If you’re reading this blog, I would say I am safe in assuming you like to read. Perhaps you love to read…Perhaps you’re the person who always has a book and is ready to whip it out whenever the conversation lulls or you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam.
But, what if all your books were taken away from you? What if the worst thing ever happened, and reading became illegal?
In Farenheit 451, Guy Montag, a fireman who starts fires, is living in a dystopian society where reading books is illegal. Montag’s job is to burn books so that “everyone [can be] made equal. Each man the image of the other” (Bradbury, 58). After meeting a teenage girl who challenges him to examine life and the reasons behind existence, Montag begins to evaluate the society in which he lives. Slowly, he comes to the realization that by burning books, he is not helping the world, but rather destroying it.
As he begins his journey to oppose the forces that hope to dull the minds of his society, Montag teams up with Faber, an elderly gentleman who is one of the few individuals left who have books well hidden in their homes. While visiting Faber, Montag learns a valuable lesson about the importance of books and the knowledge they hold:
“This book has pores… [Books] show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people only want wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.” ~Faber (Bradbury, 83).
This quote pretty much sums up the entire book. In a society where people are encouraged to do mindless things in order to avoid thinking, Faber reveals the importance in reading and thinking about the concepts in books. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Bradbury wrote Farenheit 451. As he created the story of Guy Montag, Bradbury was watching all of the technological changes occurring in the post-World War II era and how they were impacting society. Instead of reading and discussing literature and sharing stories, families were gathering around the radio or television to get lost in the world of fictitious characters. Such media outlets did not provide people with the same opportunities as books because they did not allow them to pause and think for themselves. In an interview, Bradbury noted one of the reasons he chose to discuss such an issue:
“I was considering the social atmosphere: the impact of TV and radio and the lack of education. I could see the coming event of schoolteachers not teaching reading anymore. The less they taught, the more you wouldn’t need books.” (“Interview,” Bradbury, 182)
While the idea of a complete government crack-down on books may seem a little far-fetched for modern readers, further speculation on some of the passages in the book brings home the reality of the parallels between our world and Guy Montag’s. For example, Captain Beatty, Montag’s boss and the fire captain, explains the process that led to the illegality of books, saying, “There was no diction, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no!” (Bradbury, 58). Beatty goes on to explain that it was individuals who slowly killed the books. They wanted certain passages removed from such and such a book because it was uncomfortable, or they didn’t like the depiction of so and so in a novel. So they began to slowly remove the uncomfortable elements in books to accommodate their desires. The author also addresses this issue in a Coda following the story. Bradbury tells about how some editors had actually removed “uncomfortable” parts of his book before publishing it. In response to these and similar actions, Bradbury stated, “I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book” (Bradbury, 179).
Since one of the book’s issues is censoring, I will not say that Bradbury should not have used some inappropriate language in his book. However, as an individual, it is my right, as well as yours, to chose to not read expletives. Please understand, I am not advocating that young readers should be exposed to inappropriate content, like language and irreverence for God. I am simply trying to help you make the decision on whether or not you and your family should read this book. For those wondering about the family friendliness of Farenheit 451, I would advise them to sit down with a Sharpie to mark out the “d’s” and “h’s” in this book before handing it over to younger readers. Additionally, God’s name is taken in vain on a regular basis. However, for readers 15 and up, Farenheit 451 is a good read that challenges individuals to contemplate the world around them in a way they never have before.
In our politically correct world, this book is a wonderful reminder about what happens when we try to avoid the uncomfortable simply because it makes us squirm. Many of our problems today could be solved if we would conquer our fears of discomfort, face the issue, and determine how to resolve it. This book challenges me to look at life in a different way, to contemplate my rights as a reader and critic as well as to reflect on how I deal with the uncomfortable. I must say that, for me, Bradbury has accomplished his goal in writing Farenheit 451 – to make the reader think about the concepts he or she comes across between the first and last pages.
Bradbury, Ray. Farenheit 451. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1953. Print.
Bradbury, Ray. “A Conversation with Ray Bradbury.” Farenheit 451. By Ray Bradbury. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1953. Print.