Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book Essay: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Banned Books Week

FAHRENHEIT 451 is really an ideal book to read during banned books week, since it presents an empty, unfulfilling dystopian world in which censorship has won.

In it, Guy Montag is a fireman who sets fire to books because books are banned by the government. Guy goes about his job without much thought until a chance encounter with an unusual teen girl gets him interested in finding out why books are considered so dangerous.

Guy lives in a purely consumer culture where diversity and individual thought are squashed. As his fire chief explains, firemen were given the job “as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors.” If no one is more knowledgeable than anyone else and no one is encouraged to debate, there can be no controversy, and thus everyone is “happy”.

The fire chief fully acknowledges the slippery slope of censorship. Once you start banning content one minority doesn’t like, you set a precedent making it easier to ban content another minority doesn’t like. And so the process continues until you have “a nice blend of vanilla tapioca” and books that are so boring, no one wants to buy or read them anyway.

Of course, since there is some sort of deadly war going on in the background, the reader must assume that not everyone in Guy’s world is a mindless consumer sitting all day in the parlor surrounded by a big screen TV walls shouting nonsense – the big guns must still have access to meaningful, thought provoking books.

And then there are those intellectuals of the older generation that Guy meets on the run outside the city after succumbing to his curiosity and stealing a book to read. They keep literature alive by memorizing it and reciting it often and dream about a day when the human race goes back to being creators instead of mere consumers – giving something back instead of just taking.

In my favorite passage of the novel, one of the intellectuals says, “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched in some way so when you die and people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. [….] Grandfather’s been dead for all these years, but if you lifted my skull, in the convolutions of my brain you’d find the big ridges of his thumbprint. He touched me.”

And may books continue to be allowed to touch us – all of us.


19 comments:

Rhiannon Hart said...

I MUST read this one. Did you enjoy it? Would I like it?

Beth Kephart said...

I love this. I love the final quote. It is why I write, too. To leave something behind, and to remain sane during the living.

Zombie Girrrl said...

I'm reading this right now, and it's awesome. Great post!

brizmus said...

I love this book! It is why I will continue loving Ray Bradbury despite my lack of love for his short stories. There really are some beautiful quotes within.
I had to read it for school back in 6th grade, when I was 11. I had no idea that it had been banned somewhere.

Steve said...

A great book. As old as this book is, even though we don't have censorship today, I feel like misinformation is given more credibility than truth. But I'll get off my soapbox now, even though some "vanilla tapioca" sounds good, hehe.

Nymeth said...

I love your favourite passage - Bradbury has such a gift for words. This is indeed the perfect choice for Banned Books Week!

Marie said...

Great post. Fahrenheit 451 is a classic. Thanks for drawing attention to it!

bermudaonion said...

I totally agree!

The Mapless Traveler said...

I just got a copy of
Farenheit 451 from The Book Thing (giant used book "store" where all the books are free)in Baltimore. I had never read it before. I think now is an ideal time to do so :)

Okie said...

Fahrenheit 451 is one of my all time faves. Maybe I'll have to read it again. Great post.

Florinda said...

Great essay! And unfortunately, this book's themes are still applicable and important.

I learned the other day that my stepdaughter will be reading Fahrenheit 451 in her 10th-grade English class this year. I read it in 10th-grade English class too. I'm very pleased that they're teaching banned books at her high school.

Becky said...

A really interesting review. I don't think this is my kind of book but I'm thinking my husband would love it. I think he may be finding this in his stocking. Thanks.

Donna said...

Great post! I must read this one again. It's been so long that I barely remember it.

Daphne said...

I read this a few years ago and thought it was really fascinating. I also remember thinking how prophetic some of Bradbury's story is with the giant TV screens on the walls, the little listening devices for music, and the often mindless drivel that people focus on. Kind of creepy really...

Ella Press said...

This is an amazing book, and it fits perfectly into the BBW theme, for its main subject is the prohibition of ANY book.
This is a must read!

Ladytink_534 said...

I've actually read this twice but I still haven't seen the movie adaptation of it (there's a new one in development right now). It's always just killed me that this book has been banned so frequently considering what it's about that's irony at it's finest.

Zibilee said...

I read this a long, long time ago, but it has stayed with me, and I still have my beat up old copy on the shelf. I think it may be time for a reread. Awesome review on this one. It really is the perfect book for banned books week. I also love the banner you chose for the bottom of this post, it really spoke to me.

Joanne said...

Fantastic post! The part about "no one being more knowledgable, no debate etc..." is so terrifying. Debate is such an important part of learning.

Rosaline said...

I teach this book to my freshmen every year, and we always have the best discussions about it -- it opens their eyes to the idea that imagination and opinion don't just happen independent of influence.

Also? The last lines make me cry. My students tend to have a problem with the ending, because they want to know what happens when Montag returns to the city, whether he survives and so on, but I prefer the ambiguity of hope presented by Granger -- that they'll rebuild, and eventually society will destroy itself again, but it will always rebuild, and there will always be a place (and a need) for books!