By Alexa Dumas
“If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”
Imagine a world without books. Important writers and thinkers throughout history are pulled from personal shelves, thrown outside and burned. People are persecuted for owning all forms of literature, and the only way to gain knowledge is through television.
This is the world of Guy Montag, the protagonist of Ray Bradbury’s 1951 novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” where owning books is punishable by fire. Montag works as a fireman and is responsible for destroying all evidence of books within his society. This is ironic, as firefighters help stop fires in our society, but in Bradbury’s world, they start fires.
By burning books, the firemen are responsible for censoring the collective knowledge of Montag’s society.
As the novel progresses, Montag yearns to know more about why his society rejects books and knowledge, and why the profession he represents is responsible for getting rid of all information.
Montag meets a young girl named Clarisse, who is knowledgeable about the past, which shocks Montag. She urges him to think critically about the world around him. However, Clarisse’s knowledge becomes the reason for her death.
Driven by the loss of his friendship with Clarisse, Montag questions his life. His wife, Mildred, feels like a static character. She has no depth to her, besides the fact that she constantly watches television.
In the world of “Fahrenheit 451,” people are able to interact with the actors in the show they are watching. Mildred’s only reason to function is to play a role with the actors on screens that cover the entire length of three walls in the Montag home.
Mildred uses the television that she views in order to cope with her mental illnesses, as it is implied that she is depressed after attempting suicide.
With a disparaging and suffocating home life and a damaging career, Montag meets Faber, an old man who happens to be a retired English professor. Montag pushes Faber to teach him about the world before the firemen burn books, but it is dangerous for Faber to explain the reasoning to Montag.
Faber explains that reading creates ideas, which contradicts what the government has put into place.
As the novel progresses, Montag is caught by his superior, Captain Beatty, and is told that burning books is necessary in order to keep society happy and at ease.
The beauty of burning and fire, according to Captain Beatty, is that it gets rid of problems and responsibilities that might harm a person or give them stress.
This idea that burning solves all the problems is dangerous, as destruction is not the correct answer to solving problems. Once readers dive deeper into the novel, it is clear just how dangerous fire can be to free thought.
“Fahrenheit 451” has been banned or challenged in California, Florida and Texas due to references to abortion, religion, drugs, violence, sexual content and murder. These themes aren’t the largest aspect of the novel, so it is interesting to see that this is a cause for concern in the context of censorship.
Although Bradbury’s novel was written in 1951, “Fahrenheit 451” gives readers an idea of how dangerous censorship can be to society. The lack of individualism and critical thinking is scary, which makes the novel a difficult read, as intellectual freedom is constantly under fire in the United States.
The ideology in the novel is scarily accurate to issues of banned books, which makes the dystopian novel closer to the present than in some distant future.