Written By Jake Garner
“If you hide in your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn”
Any fan of radical dystopian fiction has undoubtedly heard of this notable work by Ray Bradbury. Personally Fahrenheit 451 is part of the ‘Big Three’ as far as distressing and disturbing dystopian futures go. Bradbury’s novel situates itself somewhere between George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and rightly so. All three novels are magnificent in saying that perhaps things in reality are not too bad after all, considering you could be monitored in everything you do (though this does resonate with our reality), be completely and utterly ignorant, or perhaps raised in a laboratory from a test tube. Either way, Bradbury’s version of what could be is unnervingly on par with its contemporaries. Fascinatingly enough, Fahrenheit 451 was actually written in the University of California, beneath the library, on a typewriter, in the basement. Though this cold and musty fact rings true, Bradbury manages to follow in the footsteps of Orwell with a radiance that set the future bar for dystopian fiction and science fiction. In fact the bar was set so high that some authority, somewhere, insisted on naming a crater on the moon after him. Which to be honest is moderately remarkable.
Fahrenheit 451 follows the mundane life of Guy Montag, a fireman in a large American city. The only difference with this particular fireman is that Guy Montag doesn’t put fires out. The impractical bugger starts them. Why?
The narrative of the novel establishes itself in a society where books are considered the devil’s work. Society doesn’t get involved with the reading of books, in any way, shape or form. It’s more than the fireman’s job, but his duty, to burn every last one. Not only does the world have an active hatred for literature, but also nature, any alone time and simple independent rational thinking. In Montag’s world absolutely everything is eerie, but the bizarre thing is, nobody seems to notice. Everyone seems far too busy ogling at their television screens, producing little interaction with the realm outside the colourful picture show that has become their world. Even the tale’s chief protagonist seems oblivious to it all, and rightly so, why shouldn’t he be? It’s normal in a dystopian world. Finally though, Montag is cut loose from bondage by a sweet young lady called Clarisse McClellan, who unfastens the milky glaze from his eyes. She manages to do this through her love for all things natural, in which Montag takes an interest, as he realises that her way of seeing the world is, well, different. A variability of ghastly occurrences start happening to the fireman that in turn drive him to start thinking more independently. One; a woman wishes to be burnt alive along with her books. Two; his wife Mildred Montag tries to commit suicide by scoffing numerous pills. Three; his boss, Beatty, just cannot help but play the part of the archetypal arse hole in the bloodcurdling dystopian world. Four; his liberator, Clarisse, gets killed by a car. So yeah, he is fairly unhappy with things, and welcomes the change that comes with individual thought.
Guy Montag starts slipping the occasional book home, and strives to engage with the contents of each one, though he finds the task arduous. This is where the character of Professor Faber comes in. Faber gives Montag’s liberation the enhancement it needed to really push him outside the sphere of normality. The Prof helps Montag to read and comprehend the written word, which one evening urges him to recite a poem to his wife and her friends, which results in them storming out of the house in a childish rage. The narrative expands on itself, which eventually leads to Montag being chased through the city by a mechanical hound. At this point it is hard not to imagine the menacing metallic mutt from Wallace and Gromit.
Bradbury raises a multiplicity of points worth considering here. Society’s eternal struggle between knowledge and ignorance is realised by the novel’s principal character, and so much so that the sense of witlessness is shattered by that thirst for knowledge. Montag comes to a realisation that all the thunderous music, rapid cars and expansive use of advertising stimulates the mind to such a breaking point that it can’t think for itself. This heightened motivation of the mind manifests a sense of inferiority amongst society, where it becomes almost offensive to be interested in literature of any kind. So, bloody burn the bastard books they say! Not Guy Montag. The immeasurable use of fire ends up being ironic in a way. Fire usually stands for anger or the fury of a hellish dream, leaving nothing left but ashes. Again, not for Guy Montag. The fire eventually comes to consume his oppressors. Viva la Montag!
If there were two things I could take from Bradbury’s novel:
- I hope the mirror factory gets built
- I hope everyone would then take a long, hard and massively awkward look at themselves