Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books. We choose a book we remember fondly and recommend to our adoring readers to add to their To Read Pile. Plus, we get to link up and all give our fellow bloggers some comment love. Win-Win! This week, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, who passed away this week at the age of 91.
First, please, before you turn off your computer today, go read this post by Peter Sagal about Bradbury. It’s poignant and perfect. Thank you.
Now, on to the book. As most of you know, I taught high school English for five years before capping my grading pen and heading home to play with my babies. I loved teaching Ray Bradbury, his short stories and especially Fahrenheit 451 – if for no other reason than to tell my students,
“THIS!! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T READ FOR MY CLASS!!”
Why? Well, because Fahrenheit 451 shows what happens when you stop caring about reading or thinking for yourself or forming critical opinions based on what other people have written – essentially an English teacher’s diatribe in novel form.
The novel follows Guy Montag, a fireman, who starts fires rather than extinguishes them. Montag and his unit work to burn all books they find along with the houses where the books are found. The book starts out with a great first line, “It was a pleasure to burn.”
And he did. That is Montag enjoyed his job and life as far as he could tell until he meets a 17-year-old girl named Clarisse who asks him questions about his life, and she shows a concern for nature and the world around her – more than anyone else Montag has ever encountered. Montag tried to talk to his wife about his new questions, but she spends more time interacting with “families” on their “wall.” (Think flat screen television and social networking combined). Plus, anytime his wife felt distressed or nervous, she would take a pill to make those concerns go away.
Montag starts to wonder if books might actually hold some importance, maybe he is missing something in his life. After meeting Clarisse, Montag faces significant and disturbing events that send him on a hunt for information. His mind fills with questions: Why do we really burn books? Should life mean something else?
Why would someone risk death over words on a page?
This novel, in many ways, reflects the current climate of America, and Bradbury wrote it in 1950. At first glance, most quickly sum up Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship and its consequences. Actually, Fahrenheit 451 is more about what happens to a society when it stops reading. When society would rather be entertained than learn. When people stop questioning and just accept the facts handed to them. When it’s easier to watch semi-reality rather than live a real life.
Sound familiar? The details in Montag’s society offer an almost eerie familiarity: flat screen televisions, televised high speed car chases, social networking, a version of the iPod, fast cars, pills for everything, overly busy society with nothing really to do.
Bradbury’s book serves as a warning to never quit thinking for yourself and to welcome individuality and freedom of thought. It’s worth the fight.