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.