Friday, March 4, 2016

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. 1953/1991. Del Rey. 179 pages. [Source: Bought]

Can I go a year without reviewing Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451? Apparently not! This one is an obvious favorite of mine. What is it about? What isn't it about! It's about war, destruction, and the decay of society. It's about the need for noise, noise, NOISE--anything to keep people from thinking and feeling. It's about the consequences of choosing not to read, not to think (THINK), not to engage with one another.

Here's the plot at its simplest: Guy Montag, a fireman who burns books for a living, is forced to stop living his double life when his wife turns him in for bringing books into their home. After his secret comes out, and there is no turning back after that, he runs for it leaving society and city-life behind him forever. He seeks to join like-minded men and women in the great unknown living off the grid, so to speak.

On the surface, perhaps, it's about firemen burning books and "destroying" the ideas within the books. But a closer look reveals that almost everyone voluntarily gave up reading and thinking decades before the firemen burned their first book. It's about people's need for immediate gratification--the need to feel good, to feel happy, to keep that good-happy feeling--all the time.

For this review, I want to frame my thoughts around a few quotes I found within an A.W. Tozer book. I hope you'll agree with me, that they are super-relevant to the themes of the novel.
A German philosopher many years ago said something to the effect that the more a man has in his own heart the less he will require from the outside; excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man. If this is true (and I believe it is), then the present inordinate attachment is evidence that the inner life of modern man is in serious decline. The average man has no central core of moral assurance, no spring within his own breast, no inner strength to place him above the need for repeated psychological shots to give him the courage to go on living. He has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him.
For there are millions who cannot live without amusement; life without some form of entertainment for them is simply intolerable; they look forward to the blessed relief afforded by professional entertainers and other forms of psychological narcotics as a dope addict looks to his daily shot of heroin. Without them they could not summon the courage to face existence.
The all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which and by which men live is definitely something else again. The abuse of a harmless thing is the essence of sin. The growth of the amusement phase of human life to such fantastic proportions is a portent, a threat to the souls of modern man. It has been built into a multimillion dollar racket with greater power over human minds and human character than any other educational influence on earth.

I think the society created in Fahrenheit 451 is deadened and numbed to actual emotions, thoughts, and ideas. (Perhaps the result of an extreme reaction to fear, worry, and anxiety. Perhaps not.) How can anyone know themselves, if they're never alone with themselves, when they are always tuned in and tuned out--when they're always connected technologically. It's always me, me, me; now, now, now; more, more, more; noise, noise, noise. Buy this. Buy that. Not only do they fail to know themselves, it makes it really difficult to actually know other people as well. Everything--everyone--is superficial, shallow, eerily following the crowd. No one is original; no one thinks their own thoughts and forms their own opinions.

Fahrenheit 451 is a coming-of-age novel, of sorts, for the very-much-an-adult, Guy Montag. In a way, it's like he's been dead for decades, and, is only recently--the past few weeks, few months--started to come alive, to awaken. He has questions, a lot of questions; and there really isn't any one for him to talk to because no one understands his struggles, his doubts, his questions, his skepticism. True, there is Clarissa and Faber. But these two friends don't really overlap, and, talking with them doesn't solve all his problems or answer all his questions. But Montag is realizing that he'd rather feel SOMETHING than feel nothing. He'd rather experience the ups and downs of feelings than to try to mask all his humanity with noisy, nosy entertainment. He wants what he can only seem to find in books. Though he learns through his conversations with Faber, that it isn't something exclusive to books alone. Once ideas could be expressed in many ways, in many forms. All sorts of ideas--conflicting ideas, at times. There was depth; there was beauty; there was truth.

I love the complexity of this one. The premise of it--it is thought-provoking from cover to cover.

I love the writing. It is so very quotable, and, in my opinion, relevant and increasingly more relevant to our own society.

I love the dialogue. Montag's scenes with various people--Clarissa, Faber, his wife, his boss, etc. It's packed with world-building, but it's a NATURAL world-building.

What I don't quite "love" about this one is the language. I am not particularly in support of censorship--I'm not--but I can see why people would be tempted to want to censor out some of the language to make it "cleaner" and more appropriate to a wider audience. I can live with some of the "bad" words--though it is heavy in places--but taking God's name in vain is another matter. There are many instances where God's name is used at the very least too casually and irreverently. The frustrating thing is that this one has many biblical allusions. There are scenes that I think every Christian needs to read, needs to think about. I like how there are scenes that could be conversation-starters about faith, about God, about Christianity. So there are definite reasons to recommend it to believers, and, a few cautions as well. I'm reminded of James 3:8-11.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Cee Arr @ Dora Reads said...

I normally read your other blog, but followed a link over to here.

I just have to point out the irony of wanting Fahrenheit 451 to have 'cleaner' language - this book is famous for defending free speech. I don't understand why people would want to censor it; the irony just kills me.

I understand that you don't like the 'taking God's name in vain,' but that's the point! Bradbury is *allowed* to say things that people may not like, and use language that may offend your (perhaps *slightly* delicate) sensibilities.

Personally, I believe that if God really is all-powerful, he isn't going to be too bothered by something so tiny. But that's just me.

Anyway, I'm glad that you liked the book in general - it's been on my TBR for a long time, and one of these days I'm going to get to it!