.
After today, Banned Books Week will be done until next year. Libraries and bookstores will take down their banned books displays and, as we get back to our regular activities, some people will choose to ignore censorship and stop taking the time to read banned and challenged books. Other people will choose to quit reading altogether. That doesn’t have to be you.
Here’s one last challenge for you: Over the coming weeks and months, try to set aside some time to experience our world, and the literature of our world. Give yourself permission to turn off the technology, and take a walk without the distraction of text messages or (in my case) Pokémon Go. Spend some time in conversation with people around you. Turn off the television in favor of reading that book you bought six months ago, or take a trip to the library and get a book to read out loud as a family.
Let’s try to prevent Bradbury’s vision of the future from becoming our reality by being kind, well-read individuals who care about the other people in our world.